Stories from Jonestown

2012
Author:

Leigh Fondakowski

The story of Jonestown and Peoples Temple told 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 their 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 their 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.

Leigh Fondakowski was the head writer of The Laramie Project and an Emmy-nominated co-screenwriter for the adaptation of The Laramie Project for HBO films. Their other original plays include The People’s Temple, created from Jonestown survivors’ interviews, and SPILL, based on the real events surrounding the 2010 BP oil spill. They are the creator and host of the Frequency Machine audio series “Feminist Files.”

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 their 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, they illuminate 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

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

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

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.