Each week Lone Star Literary profiles a newsmaker in Texas books and letters, including authors, booksellers, publishers.
Kay Ellington has worked in management for a variety of media companies, including Gannett, Cox Communications, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times Regional Group, from Texas to New York to California to the Southeast and back again to Texas. She is the coauthor, with Barbara Brannon, of the Texas novels The Paragraph RanchA Wedding at the Paragraph Ranch.
Paulette Jiles was born in Salem, Missouri, in the Missouri Ozarks. After graduation she worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto and 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.
11.6.2016 National Book Award finalist Paulette Jiles shares news of her world
Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. Her most recent book, News of the World, is a finalist for the National Book Award. The week before the Texas Book Festival, she took time out of her busy schedule to be interviewed by LSLL by email.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Paulette, your new book is so full of details about Texas history that everyone assumes you are a Texan. But you're a “come-here,” not a “from here.” Where did you grow up, and how did you come to Texas?
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 improbably 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 writer's 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
An Amazon Best Book of October 2016: “It’s a post-Civil War western, the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and you can be sure the former will ride off into the sunset at the story’s end (Womp, Womp). But, what is wrong with that, you say? As it turns out, not a darn thing. Captain Jefferson Kyle is a war-weary widower, traveling from town to town reading relevant bits of news to paying customers. In one such town he is given a $50 gold piece to ferry a kidnapped girl back to what’s left of her family--her parents and sister having been murdered by members of the Kiowa tribe--who spare the then 6-year-old and raise her as one of their own. Fast-forward four years and tribe life is the only life she knows, so she’s not about to go quietly with a stranger who doesn’t speak her language, whose motives she does not trust, and to a place that is not what she now considers home. Thus begins a seemingly ill-advised but transformative road trip where the mismatched pair eventually form an uneasy truce, then a not-so begrudging alliance, and finally something more wonderful that neither Captain nor kid could have imagined. Save for the carnage, this could be a great plot for Disney movie, and there is even a cinematic showdown thrown in for good measure. But in the complex world that we live in, sometimes it’s nice to know who is wearing the white hats, and who is wearing the black hats, and to root for someone who—out of a sense of duty, and later, love--is doing something pure and good. And that’s what News of the World is: Pure and good.” —Erin Kodicek, Amazon Book Review
“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