About the author

Joe Starita

Joe Starita was an investigative reporter and New York bureau chief for The Miami Herald, where one of his stories was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is now a professor at the University of Nebraska's College of Journalism and the author of The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge, an account of four generations of a Lakota Sioux family, that garnered a second Pulitzer Prize nomination, won the Mountain and Plains Booksellers Association Award, and has been published in six foreign languages.

Source: Macmillan/St. Martin's Press

Joe Starita is an associate professor in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. For the past seven years, he has taught many of the college's depth reporting classes - classes designed to give students the skills to probe deeply into a focused topic while also providing some international reporting opportunities. To that end, he has taken groups of students to Cuba, France and Sri Lanka. Closer to home, he currently is co-teaching a depth reporting class that will exhaustively examine the pros and cons of using corn-based ethanol to help wean the nation off of Mideast oil.

Before joining the journalism faculty in 2000, Starita spent 13 years at The Miami Herald, where he served as the paper's New York bureau chief from 1983-1987. He also spent four years on the Herald's Investigations Team, where he specialized in stories exposing unethical doctors and lawyers. One of those stories, an article examining how impoverished and illiterate Haitians were being used to extort insurance companies into settling bogus auto claims, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in local reporting.

Interested in American Indian history and culture since his youth, Starita returned to his native Nebraska in 1992 and began work on a three-year book project about five generations of an Indian family. "The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge - A Lakota Odyssey" - was published in 1995 by G.P. Putnam and Sons in New York, has been translated into six foreign languages and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Source: University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Interviews with Joe Starita

Q: You grew up in Lincoln, went to school here—what led you to your interest in Native Americans?
A: Yes, I am a Lincoln - and a Nebraska - product through and through. And I think by virtue of growing up here, you get exposed to the heavy footprint left behind by the Native people of this state. And the more I got exposed to it, the more fascinated I became with Native culture - the people, their way of life, their value system and spiritual beliefs. They had a very strong sense of place - it was who they were - and the more you get exposed to that, the more real their experiences became in my young mind. Even today, when I stand at the Fort Robinson marker was Crazy Horse was stabbed, or look at the barracks where Dull Knife and the Cheyenne broke out of, or look down at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri, I still get chills. So it's not an abstract concept - like imagining what things may have been like in ancient Greece. It's something that was only several generations removed and that gave it a power that resonated in me at any early age and has never stopped. —Joe Starita, Nebraska Center for the Book interview excerpt, November 2011

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Q: As a writer, do you have a daily work schedule?
A: I've liked to write for as long as I can remember. I like the feel and the flow and the arrangement of words to convey information, mood and emotion in a way similar to what musicians must feel when composing a score. In sixth-grade, I remember we were supposed to do a 10-page paper as a final project and I ended up doing a 40-page paper on Chief Crazy Horse. It was a story - written by Mari Sandoz - that I became thoroughly absorbed in. And it's where I also think I got my first whiff of the power of good storytelling. And that's what I really like: finding compelling characters and compelling themes and weaving them into a story that becomes real, that people can follow and identify with. I think it was E.M. Forester who once said: If you say the king died, and then the queen died - that's journalism; that's simply recording historical fact. But if you say the king died, and then the queen died of grief - now you have a story. And that's what I'm constantly on the lookout for: a good story, with strong characters and themes in which the landscape also can become a character because developing a strong sense of place is very important. When the research is finished and the in-the-trenches kind of writing begins, I am very disciplined: I like to start writing about 9 a.m., work straight through to about 1 p.m., take a brief lunch and nap and then keep going until about 4-4:30. Then you just have to drop it cold and back away from it and do other things - long walks, bike rides, workouts and just let your subconscious kind of work out any of the writing issues or stumbling blocks you've encountered during that days session at the word processor. And then you get up the next morning and do it all over again. —Joe Starita, Nebraska Center for the Book interview excerpt, November 2011

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Q: Tell us about your new book.
A: What I'm working on now is a book that in many ways is very similar to the Standing Bear story - it's just on the opposite side of the gender highway. This story - a true story - is again drawn from the cloth of Nebraska history. It's a biography of Susan La Flesche, an Omaha Indian woman who was the younger sister of Susette La Flesche - also known as Bright Eyes and who had a prominent role in Standing Bear's story as an interpreter. The story of Susan, the younger sister, embodies many of the same values and themes as Standing Bear, but it's told from a completely different viewpoint and perspective. Susan was born in the waning years of the Civil War in a buffalo hide tipi in a remote corner of the Great Plains - and 24 years later, she graduated as the valedictorian of her medical school class in Philadelphia and became the nation's first female Native physician. How did that happen? How could that possibly have happened? Well, that's one of many things this book will delve into, so it's kind of become my Moby Dick right now. —Joe Starita, Nebraska Center for the Book interview excerpt, November 2011

Joe Starita photo by Bruce Thorson

Photo: Bruce Thorson

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