2008 United We Read book announced

Friday, December 28, 2007

When Sandra Dallas suggested a travel article to the New York Times, in 1963, about a former Japanese internment camp in Colorado, she was told it was not very interesting.

Dallas had taken journalism classes in the former Amache camp buildings, not discovering until later what had occurred at the site during the early 1940s.

She was intrigued by the history, but tucked away her research until post-Sept. 11, when she discovered some parallels between the World War II era and the present day.

"I read about what had happened in Guantánamo, and I wondered 'Are we doing this again?'" she said.

Dallas began writing, through the eyes of 13-year-old Rennie, about a small Colorado farming town shaken when an internment camp, named Tallgrass, is opened nearby.

"Rennie learns first-hand about the fear and bigotry caused by war," Dallas writes on her Web site, when one of Rennie's friends is brutally murdered and the town further divides.

The novel, published April 2007, has been selected for Cape Girardeau's United We Read program, a citywide event based on the one city, one book concept.

Central High School will host a formal reception for Dallas on Feb. 6, and Dallas will speak to students and the public Feb. 7.

David Fiedler, author of The Enemy Among Us: POWs in Missouri During World War I, has been invited to speak the following week about war camps in the Bootheel region.

"The month of February will afford the community a chance to look at prejudice from many decades past, giving a perspective of how we treat diversity. I expect a dialogue of the way things were, how we have improved as a country and a state, and how much further we have to go," said Julia Jorgensen, Central's librarian.

An official schedule of events will be announced in late January, after Jorgensen finalizes plans for community members to lead discussions of the book in their homes, churches, or businesses.

Jorgensen compares Tallgrass to To Kill A Mockingbird, last year's United We Read selection, because of the character's strong ties among family members and the exploration of prejudice.

Dallas' characters are often lauded in reviews because of their depth. Dallas attributes this, in part, to her experience as a reporter for 25 years for Business Week, which taught her research skills, discipline, and an understanding of dialogue.

"Characters are like children. You hurt with them. You're very close to them. I think you get into their skin," she said.

In transitioning from a reporter to an author, Dallas began with non-fiction, writing about quilts in the Mountain West and mining camps. But Dallas said she discovered it was more fun to write fiction, despite the daunting task of sitting in front of a blank computer screen with no notebooks of facts to guide her. Tallgrass is her seventh fictional work.

While Dallas says she does not write "message books," she does say she hopes "people will stop and think that we can't let this happen again. We can't let our fear and prejudice be a basis to take away people's rights," she said.

Extra copies of Tallgrass have been ordered at Barnes and Noble. Those interested in hosting a discussion group can call Jorgensen at 334-0644 for a discussion leader guide.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

335-6611 ext. 123

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