A Red Woman Was Crying: Nagovisi Stories


Product Details

Saddle Road Press
Publish Date
5.5 X 8.5 X 0.69 inches | 0.01 pounds
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About the Author

Don Mitchell is an ecological anthropologist, writer, book designer, and photographer who lived among the Nagovisi people of Bougainville for several years in the 1960s and 1970s, and returned in 2001 after Bougainville's war of secession. He grew up in Hilo, on the island of Hawai'i, and graduated from Hilo High School. He studied anthropology and creative writing at Stanford and earned a PhD in anthropology from Harvard. For many years he was a professor of anthropology at Buffalo State, a unit of the State University of New York. In his non-academic life, he was a dedicated marathon and ultra-marathon runner and a professional road race timer (operating as Runtime Services). He continues to tackle long distances on foot, though much more slowly. He lived in Buffalo and later in Colden, New York, before moving back to his childhood home in Hilo, where he lives with the poet Ruth Thompson. He published an academic book and articles about Nagovisi, but in the early 1990s returned to writing fiction and poetry. His stories have won praise from many quarters, including a Pushcart nomination and awards from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, New Millennium Writings and other journals. He has been an Artist in Residence for the City of Portales, NM, and in 2019 shared (with Ruth Thompson) the Jack Williamson Visiting Professor of English Chair at Eastern New Mexico University. He is actively involved in matters concerning Mauna Kea, Hawai'i's tallest and most contested mountain.


"Mitchell achieves the nearly impossible: writing as an 'outsider, ' he immerses his reader in the interiors of Pacific Islanders without simplifying the people, condescending to them, or romanticizing them. These stories are told from the points of view of Nagovisi people young and old, male and female, gentle and fierce, and by narrating their lives in their own voices, Mitchell conjures characters complex and remarkably real. A highly original collection, quietly lyrical and wise." -- Ann Pancake

"In his forward, Mitchell tells the reader that he lived among the Nagovisi people in the early 1970s and that these stories are fiction. A good storyteller entertains; a great one makes stories real, and that's what Mitchell did in this collection.Through each narrator, the reader gets insight into the Nagovisi's culture--learning as one goes along, perhaps similar to the way Elliot, the anthropologist, came to understand it. 'Fireflies Killed Her' is about a man who struggles with who actually killed his wife and why the violence even happened. 'I Don't Kill People Anymore' is a carefully paced story about Mesiamo--a leader among his people--and Elliot, who discover that courage and shame aren't perceived the same way. In 'My White Man, ' the friendship between Siuwako and Elliot is genuine and touching. Their dance of attraction, which could never be explored, is completely believable."

"As someone with psychological training and avid interest in other cultures, I was delighted with Don Mitchell's book, with its linked stories from the Nagovisi of the Solomon Islands. There is a good deal of contemporary ethnographic fiction such as the recent The People in the Trees (Yanagihara) in which the native people and the anthropologists who work among them appear as crude caricatures. In his forward, we're told that Mitchell lived and worked beside the Nagovisi for a number of years, learning their language and culture. What makes this volume of short fiction both distinctive and compelling is his empathic understanding of the people he lived with and his decision to let the tribespeople narrate the stories: the speakers reveal both their unique cultural "take" on things and their deeper humanity that bonds them with Elliot and with us as readers. [For example] Siuwako is a young mother who works side by side with Elliot in the gardens as his 'woman friend and teacher.' Hers is a subtle love story in which she extracts from him a tragic secret and says with pride that together, they 'became something [we] had never been, or seen, or heard about.' For the reader who appreciates short stories of depth and complexity, and who is curious about other cultures, this book will supply much enjoyment, right up to and including the last story, a coda apparently told by Elliot himself years later. Let's hope we hear more from Mitchell, who pulls off the rare feat of catching the rhythms of another people, another language, another culture."

"A fantastic work of storytelling and ethnography from Don Mitchell, channeling his days in the early 70's amongst the Nagovisi people of the South Pacific. These interlinked tales form an incredibly complex and moving narrative capable of transporting us far from our everyday lives. Worth buying several copies and sharing with friends."

"This brilliantly original work of fiction is told by [Nagovisi] men and women.The subtitle makes clear the debt that the author owes to the people he celebrates in his lyrical prose. These stories are not 'about' the Nagovisi, but come out of them . . . they are good readers of character, these Nagovisi, able to observe, analyze, and predict Lyman's actions. And they are great storytellers, eager to spin long, boisterous tales."