While I was busy with my novel writing project, two authors I really like died. Tony Hillerman wrote mysteries about the Navajos, and Studs Terkel wrote oral histories of everyday people. I’ll miss them both.
I love mysteries, and I particularly enjoy the kind where I gain intimacy with cultures I haven’t personally experienced. As I read all of Tony Hillerman’s works, I learned about Navajo culture and belief. I also learned about the struggles of combining tradition with the cultures outside of the reservation, and some of the issues it raises. If I hadn’t read these mysteries, I would have never learned about some of the traditional myths of this culture. I also feel that I have a greater appreciation for the landscape of the Southwest as seen by this writer who lived and died there. I am grateful for his body of work.
Studs Terkel introduced me to other people I’ve never myself met. Through their own words, in his book Working, he told me about how a construction worker feels when he passes a building he’s worked on. I heard from prostitutes, pharmacists, and priests. This book is a godsend to a curious person who is interested in all people, and it’s also useful as a writing reference. I talk to everyone everywhere I go, but I met a lot of characters through this book that I’d probably never run across in other ways. I’ve read the book many times and highly recommend it.
These authors may seem very different from one another, but I believe that they share an appreciation for detail, the patience to look past the obvious and to reach into the heart of things where you can see the essence of people and cultures. More than that, they share a gift for conveying this essence so that the readers can see it. They showed me little pieces of how things are in places I might never get to experience. For that I am thankful, and I am glad that I had the experience of finding their works. I aspire to do the same with my writing, and if I succeed at all, it is in some part because I learned at their feet. I am glad that they will live on through their writing, and I highly recommend these books to you if you have not yet read them.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
203. What subject, culture, or person do you know intimately? How can you share those details with others so that there can be greater understanding and appreciation? As you work on this challenge, remember to be respectful in the details you reveal.