I’ve been writing since I could wield a pencil, motivated at first by a keen desire to keep a record of things as they happened (since otherwise God might not have all the details of certain events in which my name and actions might appear) and soon after—and ever since—because I have never been able to figure out the world without writing my way through it. I had no intention of publishing before the opportunity arose in the early 1990s, so consider myself fortunate to be able to do something like this for my living. Until recently I felt too uneasy about the economics of that to leave off the pursuit of a steady career and paycheck (with healthcare and all that is implied there!), but I have fewer years left to me than I have already lived, and too much of my time thus far has been spent saying and doing what other people have thought I should say and do, so . . . I now hie off for other climes!
My first book, Point Last Seen: A Woman Tracker’s Story was published by Beacon Press in 1997, with multiple subsequent editions since (Penguin paperback, 1998; Audio Literature audiobook,1998; multiple foreign editions; Pocket/Simon & Schuster (Gallery reprint), 2002), was made into a CBS movie of the same title, starring Linda Hamilton, in 1998. My goal here was to tell two interrelated sets of stories from my life—learning how to track lost people while being stalked by an abusive ex-husband—in ways that would allow readers to experience how a tracker moves alongside a trail and processes the signs and meanings found there. Pacing, timing, and segmentation were all deeply deliberate, as were the disparate threads of observation and feeling, for tracking never happens straightforward or only in one direction. Like life, it comes at us will-nilly. We learn to come alongside a set of tracks only by immersing ourselves in the whole.
For a review of the book (with my name tidily misspelled!) and an excerpt, see these archived documents from The New York Times and Kirkus Reviews. Sites like Goodreads and Amazon offer a number of reader reviews. The audiobook is still available at booksellers such as Barnes and Noble, and the film is still airing on cable, as for example at Lifetime. A limited number of hardcover first edition copies of Point Last Seen are available (on a sliding scale of $21 or pay-as-you-can + postage), and I am happy to sign them for you. If you would like one of these books, please contact me using the form on the Connect page here on this blog.
Odelle Bowman and Dawn McAndrews have recently used excerpts from PLS, this blog, and interviews with me to turn this story into a play, as well, and will be touring with it in coming years.
In the sequel that I’m now finishing (working title in the throes of moniker angst at the moment!), I am telling two more interrelated sets of stories—learning how to track for subsistence, community, and healing among indigenous peoples of the Kalahari, Namib, and southwestern U.S. deserts while reckoning with the structural inequalities, violence, and race- and class-based stereotypes with which these people must contend every day. The prequel to PLS, an examination of race, education, and religion in the south in the 1960s, is underway as well.
Leave No Trace, the first novel of the Tally Nowata series I began at Pocket, was published in 2002 and has recently been made into a independent feature film titled Heatstroke (Bold Films; Evelyn Maude Purcell, director). Reader reviews for the novel can be found at Amazon and Goodreads, and an excerpt can be found at Simon and Schuster. The book made the Unforgettables List on Goodreads as well.
At Sea in the World (Or, The UnNatural Histories of a Ship):
The Cruise of U.S. Frigate ESSEX, 1798–1837)
After a good many years at the effort, I finally completed my doctoral dissertation in 2012, using the ethnographic and environmental intercourses made possible by this fascinating little globe-trotting ship as a window into the history of the early Americas and U.S. in the world. The story is too rich to leave it sitting between the covers of a tome somewhere, of no use to anyone, so I have pulled anchor on my regular haunts and am headed for blue water on this one: using historical scholarship as a keel for a new ship entirely, a novel that brings the people of this frigate to the stage once more. For a sense of the scope of the project (yet nothing whatsoever akin to the voices in which the manuscript is now taking form), here’s the (rather boring!) blurb from the dissertation:
In Oa’oamanu (October), 1798, the Teii people of Taioha’e, Nukuhiva held a great koika (feast) for kin and foes alike at their ceremonial center on the island’s northern coast. An estimated 10,000 Henua’enanans converged for this multi-day ceremony, which included singing, competitive dancing, and historical re-enactments of recent disturbing encounters between Te ‘Enana (The People) and Te Aoe (The Strangers). On the 23rd day of that same month, a group of people from Salem and Essex County, Massachusetts held a town meeting where they “voted unanimously to build a frigate of thirty-two guns, and to loan the same to the government.”
Frigate Essex became the first U.S. vessel of war to round and double the Cape of Good Hope (1800). In 1812, she served in the Caribbean and Atlantic, taking the first British prize of that conflict (H.M. Alert), and, early in 1813, became the first U.S. ship of war to round Cape Horn and cruise the Pacific. Within months, the frigate had captured 12 British whalers and the focused attention of the Royal Navy, and was in serious need of repairs. Fifteen years and three days after that initial Salem vote, U.S. Frigate Essex opened the bay off Taioha’e, igniting a small chain of controversial, deadly, and oft-retold events that included some deeply intimate intercourses, a “war of conquest,” and a formal ceremony of annexation to the United States. After a bloody battle off Valparaíso, Chile in March 1814, the well-storied vessel survived to spend many of her remaining years in the Royal Navy as Convict Hulk Essex.
This thesis treats the ship as the main historical character and tracks her from inception to demise, attending in particular to the ethnographic and environmental interrogations necessary to keep the frigate afloat and functioning. Cross-species encounters and cross-cultural intercourses become the lifeblood of the living ship, and shape the daily realities of those aboard and alongside. By reflecting on the conventions of historical narratives and performances throughout, immersing readers in the primary sources of this project, and developing a concept of cultures as waves becoming, the analysis seeks to function as a koika that reconsiders what U.S. Frigate Essex might still teach us about ships and nations and beings at sea in the world.
Last but not least, I keep multiple irons in the fire on any given day, working in creative nonfiction, oral history, and fiction (multiple sub-genres), but I’ve learned that the better part of valor is to not talk much about projects until they are well and thoroughly on their feet. I’ll update this section for any that are published under Hannah Nyala or Hannah Nyala West.