Married Karen Poff, 2001. Education: Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX, B.A., 1992.
Writer, journalist. Texas Observer, Austin, TX, former editor.
Finalist, National Magazine Award, 2000; Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award, 2004; Soros Justice Media Fellow; J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation, 2006, for Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town.
Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to the Texas Monthly and Nation.
Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town has been optioned for a feature film and for a CBS television movie.
Working as a journalist for the progressive Texas Observer, Nate Blakeslee investigated a 1999 cocaine drug bust in the small town of Tulia, Texas, in which forty-six people—mostly black—were arrested and several of these were subsequently sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Blakeslee, however, uncovered serious allegations of misconduct by the undercover narcotics officer, Tom Coleman, in charge of the arrests, and opened many questions about the enforcement of drug laws in Texas in general. His investigative journalism led to new defense lawyers appealing the harsh sentences and to legal reforms passed by the Texas legislature. The story of the Tulia arrests was published in 2005 as Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town.
Several things had first attracted Blakeslee's interest. First was the fact of the lengthy sentences handed down for dealing very small amounts of cocaine. The cocaine itself was also suspect, for it was not the usual drug of choice for blacks in the area. Once Blakeslee began investigating, he then uncovered questions about the honesty of Coleman, a man who had before been found guilty of corruption. Coleman was not the only one to come off badly in Blakeslee's investigation. According to Julia M. Klein, writing in Mother Jones, "unscrupulous county officials, a hanging judge, and gullible white juries infected by small-town racism and swayed by the overheated rhetoric of the war on drugs" also contributed to this gross miscarriage of justice. Robert L. Rogers, writing in the American Lawyer. summed up the series of events: "Here, a conviction-hungry prosecutor and an incurious judge put innocent people in jail. A few seemingly halfhearted defense lawyers at trial facilitated these injustices. And then skilled advocates set it right." For Jacob Sullum, reviewing Tulia in Reason, the book was an "absorbing, suspenseful account." More praise came from Klein, who called Blakeslee's writing "crystalline," and from a Publishers Weekly critic who labeled the book "haunting" and a "devastating indictment of the toll taken by the war on drugs." Similarly, Karen Sandlin Silverman, writing in Library Journal, felt that Tulia "covers an important issue—the failure of America's war on drugs and the trampling of civil rights in the process." A DRCNet Book Review contributor also commended the work, noting, "With the skill of a talented journalist, Blakeslee has created a masterful portrayal of the town, the people, the narc, and a legal system that seems to epitomize the worst notions of small town justice."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Lawyer, January, 2006, Robert L. Rogers, review of Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town, p. 65.
Library Journal, October 1, 2005, Karen Sandlin Silverman, review of Tulia, p. 95.
Mother Jones, November, 2005, Julia M. Klein, review of Tulia, p. 84.
Nieman Reports, summer, 2006, "J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project 2006 Winners," p. 105.
Publishers Weekly, August 8, 2005, review of Tulia, p. 227.
Reason, May, 2006, Jacob Sullum, "Blow for Injustice," review of Tulia, p. 54.
San Antonio Current, November 3, 2005, John De-Fore, "Snitching on the Snitches," review of Tulia.
San Diego Union Tribune, October 30, 2005, "Justice on Trial," review of Tulia.
American Prospect Online,http://www.prospect.org/ (December 15, 2005), Sarah Shemkus, "Justice, Texas Style."
DRCNet Book Review,http://stopthedrugwar.org/ (December 2, 2005), review of Tulia.
Etude,http://etude.uoregon.edu/ (November 16, 2006), Mark Blaine, review of Tulia.
Perseus Books Web site,http://www.perseusbooksgroup.com/ (November 16, 2006), "Nate Blakeslee."
Southwestern University Magazine Online,http://www.sugrads.org/ (June 3, 2002), Melissa Miller, "Nate Blakeslee '92."*