Brent Ashabranner has been my writing mentor and friend for over twenty years. He is as fine a human being as he is a writer. He co- authored my first book with me and has been a part of every book I have written ever since. I have been blessed to share friendship with Brent.
Brent published over forty nonfiction books for young adults. His books reflect his considerable international experience. He wrote on global themes with an emphasis on ethnic diversity, injustice and immigration. Brent also wrote a series of books on America’s national monuments. Among his best-known are: Always to Remember: The Story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, A Grateful Nation: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery and A Memorial for Mr. Lincoln. Brent collaborated with noted photographer Paul Conklin, on a dozen books, including Dark Harvest: Migrant Farm Workers in America, To Live in Two Worlds: American Indian Youth Today, Gavriel and Jemal: Two Boys of Jerusalem, Children of the Maya: A Guatemalan Indian Odyssey, Morning Star and Black Sun: The Northern Cheyenne Indians and America’s Energy Crisis. These books earned numerous awards. All ages read these powerful works and saw reality through the eyes and minds of Paul and Brent.
I met Brent in the late 1980s through Paul Conklin. The two were collaborating on a book on China’s Far West, Xinjiang Province – the Taklamakan Desert, the famous bazaar at Kashgar, the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas and much more. The Chinese had just opened up the region to foreign travel. I was adventure traveling in Xinjiang and met Paul on the ground. He was the first official photographer for the Peace Corps, where he came to know Brent. It was only after Paul passed away that Brent and I realized (from the obituary in the New York Times) that Paul was the photographer of the iconic anti-war image of the girl putting a flower down the gun barrel of a National Guardsman during the protest at the Pentagon during the Vietnam War. My photos of this trip benefited immeasurably from watching Paul Conklin shoot and constantly bouncing questions off of him. See some of my photos at http://www.stevechicoine.com/international.php.
Land of Yesterday, Land of Tomorrow (Dutton, 1992) was the result of Brent and Paul’s effort work. I had done extensive research on the region – its geography, history and culture. Paul introduced me to Brent and I offered what I knew for their book. Brent and I became friends. In the long run, I benefited far more than they did from the arrangement. I recognized a good story in Lithuania in 1990 as these people fought for independence from the Soviet Union. Brent encouraged me and helped me to get my book (with my photos) published by agreeing to be my co-author. Without Brent, Lithuania: The Nation That Would Be Free likely would not have been published. It was that book, which launched my writing career.
*** Brent Ashabranner served with the US Navy in the South Pacific during World War II. He returned home to attend Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State). Brent studied under Tom Uzzell at Oklahoma A&M, where he earned his BA in 1948 and his MA in 1951. Brent was a writing instructor at Oklahoma State from 1952-1955 and attributes his writing success to his relationship with Uzzell.
Brent Ashabranner worked for the US government in Ethiopia, Libya and Nigeria in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He joined the newly created Peace Corps in 1961 and served as Director in Nigeria and India. He later became Deputy Director of the Peace Corps. Ashabranner subsequently was an executive with the Ford Foundation in the Philippines and Indonesia. He retired from public service in 1980 at which time he commenced writing full- time.
*** Thomas Uzzell (pronounced oo-ZEL) studied writing at Harvard and Columbia University in the early 1900s under such luminaries as George Kittredge, Charles Townsend Copeland, John Erskine and Walter Pitkin. Uzzell, in particular, credited Walter Pitkin (1878-1953) at the Columbia School of Journalism with his success. He published his first short story with Saturday Evening Post, was fiction editor at Collier’s, taught fiction at New York University and also worked as a literary agent in the 1920’s, 1930s and 1940s before heading west to Oklahoma. Uzzell’s Narrative Technique (1934) and The Technique of the Novel (1949), now forgotten, were important works in their day.
The legendary Walter B. Pitkin (1878-1953) taught at the Columbia University School Journalism from 1912 to 1943. His son, Walter Jr., began studying at Columbia in 1934. Thomas Merton was a fellow classmate, also an English major and a friend. In 1945, Walter Jr. co-founded Bantam Books with Ian and Betty Ballantine and Sidney Kramer.
This is my lineage.