Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Posted October 23rd, 2014 by Tom

IndigenousPeoplesHistoryI am a lucky guy to have my books published by Beacon Press. I’m proud to be in the company of such distinguished authors as Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Cornel West, Mary Oliver and Anita Hill. I recently learned of another author with whom I’m excited to be connected through Beacon: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. I highly recommend her recently published An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

As an author and public speaker who works to dispel the myths of the founding of this nation in the hope that we might someday actually live up to the ideals espoused in our founding documents, I appreciate all efforts to shine a light on truth.

Dunbar-Ortiz does precisely that, page after page, from the perspective of the Indigenous people who lived on this continent for thousands of years before it was “discovered” – and then colonized – by Europeans. It is not pleasant to learn details of the centuries-long program of terror, genocide, displacement, and theft of the land that became what is now the United States. This is not a pleasant book to read. But it is an essential book – and eminently readable – for anyone committed to understanding truth from the perspective of those outside the systems of power.

“I also wanted to set aside the rhetoric of race, not because race and racism are unimportant but to emphasize that Native peoples were colonized and deposed of their territories as distinct peoples – hundreds of nations – not as a racial or ethnic group. ‘Colonization,’ ‘dispossession,’ ‘settler colonialism,’ ‘genocide’ – these are the terms that drill to the core of US history, to the very source of the country’s existence.”

“My hope is that this book will be a springboard to dialogue about history, the present reality of Indigenous peoples’ experience, and the meaning and future of the United States itself.”

Readers will learn much from An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States that has been long-buried. Books like this should be studied in American classrooms, rather than the flimflam pabulum endorsed by the Texas State Board of Education that impacts the thinking and perspectives of far too many students throughout our nation; pabulum that perpetuate ignorance and distortions of history.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States  is part of the Revisioning American History series published by Beacon Press, which also includes A Disability History of the United States and A Queer History of the United States.

So, get busy! We’ve got more reading to do!

Question: Some people believe books like this just dredge up ancient history and serve no useful purpose. Obviously, I disagree. What do you think? Even if you disagree with me I’m interested in your perspective.

Satisfaction from Physical Things

Posted October 17th, 2014 by Tom

Much of my life is occupied with words. I write; always working on my next book. I also read books; lots of them. I am always reading at least one book, sometimes two (only when one is a novel and the other is a book about the craft of writing). My work as a public speaker revolves around words, as does my work with Coming to the Table. I try to find the right words to convey my exact meaning in emails, Facebook and blog posts, on Twitter, and in front of a convention audience or a classroom. I’m a writer and I love my writing life.

LatchI didn’t get any writing done yesterday. There were two tasks around the house that required my attention.

First, as I do each year in October, I borrowed a compressor from a friend of mine to blow the water out of our sprinkler system so the pipes won’t freeze and burst over the winter. The hardest part of the whole operation is lifting the heavy compressor into and out of our Jeep to transport it. The actual job takes about half an hour and we’re now set for winter.

Second, the latch in our front door finally bought the farm. Read the rest of this entry »

My Salinger Year – a book review

Posted August 31st, 2014 by Tom

I read a review of My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff, in Entertainment Weekly last month. Though I had a pile of other books to read, the review inspired me to reserve this one at the library. It came in the same time as two other books high on my ‘must read soon’ list, so I set it aside assuming I wouldn’t get to it. But I finally cracked open My Salinger Year two days ago, thinking I’d skim through it over the weekend since it is due back Tuesday and someone else has it reserved. Instead, the past two days have been a headlong dive into Rakoff’s book and Salinger himself.

MySalingerYearIn the late 1990’s, Joanna Rakoff, after leaving graduate school in her early-twenties and dreaming of becoming a published poet, gets hired as an assistant to the literary agent for J.D. Salinger. Though the events of this book transpired not so long ago, the times she describes feel like ancient history. Rakoff was hired during the last moments of the pre-digital age. She transcribed letters on a Selectric while listening to her boss’s voice on a Dictaphone with foot-pedal controls for playback and rewind. No emails. Just imagine!

One of her tasks was to respond to fan mail that came for Salinger. Though his last book, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, had been published in 1963, the impact it, and Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, and especially The Catcher in the Rye continued to have on readers was profound. Stacks of letters arrived from teenagers, college students, World War II veterans, and others. The letters were by turns raw, heart-breaking, deeply revealing, grateful, poignant, and very personal to the writers. Rakoff was told to reply with a form letter that Mr. Salinger had instructed the agency not to forward any mail to him, and then toss the letter into the trash. She didn’t exactly obey the instructions. Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes my life gets in the way of my life

Posted July 22nd, 2014 by Tom

I learned it from Lindi, my wife. We were walking. Talking. It seems like we used to walk and talk more often as we made plans for our life together. Short and long term goals. Ideas. Musings. Fears. Dreams. One day, while talking about how hard it is to do what we really want, to be who we really are, she said,

“Sometimes my life gets in the way of my life.”

Yeah. No kidding. Those ten words have stayed with me. They’ve inspired me. Haunted me. Reminded me. Read the rest of this entry »

The Most Important Journey of Cheryl Strayed, Author of Wild

Posted March 17th, 2014 by Tom

IMG_4658bI had the pleasure of being in the audience to listen to Cheryl Strayed in Bend, Oregon last night. Her appearance was part of the Deschutes Public Library Foundation’s Author! Author! series. After having spent so much of my time since Gather at the Table was published in October 2012 speaking to audiences across the country at schools, churches, museums, and other venues, it was fun and inspiring to listen to another author – particularly one for whom I have such high respect.

I read Wild shortly after it was published. To be precise, I listened to it on audiobook. I loved it so much that I then bought it in hardcover. Her story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is of particular interest to me. The summer after I graduated from high school, three friends and I backpacked through the John Muir Trail from the base of Mt. Whitney to Yosemite; some 221 miles of the PCT. I dreamed of someday hiking the entire PCT from the border of Mexico to Canada, but it never happened. So what a treat it was to re-imagine my dream hike through Ms. Strayed’s wonderful memoir.

When it was announced that portions of the movie Wild would be filmed near Bend, I wanted to be part of it. Though I was almost 20 years older than the age of extras they were looking for, I hadn’t cut my hair for awhile so I fit the “scruffy” description pretty well. I took a “selfie” with a pine tree in the background and submitted my application. They hired me to be a “hiker” out near Paulina Lake Lodge, which was “dressed” to double for Kennedy Meadows near Sonora, California. I spent a day hanging out with the other “extras” and crew and, yes, the star and producer of the film, Reese Witherspoon; a pleasant and down-to-earth woman who wanted everyone on the set to be comfortable around her. We were.

IMG_4651I was excited when I learned many months ago that Ms. Strayed would be speaking in our town. I bought my ticket early on, and good thing I did.  The auditorium was packed; the first sold-out performance in the Author! Author! series. I arrived early and found a seat in the front row.

Listening to her talk about the death of her mother at age 45, her resulting tailspin into unhealthy choices in the use of drugs and sex to cope, and her decision to hike the PCT though she’d never done more than day hikes before, was by turns funny, sad, and compelling. Cheryl pointed out the most important journey was not the hike itself but the inner journey she was on; that her goal as a memoirist was to explore what it means to be human in such a way that readers bring their own stories into her story. This is the goal of every writer… to connect with readers on a human, visceral level. Cheryl Strayed did so in Wild, and she did so in person last night. And what a dream tale it was about how Reese Witherspoon read the manuscript over a weekend several months before Wild was published it, called and spoke with Cheryl for more than an hour, and immediately optioned the book for a movie- with the pledge that the film would be true to the book.

I donated extra in order to be invited to the private reception with the author after the main event. It was at the reception that I met and spoke with Cheryl Strayed, gave her a gift of Gather at the Table as my way of thanking her for inspiring me so. And though on-set protocol did not allow for a “selfie” with Ms. Witherspoon last fall, Ms. Strayed was happy to pose with me last night.

IMG_4673As someone who travels the country speaking to audiences in the hope that they will want to read and be moved by my stories, Cheryl Strayed’s success in getting her books into the hands of millions of people is a big inspiration to someone like me whose books have so far been read by thousands. Whether or not I ever write a bestseller,  Cheryl Strayed inspires me to continue to explore what it means to be human and to connect with my readers as I have connected with Wild.

Thanks again, Cheryl.

 

Civil War – Ducks vs. Beavers – this one’s personal

Posted November 26th, 2013 by Tom

DucksVsBeavers

This Friday’s game isn’t just about winning a football game. Oh, no… I can’t recall a desire to beat Oregon State more intensely than I feel this season.

A little background:

This is the 119th anniversary of the “Civil War,” the somewhat unfortunate name bestowed upon the 7th most played college football rivalry in the United States (don’t ask me what the other 6 are – you can Google it yourself): The Oregon Ducks versus the Oregon State Beavers.

We take this rivalry pretty seriously here in Oregon; though for the most part it is a friendly rivalry. As a graduate of the University of Oregon, I wear a lot of green and yellow and write “Go Ducks” and “Win the Day” on my Facebook page regularly. I can’t tell you the name of a single player for the Beavs. Read the rest of this entry »

Akee Tree: A Coming to the Table story, and a first for this author

Posted August 26th, 2013 by Tom

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Akee Tree: A Descendant’s Quest for His Slave Ancestors on the Eskridge Planation, written by Stephen Hanks, was recently published by American History Press.

I was particularly interested in the publication of this book for a couple of reasons.

First, this is the story of a long journey of genealogical discovery. Mr. Hanks became obsessed with learning about the past. Anyone who has read Gather at the Table understands it is often the case for black folks in America that such a journey involves researching not only one’s own family, but the family that once enslaved yours. Such explorations can be both enlightening and painful.

Second, Hanks’s journey is one that fits into the Coming to the Table approach to healing: uncovering, acknowledging and understanding the full stories of the past in order to heal historic, traumatic wounds. In my role as Community Coordinator for Coming to the Table, it is exciting to see more books, films, and other resources becoming available for this and future generations.

Finally, I was honored to be asked to provide an endorsement quote for Akee Tree. That’s a first for me, and I only hope that my words of support for Stephen Hanks’s important work will help get his book into the hands of more readers. Here’s a couple images of the back of Akee Tree. I hope you’ll check it out:

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My Favorite Media Interview

Posted June 24th, 2013 by Tom

MyWindowInterviewI recently participated in one of my favorite media interviews ever.

I don’t know how many times I’ve spoken with reporters over the years, but it’s been a lot. My close encounters with news microphones began in the late 1970’s when I managed, and then owned, movie theaters, video, comic book, and frozen yogurt shops; human interest stories, Darth Vader appearances, you get the picture. Free publicity by way of news stories is invaluable to a small business owner and I was not shy. When I ran for city council in 1991, and began a 14-year spate of involvement in local politics and statewide arts advocacy, the frequency of interviews increased.

When my first book, Inheriting the Trade, was published, and the documentary Traces of the Trade both came out in January 2008, media requests began to come from around the country. As an author, being on The Early Show on CBS in connection with my first book, and Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC with my co-author Sharon Leslie Morgan for our recent book, Gather at the Table, were invaluable opportunities for spreading the word about our work.

So what was it about this particular interview? Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking into Norway

Posted June 2nd, 2013 by Tom

When I fantasize about international acclaim, I think about my books being published in the countries included within their pages (in the case of my first two books, Ghana, Cuba, and Tobago), as well as many other countries and languages. I haven’t achieved that level of success with my writing… yet. But I did get interviewed by a Norwegian newspaper, Vårt Land, last month. It’s a start…

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If you understand Norwegian, you can read the article here: Vart Land Interview (Norwegian Newspaper, 10 May 13)

The reporter, Ingrid Hovda Storaas, contacted me through my publicist at Beacon Press. She wrote that she was working on a story on “inherited responsibility” for a Norwegian daily print Newspaper. They had recently “published a story on German youths working voluntarily in Norway as a way to ‘pay’ for the fact that their forefathers participated in the German occupation of Norway. A 20-year old boy was asked if he feels he is atoning for his grandfather’s sin (he was a soldier), and put it like this: ‘In a way. I have not inherited his guilt, but I feel I have inherited a responsibility.'” They were now doing a follow-up story with a more global view and had come across Inheriting the Trade in her research.

I agreed to respond to her questions via email. I was particularly interested in this opportunity because my great grandfather, Ole Nicholson, was born in Norway in January 1853. He came with his parents to the United States when he was 4 years old. His wife, Martha Ryen, was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants as well. They lived in Illinois and Iowa. Their daughter, my grandmother, Lida Nicholson married my grandfather, Giles DeWolf around 1915. Consequently, I have very fond feelings for Norway and hope to visit someday. Read the rest of this entry »

On Writing

Posted May 26th, 2013 by Tom

Home. Finally I have time to write.

Uh, not so fast, there Tommy…

From October through April mine was a life spent primarily on the road; promoting Gather at the Table with my writing partner Sharon Morgan and speaking solo at several colleges, universities and libraries. I was determined that once I returned home toward the end of April, I would stay home and focus on writing for the next 4-5 months.

There were a few technical details that needed attending. I had time to take my new laptop in to the Geek Squad to get the on/off button fixed (it broke in January but I couldn’t be without it while on the road so I simply put it into hibernate mode when I wasn’t using it). I had time to replace my aging and ailing Blackberry with a new iPhone. Learning how to use the iPhone, figure out how to add all my  contacts, email accounts, calendar, was challenging. But knowing I would be without my laptop for at least a week, I did my best to make the iPhone work for me. Then I was told that fixing my laptop was more costly to Best Buy than simply giving me a new computer. Oh, no! Read the rest of this entry »

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry