"I enjoy going through archives and oral histories and also traveling to places where events happened. The landscape seems to hold a sense of all the things that have ever happened there, written in the watercourses and the stones."
PAULETTE JILES: I'm from the Missouri Ozarks—all my people are country/farm/hills people, and I came to Texas because I married a Texan.
True Texas history and fiction aficionados will savor News of the World, but can you tell our readers, in your own words, what your book is about?
News of the World is about an elderly gentleman who travels North Texas giving readings from newspapers to audiences in small towns. He reads from journals from distant places and along with 'news' he imparts a sense of the far world, things which seems almost imaginary. He is asked by a black frontiersman, Britt Johnson, to return a little captive girl who has been rescued to her people four hundred miles to the south. Captain Kidd says yes, and the two have many improbable and even dangerous adventures on the way south. The girl has forgotten English and considers herself a Kiowa, but on the trip they grow to trust one another—and in the end he brings her back to some forbidding relatives who do not want her. Then he has some decisions to make.
Reviewers have marveled at the historical detail and accuracy in News of the World. Can you tell us what your research process is like?
I enjoy going through archives and oral histories and also traveling to places where events happened. The landscape seems to hold a sense of all the things that have ever happened there, written in the watercourses and the stones.
You've written three books set in Texas. What compels you to tell stories about the Lone Star State?
Why not? Many exciting things happened in Texas. It was its own country for a short period, it borders Mexico, it borders the Gulf, to the west are snowy mountains in which reside memories of the Cheyenne—think about it, it is different from the urban landscapes or the settled farm country, and it always seems to invade country-and-western music with laments and ballads.
When did you decide to be a writer?
I decided to be a writer as soon as I found out what one was.
How would you describe your first big break?
I won the Canadian Governor-General's Award for poetry in 1984, a prestigious award, and because of this I was asked to teach poetry at a poetry seminar in Saskatchewan, where I met Gordon Lish. He has been a friend since then. He loved my writing. So that was good. At this writers' retreat there was a bagpiper's master course going on at the same time, and we still joke about the duty piper blasting and howling away at seven every morning.
Are you a different writer at seventy-three than you were ten years ago, or twenty?
Of course my writing is different at seventy-three than at any other time. How could it not be? I suppose I am less intimidated by literary fashion.
What are your favorite Texas books and authors?
The poet Naomi Nye.
Last question. What's it like to live in Utopia?
Because it is a small town there is a lot to do. Small towns are very busy places. But I was raised in small towns, so I like it.
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Praise for Paulette Jiles’s NEWS OF THE WORLD
“This Western is not to be missed by Jiles’s fans and lovers of Texan historical fiction.” —Library Journal
“Lyrical and affecting, the novel succeeds in skirting clichés through its empathy and through the depth of its major characters.” —Kirkus Reviews
“News of the World is a narrow but exquisite book about the joys of freedom (experienced even by a raging river threatening to overrun its banks); the discovery of unexpected, proprietary love between two people who have never experienced anything like it; pure adventure in the wilds of an untamed Texas; and the reconciling of vastly different cultures. . .” —New York Times
Paulette Jiles was born in Salem, Missouri, in the Missouri Ozarks. After graduation she worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto, in the far north of Ontario, and in the Quebec Arctic, helping to set up village one-watt FM radio stations. She taught at David Thompson University in Nelson, BC, and grew to love the British Columbian ecosystems and general zaniness. She spent one year as a writer-in-residence at Philips Andover in Massachusetts and then returned to the United States permanently when she married Jim Johnson, a Texan. She has lived in Texas since 1995.