In the past three days I've been able to present Downwind: A People's History in three different and really special Salt Lake City venues. Tuesday night I visited the beautiful downtown library in SL and had a conversation with downwinder activist, playwright, KUED Director of Services, and all around force of nature, Mary Dickson. It was a great format. Attendees sat in a semicircle of chairs and we sat in the center, sharing stories and fielding some fantastic questions.
I met Mary over ten years ago, when I was first begining my research on these issues. I'd gone to hear writer and downwinder Terry Tempest Williams speak at USU in November of 2004. After her talk I waited in line to meet her and I told her that I was thinking about writing my master's thesis on the downwinders. She clasped my hands, gave me her best wishes, and told me I'd better call Mary, whose number she scribbled down on the margin of a program. Mary immediately agreed to let me interview her, but she quickly became more than an informant for my project. She took me out to eat, she took me to the movies, she shared everything she knew. We spent one long night sitting up eating Girl Scout cookies and making postcards to send to elected officials in protest of the planned Divine Strake test. Several years later Mary wrote a remarkable play, Exposed, about her journey to awareness as a downwinder, which was performed in SL and around the state to critical aclaim. It was an honor and a pleasure to be reunited at this event to talk about our respective journeys and our work. This event (and in fact, most of my Utah tour) wouldn't have been possible without the help of several key folks. Rob DeBirk (who happens to be Mary's nephew) who worked for many years with HEAL, connected me to Michael McLane of Utah Humanities. Michael set up this and most of my other Utah tour events, lending his passion for the subject and his extensive connections around the state.
On Wednesday I visited the Utah State Archives as a guest of Archives Month, where I spoke to a great crowd of archivists and community members about some of the archival documents that informed Downwind. (A link to a video of my talk can be found in the caption of the slide image below). Prior to my talk, Justin Sorenson and Heidi Brett of the University of Utah Downwinders Archive offered a short presentation about the remarkable work they are doing to preserve and share Downwinder oral histories, documents, and data.
After my talk, archivist Jim Kichas gave me a fantastic tour of the facilities. People, there are SO MANY BOOKS in this room waiting to be written. Get yourself to an archive and ask a brilliant archivist like Jim what's good. Its pretty magical when they set down that box on the table and you get to pull out those folders and see the literal pieces of history tucked inside.
Thursday I joined staff and several very special supporters of HEAL Utah for a luncheon to discuss Downwind and the work of building awareness and action around these stories. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the work to be done on this issue, I take great comfort from clicking over to HEAL's website to be reminded of the incredible work they are are doing every day to advocate for the environment and the people of Utah. It was amazing to meet them in person, and to hand over my small, heartfelt donation from the first year of Downwind's royalties. Keep up the good work, you amazing people.
I've had the great pleasure of staying with dear friends in SLC... thanks Christina and Sadiki! Now its on to events in Malad, Idaho and Emmett, Idaho this weekend.