I’m thrilled to feature novelist and Pulitzer-Prize-winning nonfiction writer Mitchell S. Jackson in the newest WritingtheNorthwest.com post. Mitchell is one of the most exciting writers to come out of the NW in recent years.
Read his answers to “Three Questions and a Quote” here.
I just posted a review on WritingtheNorthwest.com of a unique book by a promising young poet named Ricardo Ruiz. The poems in it come out of interviews with migrant workers in Eastern Washington.
Together with brief bios of the interviewees, the poems present a full and sympathetic look at this hopeful but struggling and tragically neglected community.
Here’s how the post begins:
I never know where or how I’m going to come across good writing about the Pacific Northwest. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I was walking through the book fair at the Associated Writers and Writing Programs conference in Seattle when I found myself in conversation with a young man who had just published his first book of poetry, titled We Had Our Reasons. I asked him to tell me about it and liked both his subject–the lives of migrant workers–and his demeanor, so I bought a copy.
It was only when the writer, Ricardo Ruiz, had signed the book that I noticed the workers he wrote about lived in Eastern Washington. He had already told me his book was really a collaborative effort. He had interviewed workers of Mexican descent and fashioned poetry in different forms and voices from what they told him. Some were legal immigrants, some were undocumented, some had been born in the United States, and one was an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
It wasn’t until I was on the bus home and read the first few pages that I realized what a treasure his book is. In verse that has the accessibility of a Billy Collins or Mary Oliver but channels a very different world, Ruiz presents the struggles, hopes, and sometimes dangerous experiences of a group of people for whom the United States is both tentative home and too-often-tarnished dream.
Note: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org, where your purchases support local bookstores. If you buy a book through a click on this website, I will earn a small commission that helps defray the costs of maintainingthis website.
My new post on WritingtheNorthwest.com looks at the many Pacific Northwest connections in Adam Hochschild’s fascinating and sobering new book about America during and after World War I, AMERICAN MIDNIGHT.
Among the Northwest people you’ll read about are the feisty, progressive Portland doctor Marie Equi, the organizers of the 1919 Seattle General Strike, and the brave members of the International Workers of the World (Wobblies) labor union.
You’ll also read about less savory characters like the immigrant-hating Washington State congressman Albert Johnson and Seattle mayor Ole Hanson, who may have been the first politician to make a career out of being avowedly anti-Communist.
Note: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org, where your purchases support local bookstores. If you purchase a book through a click on this website, I will earn a small commission that helps defray the costs of maintaining this website.
After a brief break over the holidays, WritingtheNorthwest.com is back, and I’m pleased to start the new year with a new feature, Three Questions and a Quote, and one of my favorite Northwest writers, Jon Raymond.
Raymond is the author of an award-winning story collection, an essay collection, and four novels, including Denial(2022), a finalist for this year’s Oregon Book Award in Fiction. He has also coauthored several films, including the HBO mini-series “Mildred Pierce” and the remarkable “First Cow.” Most of his work is set in the Northwest.
Three Questions and a Quoteis a new, occasional feature focused on the thoughts and work of prominent Northwest writers.
You can access the entry on Raymond here, including his thoughts on Northwest writing and links to his writings and films (plus other goodies).
Head over to WritingtheNorthwest.com to read about (and watch!) the fascinating video work of Indigenous artist Sky Hopinka, who was raised in Ferndale, WA, and went to school at Portland State University.
As part of my J. D. Ross research, I’ve been reading FDR’s May 26, 1940, fireside chat titled “On National Defense.” After making a pitch for beefing up the military in response to what was happening in Europe, he said this:
” But there is an added technique for weakening a nation at its very roots, for disrupting the entire pattern of life of a people. And it is important that we understand it.
“The method is simple. It is, first, discord, a dissemination of discord. A group –not too large — a group that may be sectional or racial or political — is encouraged to exploit its prejudices through false slogans and emotional appeals. The aim of those who deliberately egg on these groups is to create confusion of counsel, public indecision, political paralysis and eventually, a state of panic.”
The result, he said, is that people “can lose confidence in each other, and therefore lose confidence in the efficacy of their own united action. Faith and courage can yield to doubt and fear. The unity of the state can be so sapped that its strength is destroyed.”
These are important words to remember, especially as we prepare to go to the polls for an important midterm election.
I just posted a new piece on WritingtheNorthwest.com. It’s about a 1917 profile of Portland, Oregon, in the national magazine Collier’s Weekly. Called “Portland the Spinster,” the article suggests the city is run by a handful of conservative FFPs (First Families of Portland) who lord it over the later arrivals.
I love reading other people’s views of places I love, and I had some fun writing about this one. You’ll find my post here.
I thought it was going to be behind a paywall, but the WC editors have made it available to anyone. Here’s an excerpt:
One of the trickiest things to do is balance what you feel is true after all of your research with fidelity to what you actually know. Given that a biography is usually based on years of research and a memoir on years of knowing the people around you, it is easy to believe you know what your subject’s perspective on something would be even if she never stated it. The danger in this is we never truly know what a person might have thought or felt. People surprise us all the time. We even surprise ourselves.
When James Delmage Ross died suddenly on March 14, 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt mourned his passing by telling the country it had lost “one of the greatest Americans of our generation,” a man whose “successful career and especially his long service in behalf of the public interest are worthy of study by every American boy.”
Yet “J. D.,” as he was called by everyone who knew him—from the president to senators to children in his neighborhood—is virtually unknown today. Even in Seattle, where he was once the city’s most powerful—and popular—figure, those who recognize his name know it only because a dam and lake on the Upper Skagit River were dedicated to him.
In the Depression years, however, as the nation suffered the aftermath of predatory practices by private companies, Ross became known across the land as a tireless advocate for publicly-owned electrical power. FDR held him in such high regard, he chose him to sit on the Securities and Exchange Commission, to keep tabs on the country’s private power companies, and then to serve as the first superintendent of the Bonneville Power Administration, one of the most important strategic positions in the years leading up to World War II.
By then, Ross had built Seattle City Light into one of the world’s model municipally-owned power systems and championed changes to both the production and distribution of electricity that reduced power rates to a fraction of what they had once been. He had also toured the country for years, making the case for public control over the nation’s electrical grid.
If the country had listened to him—or he had lived longer—there’s no doubt our power system would be in much better shape than it is today and people everywhere would understand FDR’s words of praise.
A self-taught electrical engineer who rose from humble beginnings to become the ideal civil servant and a close friend of the 20th century’s most powerful president, Ross is the kind of figure whose story—and example—we need today. Which is why I’m pleased to announce that I’m writing the first biography to ever be written of him.
My work on Ross is being supported, in part, by the Oregon Historical Society’s 2022 Donald J. Sterling Senior Research Award in Pacific Northwest History. In the weeks ahead, I’ll be posting more about my finds in the months of research I’ve already done, as well as updates as the research and writing continue.
If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook or check this site in the coming days, you’ll see images from Ross’s hometown of Chatham, Ontario, once known as the Black Mecca because it served as a terminus for the Underground Railroad. His journey from Chatham to Seattle began in 1897 when he walked—walked!—from Edmonton, Alberta, to the Klondike gold fields after a doctor told him his lungs were failing and he needed more exercise.