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Stories from Jonestown - Leigh Fondakowski

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Stories from Jonestown
Leigh Fondakowski
University of Minnesota Press
UK Publication Date

The saga of Jonestown didn't end on the day in November 1978 when more than nine hundred Americans died in a mass murder-suicide in the Guyanese jungle. While only a handful of people present at the agricultural project survived that day in Jonestown, more than eighty members of Peoples Temple, led by Jim Jones, were elsewhere in Guyana on that day, and thousands more members of the movement still lived in California. Emmy-nominated writer Leigh Fondakowski, who is best known for her work on the play and HBO film The Laramie Project, spent three years traveling the United States to interview these survivors, many of whom have never talked publicly about the tragedy. Using more than two hundred hours of interview material, Fondakowski creates intimate portraits of these survivors as they tell their unforgettable stories.

Collectively this is a record of ordinary people, stigmatized as cultists, who after the Jonestown massacre were left to deal with their grief, reassemble their lives, and try to make sense of how a movement born in a gospel of racial and social justice could have gone so horrifically wrong-taking with it the lives of their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters. As these survivors look back, we learn what led them to join the Peoples Temple movement, what life in the church was like, and how the trauma of Jonestown's end still affects their lives decades later.

What emerges are portrayals both haunting and hopeful-of unimaginable sadness, guilt, and shame but also resilience and redemption. Weaving her own artistic journey of discovery throughout the book in a compelling historical context, Fondakowski delivers, with both empathy and clarity, one of the most gripping, moving, and humanizing accounts of Jonestown ever written.

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Leigh Fondakowski was the head writer of The Laramie Project and has been a member of the Tectonic Theatre Project since 1995. She is an Emmy-nominated coscreenwriter for the adaptation of The Laramie Project for HBO, and a cowriter of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Her play, The People's Temple, created from the survivors' interviews, has been performed under her direction at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, American Theatre Company, and the Guthrie Theatre.

"Fondakowski perfectly captures the rapturous hope surrounding Jonestown, which makes its demise all the more heartbreaking."-Publishers Weekly

"This is a book that seeks to set the record straight about the culture and politics of Peoples Temple, and as such is a crucial addition to the Jonestown canon. For perhaps the first time, we hear the voices of the Temple instead of seeing the casualties. We get an indelible sense of the believers' youth and optimism, along with the vulnerability that drove them into the arms of the wilderness. Not all of them killed themselves willingly, but all of them gambled on Jones's promise of a better life. They gambled on a future where all they had sacrificed would mean something to the world. The tragic irony is that it did."-Bookforum

"There is an immediacy to the stories - from survivors, members' families, press, politicians, and community leaders - many of which have never been printed before. Time seems to travel backward, taking the reader along."-JMark Afghans Blog

"This book, written by Emmy-nominated writer Leigh Fondakowski, who is best known for her work on the play and HBO film The Laramie Project, is well worth taking the time to read. "-Two Weeks From Everywhere Blog

"A sweeping reminder of the promise that drew so many under Jones' sway, and the horrors that eventually befell them. It allows the people of the Peoples Temple to speak in their own words, unframed from mass perception. "

"After nearly 35 years, it feels as if the horrible tale of the Jonestown tragedy has been told from every perspective. As new book Stories from Jonestown shows us though, there are some voices that have remained unheard through all of this time. Through a series of interviews with survivors, author Leigh Fondakowski presents a compelling account of life with Jim Jones in Guyana. Along the way, she illuminates the numerous falsehoods which have been accepted as fact over the years as well. Most of all, Stories from Jonestown presents ordinary people whose lives have been irrevocably altered by tragic events. It is a remarkable book."

"Required reading for anybody curious about Jonestown and the ways that even the most Utopian society can turn sour and deadly."-Bibliosaurus Text Blog

"For me, this was a haunting book, but one I'm glad I read. Because the tragedy of Jonestown was real, a reminder that people's grandest plans sometimes take very wrong turns."-Jennifer R. Hubbard

"If you've got a true crime lover on your gift list this year, then look for Stories from Jonestown by Leigh Fondakowski. This book delves deep into what happened 35 years ago in Guyana and why it happened, and it includes interviews with survivors. This is chilling stuff, and not for the faint of heart -which is why you must give it to your favorite true crime buff."-Sun News

"Intriguing, engaging, and very human."-American Studies

"Fondakowski has succeeded in creating an empathetic portrait of a group of people who lived through and were changed by a remarkable historical experience."-New West Indian Guide

"A testimony of Fondakowski's own personal journey of discovery and empathy."-True Crime Factor

Keyword Index
Cults - California - History - 20th century.|Cults - Guyana - History - 20th century.
Country of Publication
Number of Pages
xxii, 350

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