March Book Club by Hana Zittel

Book Club
By Hana Zittel
Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren Redniss (2020)

“The contested copper under Oak Flat was created by the stars that were born and died billions of years ago. The copper is older than Earth itself. A mine here would operate for about 40 years.”

By Lauren Redniss

The Oak Flat mesa is located about 40 miles east of Phoenix and is a sacred site for many tribes of Indigenous peoples. One central ritual held at Oak Flat is the Sunrise Ceremony, an Apache girl’s entry into adulthood, an event that is carefully prepared for and requires a combination of strength, endurance, wisdom and support from elders. 

“Oak Flat has long been a holy place for the Apache people. It was an Apache burial ground and continues to be site of religious ceremonies, including a coming-of-age rite for girls known as the Sunrise Dance. Under Oak Flat lies the largest known, untapped copper deposit in North America.” – Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren Redniss (2020)

Oak Flat and its surrounding Tonto National Forest came under persistent threat when a copper reserve was discovered below, making it a lucrative find for Resolution Copper, who took to finding ways to dissolve its protected status. With the support of John McCain, Resolution Copper made headway in 2014 when McCain tacked on the land transfer of Oak Flat to Resolution Copper into the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Obama, opening the sacred site up to mining and totaling 2,400 acres of Tonto National Forest.

“It is said that when those warriors jumped from the cliff tops, Apache women cried, and their tears were transformed into black stones. At the Apache Tear Caves, tourists hunt for these so-called Apache Tears. Some claim the obsidian nuggets possess healing properties.” – Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren Redniss (2020)

Lauren Redniss takes a journalistic approach to covering the story of Oak Flat using her signature style of “visual non-fiction.” She intertwines interviews with the people surrounding this sacred site with illustrations of natural beauty and visual portraits of these key figures in colored pencil. Redniss provides the views of those resigned or in support of the mine and those who furiously fight to preserve this cultural beacon. Though she covers so many impacted by this threat, an interview on the story of the Sunrise Ceremony from an activist for Oak Flat’s protection, Naelyn Pike, her sisters, and mother provides a window into the vital importance of its preservation and how much is at stake. 

“The Apache believe that Mount Graham is the dwelling place of mountain spirits and a source of supernatural power.” Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren Redniss (2020)

Redniss manages to provide a bird’s-eye view of this issue, and her examination makes clear the destruction that unending greed continues to enact on our natural wonders and on Indigenous traditions. This story continues to unfold in heartbreaking articles as the fight to protect this land goes on, and the coverage Redniss crafts provides a chance to deeply listen to the voices most affected by these destructive decisions.

Get Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West here.

Deacon King Kong by James McBride (2020)

James McBride’s newest novel radiates with the kind of writing that makes you see a whole world in a couple of sentences as he sucks us into a 1969 Brooklyn housing project. McBride rallies a chorus of characters in this novel, all circling the shooting of a hardened drug dealer by the local church’s deacon. 

Cuffy Jasper Lampkin, or to everyone who lives in their neighborhood, “Sportcoat,” is deep into drinking the local home brewed liquor, King Kong, and to excess. It’s in a drunken stupor he shoots at Deems Clemens, taking part of his ear off, but unable to remember anything about the event. Thus begins the escapades in which Sportcoat tries to evade Clemens’ revenge, all the while we are roped into the stories surrounding the shooting; the investigation of the scene from an old cop nearing retirement, a mobster on the brink of solving a family mystery, and a myriad other neighborhood characters providing slices of the history of Brooklyn and the tiny details of their lives and stories that create a full and unforgettable world.

James McBride shows us a Brooklyn in Deacon King Kong that lets you live in this neighborhood, this time, never wanting to leave, telling a huge story with breakneck speed. He gives us such real, beautiful, flawed, and funny characters that you know and miss them when you finish. Deacon King Kong deservedly appeared on multiple Best of 2020 book lists and gives us an immersive story that maintains complexity and sincerity while creating unforgettable scenes that keep jokes and wit strung throughout. 

Hana Zittel is a librarian at the Denver Public Library in addition to being a librarian at the Denver Zine Librarian. She grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and pretty much just likes being outside with her pup when she has some free time, and reading, that might have been assumed though.