Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher explores how a lone man’s epic obsession led to one of America’s greatest cultural treasures: prizewinning writer Timothy Egan tells the riveting, cinematic story behind the most famous photographs in Native American history — and the driven, brilliant man who made them.

Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. He was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared. An Indiana Jones with a camera, Curtis spent the next three decades traveling from the Havasupai at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the Acoma on a high mesa in New Mexico to the Salish in the rugged Northwest rain forest, documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes. It took tremendous perseverance — ten years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him into their Snake Dance ceremony. The undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate.

Eventually Curtis took more than 40,000 photographs, preserved 10,000 audio recordings, and is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of the American Indian. His most powerful backer was Theodore Roosevelt, and his patron was J. P. Morgan. Despite the friends in high places, he was always broke and often disparaged as an upstart in pursuit of an impossible dream. He completed his masterwork in 1930, when he published the last of the twenty volumes. A nation in the grips of the Depression ignored it. Today rare Curtis photogravures bring high prices at auction, and he is hailed as a visionary. In the end he fulfilled his promise: He made the Indians live forever. (description from publisher)

 

Acclaimed mystery writer Tony Hillerman passed away recently. In a series of books set in the Four Corners area (where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet) of the United States, Hillerman wrote beautifully about the land and the people who lived there, as well as crafting complex, believable murder stories that would keep you guessing until the end. I don’t know of any other writer who could so completely capture the “feel” of a place – not only the physical landscape, but the atmosphere, the quality of light, the unique everyday qualities of a particular location.

Hillerman also wrote respectfully of the many peoples and cultures that live in the Southwest – Navajo, Pueblo, Mexican, white. While he won many awards including the Golden Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, he often said he took the greatest pride from his Special Friend of the Dineh award from the Navajo Tribal Council.

Although he wrote more than 30 books, Hillerman is best known for his Leaphorn-Chee series. His first novel, The Blessing Way, introduced Joe Leaphorn, an older, experienced police-officer who understood but did not follow his people’s traditional beliefs in the spirit world. People of Darkness introduced Jim Chee, a young police officer who was also training to become a Navajo shaman. Hillerman’s breakthrough novel was Skinwalkers, when he brought both characters together in the same novel (they do not always get along) Their divergent views bring depth and understanding to the conflict between cultural assimilation and the pull of the old ways.

The entire Leaphorn-Chee series is recommended for their spare, evocative writing, fascinating cultural insights and suspenseful mysteries.

  1. The Blessing Way
  2. Dance Hall of the Dead
  3. Listening Woman
  4. People of Darkness
  5. The Dark Wind
  6. The Ghostway
  7. Skinwalkers
  8. A Thief of Time
  9. Talking God
  10. Coyote Waits
  11. Sacred Clowns
  12. The Fallen Man
  13. The First Eagle
  14. Hunting Badger
  15. The Wailing Wind
  16. The Sinister Pig
  17. Skeleton Man
  18. The Shape Shifter