Weisman, Alan H. 1947-

views updated

Weisman, Alan H. 1947-

PERSONAL:

Born March 24, 1947, in Minneapolis, MN; son of Simon A. (an attorney) and Charlotte (a homemaker) Weisman; married Diana Papoulias, September 14, 1980 (divorced, June, 1987); married Beckie Kravetz (a sculptor). Education: Northwestern University, B.A., 1969, M.S.J., 1971.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Western MA. Office—P.O. Box 77, Cummington, MA 01026. Agent—Nicholas Ellison, Inc., 55 5th Ave., New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]

CAREER:

Substitute teacher at public schools in Chicago, IL, 1970-71; writer and photographer, 1972-74; Arizona Republic, Phoenix, AZ, feature correspondent and photographer, 1974-77; Prescott College, Prescott, AZ, professor of humanities and Southwest studies, 1975—; University of Arizona, Tucson, Laureate Associate Professor in Journalism and Latin American Studies. Volunteer and member of staff at Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos orphanage, Cuernavaca, Mexico, 1978 and 1980-81; consultant to Departmento Federal de Pesca (Mexico City, Mexico), Natural Systems, Inc., and Sistema Alimentario Mexicano. Writer-in-residence at Altos de Chavon, La Romana, Dominican Republic, 1988; former contributing editor, Los Angeles Times Magazine; Homelands Productions, senior radio producer; frequent guest lecturer at writers' workshops.

MEMBER:

Association of Borderlands Scholars, American Association of University Professors, Associated Writing Programs.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Grant from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, 1984-86; John Farrar fellow in nonfiction at Bread Loaf Writers Conference, 1986; grants from Texas Humanities Council, 1986 and 1987; Four Corners Award for best nonfiction book, 1986-87; Best of the West award in journalism, 1987; conference fellow at American Center for International Leadership, 1987; Greater Los Angeles Press Club Award for best feature story of 1987; Fulbright fellowship for research in Colombia, 1988-89.

WRITINGS:

We, Immortals (nonfiction), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1979.

(Editor) Jay Dusard, The North American Cowboy: A Portrait, Consortium Press, 1983.

La Frontera: The United States Border with Mexico, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1986.

Gaviotas! A Village to Reinvent the World, Chelsea Green (White River Junction, VT), 1998.

An Echo in My Blood: The Search for a Family's Hidden Past, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1999.

The World without Us, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2007.

Prince of Darkness, Richard Perle: The Kingdom, the Power, and the End of Empire in America, Union Square Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of articles and photographs to magazines and newspapers, including Atlantic, New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, and Arizona Highways; contributor to Best American Science Writing, 2000-2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

Alan H. Weisman earned his undergraduate and his master's degrees in journalism from Northwestern University. A journalist and educator, he has served as the features correspondent and photographer for the Arizona Republic and as contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He has contributed both articles and photographs on a freelance basis to a wide range of periodicals, including the Atlantic, New York Times Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, and Arizona Highways, and his work was chosen for inclusion in Best American Science Writing, 2000-2007. He is also on the faculty of the University of Arizona, where he is Laureate Associate Professor in Journalism and Latin American Studies. In addition, Weisman is the author or editor of a number of books.

Gaviotas! A Village to Reinvent the World recounts the history of the small Colombian village in an inhospitable region of the country where no one was supposed to be able to survive. The village was founded during the 1970s in an effort to find a solution to the ever-dwindling natural resources and the increasing consumption of the world population year by year. It was proposed that people needed to learn how to live in a harsh climate and to do without the modern conveniences they so often take for granted, so the village was established in order for people to learn self-sufficiency. Weisman recounts the experiences of the diverse set of people who participate in this effort, including biologists, botanists, engineers, doctors, teachers, and others, chronicling their innovations and the ways in which they have learned to utilize the resources of their immediate environment without destroying them. Karen Collamore Sullivan, in a review for Library Journal, found Weisman's effort to be a "wonderful testament to human creativity, commitment, and effort toward building a socially viable and environmentally sustainable future."

In An Echo in My Blood: The Search for a Family's Hidden Past, Weisman follows his own family tree back to the Ukraine, where his father was born. On assignment in 1993 after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, Weisman begins to explore his family's roots there and to compare the life of immigrant Jews who fled their homeland in the wake of the Bolsheviks to his own comfortable childhood and adulthood, having been raised in the prosperous United States—a life that was possible thanks to his father's struggle to establish himself in his new country. His journey also gives him perspective regarding his boyhood memories of his father ranting against the murdering Communists. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that "Weisman has a gift for language, and his personal search for family and identity will move anyone who recognizes the universality of love, loss and humanity." Writing for Library Journal, David Keymer found the book to be "remarkable, sensitive history, where the present supplies meaning to the past, and the past provides context for the present."

Weisman once told CA: "My work involves three clearly related themes: communication, communion, and commitment. How can we most perfectly relate one to the other? What is our responsibility to do so? The setting for much of what I write is Latin America, our closest neighbor, and, in so many ways, our profound opposite. My own constant travels there—my excursions out of my own language and into another—have deepened my connection not only to people and worlds beyond me, but to myself.

"My interest in Latin America began with a visit to Mexico. How was it, I wondered, that the people next door to us lived so differently? As I began to investigate why, I discovered that North and Latin America had been colonized and developed by distinctly different cultures. I also learned that for more than a century, my own country had been taking advantage of those differences, and often to the detriment of its neighbors. And I got angry.

"My book La Frontera: The United States Border with Mexico describes the line where the two Americas meet, both in terms of the inherent fascination in the clashing and blending of cultures, and as a metaphor of the increasingly inevitable contact and conflict between the first and third worlds. Nowhere else on the planet do these two such disparate societies confront each other for such a sustained distance. The border, I suggest, is also thus the boundary between the present and the future, because events and economics and sheer population figures will inexorably bring us together. People who appear in the book represent the extremes of how we may choose to deal with our shared future and are themselves metaphors: among them, the drug lord, the faith healer, the binational environmentalists, the Native Americans who recognize no artificial lines superimposed by distant bureaucrats, the undocumented aliens and their pursuers, the smugglers, the duty-free zone assembly-line laborers and their feminist defenders, and the artists who hear North America through one ear and South American through the other—and who process the sounds and swirl into a vision of what's coming. Depending on who you are, that vision can frighten, gratify, vindicate, or fascinate.

"Myself, I am tired of the perpetual injustice I see inflicted on my neighbors by simplistic, failed foreign policies that assume that other countries exist only to fulfill our needs and pleasures. I welcome the border artists' visions of a reasonable, shared destiny awaiting us all, and I will keep writing whatever may help to clear the path a little as we struggle toward it."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Weisman, Alan H., An Echo in My Blood: The Search for a Family's Hidden Past, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1999.

PERIODICALS

Library Journal, March 1, 1998, Karen Collamore Sullivan, review of Gaviotas! A Village to Reinvent the World, p. 118; September 1, 1999, David Keymer, review of An Echo in My Blood, p. 214.

Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1999, review of An Echo in My Blood, p. 71.