Oak Flat Book Review by Kate Jackson

Oak Flat Book Review by Kate Jackson for The Writer’s Workshop.

Oak Flat:  A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West

By Lauren Redniss

Reviewed by Kate Jackson

This is a stunning visual nonfiction book written by an award-winning author with the eye of an artist and the voice of a journalist.   From the opening pages with their vivid illustrations interspersed with text to the final black pages with white print, the reader is introduced to a clash of cultural values of immediate relevance.

Oak Flat is part of the Tonto National Forest, about 65 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona.  It is a popular hiking, birding, and camping area 15 miles from the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation and near the town of Superior.  The land also sits above a large copper deposit worth billions of dollars and coveted by Resolution Mining Company, LLC.  Apaches consider Oak Flat to be sacred ground where they gather medicinal plants and acorns and continue to pray and perform ceremonies passed down by generations.  The proposed mine would eventually create a large crater to replace the land and make the site unrecognizable.  Residents of the town see jobs and increased economic activity from the mining operation.

The book provides rich visual representations of Oak Flat while weaving a narrative based on interviews with members of an Apache family, the Nosies, and descendants of early settlers of Superior, the Gorhams.  Wendsler Nosie served on the San Carlos Tribal Council and was tribal chairman before forming the Apache Stronghold, an alliance of Apaches and others determined to stop the copper mine.  The Sunrise dance which reenacts the Apaches creation myth at Oak Flat, is seen through the eyes of his granddaughter, Naelyn Pike.  The Gorhams represent the perspective of workers in the mines and community members who have experienced the boom and bust of previous mining operations.

The fate of Oak Flat has not been resolved as the Forest Service recently rescinded the environmental impact assessment necessary for the mining project to proceed.   Pressures for increased copper production will continue to mount as the movement towards “clean” energy solutions to reduce carbon emissions are advanced.  Large amounts of copper are necessary for solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and battery storage.  Where do sacred spaces fit into the equation of costs and benefits?

The Writer’s Workshop Book Review regularly publishes reviews of fictional and nonfiction narratives from traditional publishing houses. If you would like to write a review or have your own book reviewed, please let me know.

The Perfect Pitch

Pitching is an essential skill for all writers. If you want to get assignments and or have someone publish your book, you need to make a pitch. David Remnick of The New Yorker will not magically find the brilliant manuscript hidden in the bottom of your desk; you have to send it to him along with a pitch letter describing why he should publish it. Ditto with your novel or memoir or nonfiction book. You need to write a short, succinct, winning pitch to get an agent or editor for it.

I’ve been doing this for years; it’s all part of writing for newspapers and magazines and publishing books. Pitching is not a skill much discussed in MFA programs, but it’s one I always explain in my Seattle writing classes and my Travel, Food and Wine writing classes in Europe. And I ask expert editors to speak about what they like to see in a pitch.

Recently, I asked Kristen Russell, the Managing editor of Seattle magazine, about what she likes to see and not see in a pitch. She came up with a very useful list of mistakes to avoid when pitching magazine editors, which I’ll include below.

  1. The vague pitch: “I would like to write something about the locovore food movement.”
  2. The resume builder: “I am passionate about this topic and would love to see it published in Seattle magazine.”
  3. The not-really-Seattle trend pitch: “More and more people are skipping their vacations because of the economy.”
  4. The why-now? pitch: “For three years, this program has been putting bikes into the hands of at-risk kids.”
  5. The off-tone pitch: Match your pitch to the “voice” of the publication. Do not be overly formal or overly slangy, unless that’s the style of the magazine.
  6. The “it’s your problem” pitch: Don’t throw an idea out there without suggesting a possible use for it. The best pitches make it easy for the editor to see where the story fits into the publication.
  7. The irrelevant-to-the-magazine pitch: “I propose an article on my son’s first day of kindergarten” only works for magazines with a focus on parenting or education.
  8. The mistake-ridden, typo-covered pitch: Don’t do it. Editors will notice.
  9. The redundant pitch: Search the magazine’s website to make sure it hasn’t just run a similar article.
  10. The so-last-year pitch: “How about a story about Seattle’s food trucks?”

For more about pitching newspapers, magazines and book publishers, please consider enrolling in my fall class, Revising Your Life.