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LA Weekly: A New Book About Jonestown, the West Coast Cult That Led to a Massacre

By Siran Babayan
LA Weekly

fondakowski_stories coverThis year marks the 35th anniversary of the infamous Jonestown murder-suicides orchestrated by Reverend Jim Jones in Guyana. More than 900 people lost their lives.

While Jones' Peoples Temple is inherently a Bay Area story — that of an Indianapolis preacher who, in 1965, moved his followers to Ukiah and later San Francisco, where they became a political force — the church branched out to L.A. and attracted thousands of local congregants. In her new book, Stories From Jonestown (University of Minnesota Press), author Leigh Fondakowski interviews more than 40 survivors, former cult members, relatives of the deceased and various experts, giving voice to some of the Angelenos who were part of the largest mass killing in American history.

Fondakowski was one of the creators of the play and subsequent HBO movie The Laramie Project, about murdered gay student Matthew Shepard. In 2001, she was commissioned by San Francisco's Z Space Studio to write a play about Jonestown. She spent three years interviewing subjects from San Diego to Eugene, Ore. After the play was staged in 2005, Fondakowski used the transcripts to put together a book.

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