Bowden, Charles 1945(?)-
BOWDEN, Charles 1945(?)-
PERSONAL: Born c. 1945.
ADDRESSES: Home—Tucson, AZ. Agent—c/o Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 100 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011.
CAREER: Writer. Reporter, Tucson Citizen, Tucson, AZ; editor, City Magazine, Tucson, AZ.
The Impact of Energy Development on Water Resources in Arid Lands: Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography, University of Arizona, Office of Arid Land Studies (Tucson, AZ), 1975.
Killing the Hidden Waters, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1977.
(With Lew Kreinberg) Street Signs Chicago: Neighborhood and Other Illusions of Big City Life, foreword by William Appleman Williams, photographs by Richard Younker, Chicago Review Press (Chicago, IL), 1981.
Blue Desert (essays), University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1986.
Frog Mountain Blues, photographs by Jack W. Dykinga, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1987.
Mezcal (autobiography), University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1988.
Red Line, Norton (New York, NY), 1989.
Desierto: Memories of the Future, Norton (New York, NY), 1991.
The Sonoran Desert: Arizona, California, and Mexico, photographs by Jack W. Dykinga, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1992.
The Secret Forest, introduction by Paul S. Martin, photographs by Jack W. Dykinga, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1993.
(With Michael Binstein) Trust Me: Charles Keating and the Missing Billions, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
Seasons of the Coyote: The Legend and Lore of an American Icon (essays), edited by Philip L. Harrison, HarperCollins (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
Stone Canyons of the Colorado Plateau, photographs by Jack W. Dykinga, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1996.
Chihuahua: Pictures from the Edge (essays), photographs by Virgil Hancock, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1996.
Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future, preface by Noam Chomsky, afterword by Eduardo Galeano, photographs by Javier Aguilar (and others), Aperture (New York, NY), 1998.
(Author of essay) Julian D. Hayden, The Sierra Pinacate, photographs by Jack Dykinga, essay by Bernard L. Fontana, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1998.
Paul Dickerson, 1961-1997 (essay), American Fine Art (New York, NY), 2000.
Eugene Richards, Phaidon (New York, NY), 2001.
Blues for Cannibals: The Notes from Underground, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.
Work represented in anthologies, including The Best American Essays 1999, selected by Edward Hoagland, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999. Contributor to numerous periodicals, including Esquire, Harper's, and GQ.
SIDELIGHTS: Charles Bowden is a journalist and editor who has achieved renown as both an environmental writer and a critic of modern society. Killing the Hidden Waters is about the use of groundwater to irrigate agricultural projects in Arizona. In this work Bowden elucidates the dire consequences of this action which, by the mid-1970s, was drawing groundwater at more than ten times the rate at which it was being replaced. Bowden contrasts this use, or misuse, of groundwater with the practices of the Papago Indians, desert inhabitants who have managed to survive in the arid region without depleting the same groundwater supply.
Blue Desert, another of Bowden's earlier books, also presents various aspects of life in the American Southwest. This volume, which was published in 1986, includes essays on the decline of a mining community, jeopardized wildlife, questionable real-estate deals conducted between capitalists and the Papago, and the illegal immigration of Mexicans into the United States. David Graber, writing in Los Angeles Times Book Review,described Blue Desert as "painfully engaging" and added that Bowden "has written a series of vignettes about life in the Arizona desert which feels true the way something dark and austere feels true."
Frog Mountain Blues, a 1987 volume that Bowden produced in collaboration with photographer Jack W. Dykinga, addresses the relationship between the prospering city of Tucson and the desert and mountains that surround it. The book provides considerable background on the region's development, and discusses the environmental repercussions of that development. Bruce Brown, reviewing Frog Mountain Blues in Washington Post Book World, proclaimed Bowden's book "a personal and provocative work that entertains at almost every turn in the trail." Don Campbell, in his Los Angeles Times Book Review assessment, deemed Frog Mountain Blues "a beautifully written, handsomely illustrated love poem to a mountain range."
Mezcal is an autobiographical volume in which Bowden relates both his experiences as a drug-using radical in the 1960s and his increasing interest in the environment. Bob Sipchen reported in Los Angeles Times Book Review that "Bowden's self-reflexive reportage of the 1960s waxes gonzo," and he observed that "it's only when [Bowden] finally grounds his addiction to the adrenaline rush of modern life upon the tranquillity of the natural world that he finds an original voice."
In Red Line Bowden fuses the environmental preoccupations of Killing the Hidden Waters and Blue Desert with both the historical concerns of Frog Mountain Blues and the autobiographical elements of Mezcal. In this 1989 book he joins a narcotics officer and probes the violent death of a Mexican drug dealer and killer in Tucson. But in conducting his investigation Bowden provides autobiographical asides and comments on both the region's changes and the environmental problems that have ensued. David Rieff, writing in Los Angeles Times Book Review, described Red Line as "a hybrid of personal memoir, a historical evocation of 1849 and of the settling of the Southwest, a journalistic hunt . . . for a drug dealer . . . and a harsh and moving nature chronicle."
Bowden's Desierto: Memories of the Future, published in 1991, is another of the author's works on the environment. Desierto contains interviews conducted by Bowden with individuals who share his concerns for environmental change, but he also deals with individuals—especially notorious banker Charles Keating, Jr.—whose ethical relationship to society and the environment is more problematic. In the New York Times Book Review, Ron Hansen called Desierto "a compelling and wonderfully poetic book" and "a meditative and highly evocative narrative."
In the early 1990s Bowden teamed again with photographer Jack W. Dykinga to produce The Sonoran Desert: Arizona, California, and Mexico and The Secret Forest, two more volumes on the North American Southwest. He then collaborated with Michael Binstein on Trust Me: Charles Keating and the Missing Billions, an account of the Arizona bank tycoon whose fraudulent practices led to the savings-and-loan scandal in the early 1990s. In 1995 Bowden published Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America, which William Kittredge described in Los Angeles Times Book Review as a book that examines "the angst among . . . alienated citizens" and that provides "a passionate report on the real-world sources of their unrest." In Blood Orchid, Bowden writes about paranoid Americans who bear arms, suspect helicopters, and think that computer chips are being implanted in children. Kittredge declared that Blood Orchid is "brilliant and sometimes excessive but always compelling," and he concluded that Bowden "is becoming one of our most important voices in the so-called New West."
A frequent contributor to such publications as Harper's, Esquire, and GQ, Bowden continues to write about marginalized people and experiences. His essay "Torch Song," originally published in Harper's, is an autobiographical account of his years as a reporter covering sex abuse crimes, and how the experience desensitized him. The piece was chosen by Edward Hoagland for inclusion in The Best American Essays 1999. Bowden's Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future, for which he wrote text to accompany the work of thirteen photojournalists from the city of Juarez, Mexico, began as a Harper's essay, originally published in December, 1996. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Saul Landau described the work as a "book-length window on the underbelly of what used to be described . . . as the new world order." The book shows that in Juarez, which lies just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, workers are oppressed by a system that, in Landau's words, "experiment[s] with how much abuse capital can heap on labor and the environment." Photographs expose the story of more than 100 young women raped and murdered on their way to and from work in foreign-owned factories; numerous victims murdered by gangs and drug cartels; children searching through garbage dumps for scraps; an uncontrollable chemical fire; and Mexicans climbing barriers or wading across the river to reach the United States and its promise of jobs. "Bowden's book," wrote Landau, "is full of embarrassing questions and is an indispensable starting point for any serious discussion of the issues of the North American Free Trade Agreement, immigration, gangs, corruption, drug trafficking and poverty."
Eugene Richards is another collection of photographs for which Bowden wrote the accompanying text. Richards, a photorealist, is known for his work documenting the lives of the poor and exploited; among his collections is Dorchester Days, a portrait of a working-class Boston community, and Below the Line: Living Poor in America. Bowden, a personal friend of Richards, provides biographical and critical commentary on the photographer's opus.
Blues for Cannibals: The Notes from Underground drew strong critical response. A work of nonnarrative nonfiction, the book, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "explores modern American soul-sickness" and stands as a "spiritually rousing . . . punch in the gut." The book's material, some of it reworked from previously published essays, covers such subjects as Bowden's witnessing of a legal execution in Arizona, exploitation at the U.S.-Mexican border, and sex crimes. In the New York Times Book Review, Mark Jude Poirier observed that the book's chief strength is its author's presence, pointing out that Bowden "is observant, well read and refreshingly unpredictable" in his narration. Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Frank Reiss expressed similar admiration, noting Bowden's poetically intense style and his capacity for compassion. "As a writer seeking justice in his words," wrote Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Susan Salter Reynolds, "he is like a man clearing brush, trying to break through, to get enough light and oxygen to see his trees and sky again before he goes back under."
Salon contributor Michelle Goldberg, however, felt that the author condescends to his readers and glorifies some aspects of violence in the book. "Bowden seems to believe that he's privy to hideous truths that most of us are too deluded to see," commented Goldberg, who disapproved of the author's "admiration for the way some of [his subjects] fuck with established order." The critic also disagreed with Bowden's contention that he is telling readers things they do not want to hear. "The fact is, almost everyone wants to hear these things," Goldberg objected, pointing out that "in Bowden's writing, the big unutterable secret about sex crimes seems to be that they're titillating." Dismissing the author's attempts to philosophize about this issue, Goldberg asked: "But don't we know all this by now? Isn't it clear to everyone that human nature harbors ghastly impulses? Does another recitation of kiddie killings do anything to illuminate the dark corners of the soul?" Other reviewers, however, appreciated Bowden's insights on such difficult topics. Poirier, for one, suggested that though Blues for Cannibals doesn't succeed in answering the questions it raises, the author's "frank and charged prose" helps to "point us in the direction of an answer." San Francisco Chronicle writer David Kipen praised Bowden's often "muscular" prose and "rapturous indignation," and deemed Blues for Cannibals the "best imperfect book of the year."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 7, 2002, Frank Reiss, review of Blues for Cannibals: The Notes from Underground, p. H4.
Booklist, January 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Chihuahua: Pictures from the Edge, p. 812; February 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Blues for Cannibals, p. 918.
Business Week, August 2, 1993, p. 10.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, review of Blues for Cannibals, p. 26.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 16, 1986, p. 6; July 5, 1987, p. 4; January 8, 1989, p. 3; December 24, 1989, pp. 3, 11; June 16, 1991, p. 6; August 20, 1995, p. 12; May 24, 1998, Saul Landau, review of Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future; March 30, 2002, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Blues for Cannibals.
New York Times Book Review, July 5, 1987, p. 14; September 22, 1991, p. 14; November 21, 1993, p. 33; May 19, 2002, Mark Jude Poirier, review of Blues for Cannibals, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, February 4, 2002, review of Blues for Cannibals, p. 71.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 10, 2002, David Kipen, review of Blues for Cannibals, p. 1.
Washington Post Book World, August 9, 1987, Bruce Brown, review of Frog Mountain Blues, p. 8.
Whole Earth, fall, 1998, Dan Imhoff, review of Juarez, p. 95.
Salon,http://www.salon.com/ (March 13, 2002), Michelle Goldberg, review of Blues for Cannibals: The Notes from Underground.*