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Six Questions for Jeff Sharlet ( Harpers's Magazine )

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Jefferson23 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Dec-10-11 07:16 PM
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Six Questions for Jeff Sharlet ( Harpers's Magazine )

December 9, 11:03 AM, 2011

By Jeremy Keehn

Harpers Magazine contributing editor Jeff Sharlet recently published Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In Between, a beautifully written bricolage of reported narrative, character study, and memoir tracing his travels among the faithful in the United States. Since then, Sharlet has been spearheading Occupy Writers, which brings together authors in support of Occupy Wall Street and collects their responses to the movement. (David Bezmozgis, Lemony Snicket, Alice Walker, and many others have contributed.) Harpers put six questions to Sharlet about his new collection and his immersive approach to journalism:

1. Sweet Heaven When I Die includes chapters reported all over the country, covering people as different as Chava Rosenfarb and Brad Will. Given the books disparate threads, what unites it for you? Or, put another way, what animated the project for you?

The short version of what unites the book, for me, is that these are the stories I wrote to stay sane during my long immersion in the authoritarian culture of American fundamentalism for my last two books, The Family and C Street. Theyre stories about the tightrope between despair and desire, and about the imagination political imagination, in the broadest sense required to walk that line.

So theres Chava Rosenfarb, in For Every Life Saved, the last great Yiddish writer, a graduate of the Lodz Ghetto who wrote her first book of poems on the wooden planks of a concentration-camp barracks. Theres Brad Will, in Quebrado, an anarchist journalist who while covering a massive uprising in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006, filmed his own murder; that story is ultimately as much about those he left behind, trying to make meaning and find justice in his death, as about Brad, who lived a life of brilliant holy-fool hedonism. And theres maybe the most unlikely of heroes, a young woman named Valerie, the subject of She Said Yes, whom I met while covering a fundamentalist-youth movement called Battlecry. Valerie believes in her cause, which is as extreme a variation of fundamentalist politics as Ive encountered. But she was also a reader, and she was a human, and that meant she wanted to tell me about loving Dostoyevsky, and to confess that shed adored the brief sex life shed had before she joined the movement. There was nothing flirtatious about it. It was a statement of desire in its most essential sense. Desire is a positive concept, but in all these stories, the recognition of desire demanded the ability to reject the world as you find it, to imagine more.

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