Thursday, January 19, 2017

Joe Starita

For the last twelve years, Joe Starita has held an endowed professorship at the University of Nebraska’s College of Journalism. He was the New York Bureau Chief for Knight-Ridder newspapers and a veteran investigative reporter for the Miami Herald. His stories have won more than three dozen awards, one of which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for local reporting. His books include The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge, which won the MPIBA Award and received a second Pulitzer nomination, and “I am a Man.”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice.

Starita's new book is A Warrior of the People: How Susan La Flesche Overcame Racial and Gender Inequality to Become America's First Indian Doctor.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
We are, it is often said, a nation of immigrants – a nation cobbled together from the restless, sometimes desperate spirits of ancestors who moved from their home base across an ocean with the idea of staying put in America, a place where they could make something of themselves. But I have always been attracted to the stories of two groups who were not – and have never been – a part of that traditional immigrant narrative: the Native Americans who were already here and the African Americans who arrived in chains. Consequently, it is not surprising that writers whose ancestors endured Trails of Tears and decades of enslavement consistently turn out riveting stories carved from their cultural heritage, powerful stories often littered with many of literature’s great themes.

So it is with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, a haunting piece of nonfiction I recently read about one man’s decades-long crusade to bring humanity and justice to the inhumane and unjust world of Alabama’s death row. It is often a painful, debilitating look at who we have been – as a people and a nation – but, in the end, provides plenty of inspirational firepower to up our game, to take charge of conditions and situations that we all have some degree of control over.

So it is, too, with The Underground Railroad, a novel of breathtaking risk and courage that funnels the reader into the body and mind of a young, female runaway slave. It’s a story that offers up an almost magical cocktail – part fantasy world and part stark, naked history – and never quite lets you off the hook. Long before the last page, you will have plenty to think about, plenty of opportunities to examine how the past informs the present – and what it portends for the future.

And so it is also with LaRose, the latest novel from Louise Erdrich, who deftly explores the many complications that arise when a Native man accidentally kills his best friend’s son and offers up his own boy to try to heal all of their wounds. Once again, Erdrich masterfully creates a Faulknerian landscape of characters and places, beautifully balancing the full range of Native humor and tragedy in the most human of terms.
Visit Joe Starita's website.

--Marshal Zeringue