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Sons of the Dawn interview with the Indianapolis Star

Very grateful to reporter Vic for his interest. Go here for the photo and story–Moderator Hank Nuwer

Franklin College hazing expert pens Western novel
By Vic Ryckaert, vic.ryckaert@indystar.com 12:13 a.m. EST December 15, 2013

Franklin College professor Hank Nuwer has built a national reputation and become an outspoken crusader against hazing in all its forms.

The associate professor for Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism has written articles and four books about hazing in his long academic career.

Long after sundown when he’s not working on serious, scholarly missives, Nuwer’s been writing a literary Western novel inspired by time he spent “trailing” sheep with migrant Basque herders in 1979. “Sons of the Dawn: A Basque Odyssey,” published by Shalako Press, will be available in print and ebook in January.

Nuwer, 67, Waldron, credits the “bloody red pen” of his ex-wife and copy editor Jenine Howard for making his novel “leaner, tighter and cleaner.”

Nuwer talks about Westerns, the Basque region of Spain and his inspiration for the novel.

Question: Why did you write a Western novel?

Nuwer: Once, long ago, I took leave of my senses and decided that getting a Ph.D. at Nevada-Reno was a great idea. My two main doctoral areas were the New Journalism and Western American Literature. One of the guest speakers in a Western Lit class was the great American novelist Wallace Stegner who wrote “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” and I interviewed him and went out to dinner with him and Bobby Clark, the son of Walter Van Tilburg Clark of “The Oxbow Incident” fame. I vowed then and there at that very table that I would write a literary Western. A mere 43 years later, I have written one. And no, I never got that Ph.D. Instead, a hazing death happened at Nevada-Reno right before I quit the program, and my life’s course as a writer took a turn I never had wished for and certainly never expected.

Question: How did your sabbatical in the Basque Country of Spain inspire you?

Nuwer: The Guernica Peace Museum (Museo de la Paz de Gernika) may be one of the last thoughts on my mind when I leave this world. It affected me so. In one exhibit the floor is glass and underneath is the actual rubble of Hitler’s bombing — things such as a child’s shoes, a rosary, everyday things charred and burnt. There were very old people from Guernica who had survived the bombing, and they were crying so hard. The museum used red stage lighting to make it seem like the room was afire. It was an astonishing experience. Last January, while in Madrid on Franklin College business, I saw Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica,” and the sabbatical experience in Guernica made that painting all the more inspiring and meaningful for me.

Question: Are any of the characters based on people you met?

Nuwer: Yes, and no. The old sheep herder and camptender Tubal in “Sons of the Dawn” was based on Jacinto Madrieta, a Basque I “trailed” sheep with from the high country of Nevada to the low country of Nevada on two magazine assignments when I was young — and on Lucien Millox, a Basque herder who brought in 2,000 sheep with a broken neck after a twister lifted up his sheepwagon and rattled it like corn in a popper.

Question: You have built a reputation as a national expert on hazing and more generally, bullying. Are there any bullies in this novel?

Nuwer: Oh, yes, there is a savage rancher named Faro Sinclair who has lone shepherds burned in a circle of fire. That really happened, by the way, and I read about it in an old newspaper clipping as a graduate student at Nevada. Another character who works for Faro tried to cut off the queue of a Chinese miner, which is a horrific insult for someone of a certain culture at that time. My hero Anton Ibarra steps in as a bystander and dumps the would-be hazer into a water trough.

Question: Name some of your favorite authors.

Nuwer: Well, Kurt Vonnegut is the most meaningful, and I am writing his biography for Indiana University Press, stressing his life as a Hoosier, author and war veteran. A small grant from Franklin College sent me to Dresden, Germany, and I retraced Vonnegut’s own steps as a prisoner of war before and after the bombing of Dresden by the allies.

But in terms of Western authors, I have a great deal of respect for the work of Louis L’Amour who wrote “Hondo” and Jack Schaefer who wrote “Shane.”

Question: After authoring so many scholarly articles and books, was writing fiction a litle more fun?

Nuwer: Nearly every word of the novel was written between 2 and 6 a.m. It was my dog Casey, me and the coffee pot. The academic garb is gone, replaced by baggy sweats, a gimmee cap and a T-shirt badly in need of washing. I’d read a passage aloud and my dog Casey would look at me with these stern eyes. “You’re right, Casey,” I joked once. “Too many adverbs.” To just have the freedom to do your best work at a crazy hour day after day was exhilarating.

Call Star reporter Vic Ryckaert at (317) 444-2701. Follow him on Twitter: @VicRyc.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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