Former Unabomber suspect speaks about new book

Former Unabomber suspect, William Vollmann, made a guest appearance at American River College to talk about his non-fiction novel “Poor People”.

Vollmann is an American novelist, journalist, war correspondent, short story writer, and essayist.

Christian Kiefer, English professor at ARC and good friend of Vollmann, asked him to come out and speak from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. in Raef Hall room 161.

The book that led to Vollmann being a suspect in the Unabomber case is entitled “Fathers and Crows”, the second novel in a seven-book series called “Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes”.

“Fathers and Crows” delves into the relationship between French-Jesuit missionaries in New France (Canada) and the Huron and Iroquois people in Canada and present-day New York state.

“Someone denounced me for ‘Fathers and Crows’ – apparently in the novel I was too sympathetic toward terrorism even though the novel was written in a time period before the United States was created,” said Vollmann.

Having the history of being a suspect for the Unabomber case on his permanent record “makes it easier for me to be brave,” said Vollmann.

The students who attended the informal question and answer seminar asked Vollmann about his inspiration and reasons for writing “Poor People”.

Said Vollmann, “I was interested in asking, ‘Why are you poor?’ and the answers varied from region to region. Thai cleaning ladies said they were bad people in a previous life while women from Mexico and Columbia said it was because the rich had stolen from them.”

Vollmann expanded on a few of his other novels as well.

In the novel “Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means” Vollmann examined the causes and effects of violence.

Vollmann used his reporting experience from places such as Somalia, Cambodia and Iraq as inspiration and knowledge to write the novel.

Vollmann told of many personal accounts, including the time two of his friends were killed by snipers.

“I felt really sorry for my friends, but we chose to be there and we took the risk. But the people who don’t choose to be there I have to feel more sorry for,” said Vollmann.

When a student asked whether or not he would choose life or death if asked to join a terrorist group Vollmann said, “I would certainly rather die than do harm, but if I could pretend to do harm then escape that’d be ideal.”

Said Kiefer of Vollmann’s work, “He’s maybe the greatest living American novelist.”

American River College student and early childhood education major Natalie Tucker has also enjoyed works of Vollmann’s.

“I became so engulfed in his book (Poor People) that I looked up one day and realized I was thirty minutes late for class,” said Tucker.

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About the Author

Cheyenne Drury
Cheyenne Drury is a third-semester student on the American River Current, where she serves as the Editor-in-chief. She previously served as arts and culture editor and news editor. She is double majoring in journalism and photojournalism. She has competed in softball, cross country and track all at the college level. She was published in the American River Review, the award winning college literary magazine.

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