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Stories from Jonestown

2012
Author:

Leigh Fondakowski

Stories from Jonestown

Tells the story of Jonestown and Peoples Temple through extensive interviews with the survivors

Leigh Fondakowski spent three years traveling the U.S. to interview survivors of the Jonestown massacre, 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 in one of the most gripping, moving, and humanizing accounts of Jonestown ever written.

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

Publishers Weekly

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, 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.

Stories from Jonestown

Leigh Fondakowski was the head writer of The Laramie Project and has been a member of the Tectonic Theater 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 survivors’ interviews, has been performed under her direction at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, American Theater Company, and the Guthrie Theater.

Stories from Jonestown

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.

PopMatters.com

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.

BlogCritics.org

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

Bibliosaurus Text Blog

Stories from Jonestown

Contents

Two Days in November
Lost Voices
List of Interviews

Part I: Collect All the Tapes, All the Writing, All the History
Nobody was Paying Attention
I was His Son
My Button was Fear
Jonestown Vortex
A Godly Life
A Man of His Word
The Air They Breathed
I’ve Been to the Shadows

Part II: Until We Meet Again
Take the City Today
Too Black
Homicide is Suicide
We All Participated
Sole Survivor
Hundreds of Kids
This is Big
Waylaid
Stigmata
The Dream

Part III: To Whom Much is Given
Sixty-seven Cents
Nefarious
We Were Rising
The Basis of a Book
Beyond Truth
It’s No Mystery

Part IV: The Promised Land
What a Place for Them
Exodus
That’s Jonestown
The Revolution
Death is Real
Second Chance

Part V: The Ones Who Got Away
The Known Dead
My Children Are There
Conspiracist
The Ones Who Got Away
Undetermined
Something to Gain
Evergreen
I Won’t Say Anniversary
A Bittersweet Gift
After

The 918 Deaths of November 18, 1978
Acknowledgements
Index

Stories from Jonestown

Q&A with Leigh Fondakowski on UMP's blog.

Leigh Fondakowski interview with the U of M's Institute for Advanced Study, December 2011. Stories from Jonestown discussion begins around 6:50.