The Port Chicago 50
I’m in the midst of the ALSC Institute here in Oakland, where we just listened to Steve Sheinkin give the opening session talk about his approach to writing history, with The Port Chicago 50 story as his centerpiece. My Boston Globe Horn Book committee awarded it this May, and it just showed up on the NBA longlist this week.
This civil rights story has many layers: the racism in the military in the 40s leading to a horrible disaster, a group of young men standing up for themselves and an outrageous charge of mutiny…that more outrageously was never overturned. Sheinkin has taken a piece of history that’s barely ever been told, using interviews collected by historian Robert Allen (in what itself makes an amazing story of detective work). He brings his layers together succinctly, grippingly, in a nicely paced and well-designed package.
I know that Jonathan is not as big a fan of this as I am, and others have mentioned to me that the story feels “unfinished.” But this is not a piece of history that is, really, finished, nor have enough people studied it to be able to create a tightly crafted arc as Sheinkin was able to do in BOMB. Yet I think this is his best work…the gaps and leaps in the story leave an opening for the reader, with stellar-quality prose that invites them at a high level to participate in the story.
I sense that a lot of people haven’t read this yet…but, you better.
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at email@example.com
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