Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Finalist Stuart Blackburn

Stuart Blackburn was born in Providence, Rhode Island and lived with his ever-westward moving family in Detroit and then Claremont (California), where he attended high school. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1969 and soon entered the Peace Corps (one of the few remaining alternatives to serving in the military in Vietnam). Two and a half years in the rice fields and villages of south India, where he learned to speak Tamil, changed his life.

He completed his doctorate in Tamil language and international folklore from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1980, after which he took a teaching position at Dartmouth College, followed by other positions at Berkeley as well as a private high school in San Francisco. In 1994, he was offered a position at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, where he remained until he took early retirement in 2003.

He is the author or editor of 16 books on Indian culture and folklore, mainly in south India (where his first novel, Murder in Melur, is set) and northeast India. One book, a study of shadow puppet theatre in Kerala, won the runner-up prize for the UK Folklore Book of the Year, while a translation of an early Tamil novel won the A.K. Ramanujan Prize in the United States.
He has received numerous grants, including a Fulbright and a Guggenheim. He was also the director of a five-year, multi-disciplinary grant to study Tibeto-Burman tribal cultures in northeast India, which provided him with the inspiration for Into the Hidden Valley.

In 1977, he married Judith Tarr, who accompanied him on several research trips, enduring heat, mosquitoes and bad food. Judith’s son (by her first marriage), Michael, has also spent many years in India, some of them with his mother and Stuart. Michael now lives in New Delhi, with his partner, the landscape architect Aditya Advani. Stuart’s obsessions include old films, Arsenal football club and organic food. He lives with his wife in Brighton, on the south coast of England.

Into the Hidden Valley explores a little-known episode in the colonial history of British India. While a great deal has been written about the British Raj, considerably less is known about the encounter between the British and the tribes of India. One reason for this is that the paper trail for tribal history is thin, but another is that tribal populations were generally dismissed as peripheral. Yet, the British and their Indian allies were engaged in constant, low-level warfare with tribes from the 18th century right up to Independence. Even today, armed struggles continue in parts of the country, especially the northeast, where the story is set. Many of the main events described in the novel are either true or based on true events, though I have manipulated the dates of some events to fit into the time-frame of my narrative.

This photograph from 1897 shows negotiations between British and tribal leaders (flanked by Indian soldiers) in the Apatani valley, which is the ‘hidden valley’ of the novel. This was the first official colonial contact with the valley, which remains isolated even in modern India.

The novel dramatises the colonial encounter with tribes by telling two stories, one of a British official and the other of a tribesman. I made the tribesman a shaman because he takes the reader into the mental as well as the physical world of the ‘hidden valley’ and highlights the contrast with the incoming culture. The fictional shaman (named Gyati) was inspired by a shaman of the same name with whom I worked during field research. In the photo below, he is shown holding a copy of the Indian edition of the novel. Gyati died in May 2016.

I first became interested in the Tibeto-Burman-speaking tribes of northeast Indi, when I went to Arunachal Pradesh (which had been part of colonial Assam) in 1999. I spent a large part of the next decade researching the cultures and oral traditions of one particular group, the Apatanis, who live in the ‘hidden valley’ of the story. Two of my monographs document their storytelling arts.

Into the Hidden Valley is published by Bygone Era Books (Denver) and by Speaking Tiger Books (New Delhi). It is available both on Amazon and from the publisher in India.

Finalist Kermit Roosevelt

Kermit Roosevelt is the author of Allegiance, the critically acclaimed historical novel that captures the drama, heroism and adversity of wartime Washington and the Supreme Court, immersing readers in the life of an idealistic lawyer who comes of age. Published by Regan Arts in 2015, Allegiance is currently a finalist for the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction and the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. Kermit is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he also teaches creative writing, and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Souter.

His work as an author combines his lifelong interests in writing, history, and the law. As the great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, he’s had a more-than-typical sense of identity with the government, prompting him to examine the triumphs and stumbles of the political system and the many leaders within it. When it came time to write his second novel, he chose an era that closely parallels our world today. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, as fear swept the nation, FDR’s measures to keep Americans safe would lead to civil rights violations, legal debates and moral dilemmas, as seen through the eyes of his hero protagonist. During Kermit’s eight years of research, he uncovered a real-life house of cards story: “I was creating a mystery plot, but at the same time I was solving a mystery,” he says.

"I went to work on the Supreme Court, reading the diaries and personal papers of the Justices and the papers filed by the people involved in the Japanese American internment cases, around which the book centers. I researched the world of wartime Washington and the important figures within the government and the military. But I also wanted a story that would work outside the legal context, so I built in another mystery, one that would explore the same themes: loyalty, suspicion, appearances, and the fundamental question of who we will sacrifice to protect the people we love." -- KR

Allegiance is his first work of fiction since the bestselling In the Shadow of the Law, a winner of the Philadelphia Athenaeum Annual Literary Award, the New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice Selection, and a Christian Science Monitor best book of the year. Allegiance was a finalist for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction (he won 45% of the public vote). His experiences clerking and practicing law informed the book.

A frequent op-ed contributor, his work has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Times, Time Magazine, and the Huffington Post, among many other outlets. He serves as a media expert, panelist, and public speaker on issues concerning the Supreme Court, constitutional law, civil rights, national security, American presidential history, conflict of laws, and his work as a novelist. He recently presented talks for organizations including TEDx, the National Constitution Center, and the Commonwealth Club, and has been interviewed by major media outlets in Europe and the United States.

Kermit’s nonfiction books include Conflict of Laws and The Myth of Judicial Activism: Making Sense of Supreme Court Decisions. He has also published in the Virginia Law Review, the Michigan Law Review, and the Columbia Law Review, among others, and the Supreme Court has cited his articles twice. Additionally, he hosts a Coursera class entitled, “Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases.” Born in Washington, DC, Kermit attended Harvard University and Yale Law School.

Allegiance is published by Regan Arts, August 25, 2015.

Allegiance on
Allegiance on Amazon UK
Kermit Roosevelt website
Regan Arts, publisher’s website

Finalist Helena P. Schrader

Novelist, Historian Diplomat

For readers tired of clich├ęs, apologists and “blaming the victim,” award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader brings refreshing insight to important historical episodes and personalities based on sound historical research. Helena holds a PhD in history and is a career diplomat, but far from writing dry historical tomes, she conveys the drama and excitement of the events and societies described and delivers her stories through the eyes of complex and compelling characters—male and female—drawn from the pages of history.

Helena was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the daughter of a professor, and travelled abroad for the first time at the age of two, when her father went to teach at the University of Wasada in Tokyo, Japan. Later the family lived in Brazil, England and Kentucky, but home was always the coast of Maine. There, her father’s family had roots and an old, white clapboard house perched above the boatyard in East Blue Hill.

It was the frequent travel and exposure to different cultures, peoples and heritage that inspired Helena to start writing creatively and to focus on historical fiction. She wrote her first novel in second grade, but later made a conscious decision not try to earn a living from writing. She never wanted to be forced to write what was popular, rather than what was in her heart.

Helena graduated with honors in History from the University of Michigan, added a Master’s Degree in Diplomacy and International Commerce from Patterson School, University of Kentucky, and rounded off her education with a PhD in History cum Laude from the University of Hamburg, awarded for a ground-breaking dissertation on a leading member of the German Resistance to Hitler. She worked in the private sector as a research analyst, and an investor relations manager in both the U.S. and Germany.

Helena published her first book in 1993, when her dissertation was released by a leading academic publisher in Germany; a second edition followed after excellent reviews in major newspapers. Since then she has published three additional non-fiction books, starting with Sisters in Arms about women pilots in WWII, The Blockade Breakers about the Berlin Airlift, and Codename Valkyrie, a biography of General Olbricht, based on her dissertation.

Helena has also published historical novels set in World War Two, Ancient Sparta and the Crusades. St. Louis’ Knight won the Bronze in both the Historical Fiction and Spiritual/Religious Categories of the Feathered Quill Literary Awards 2014. Her latest project, a biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin in three parts, got off to a great start when Knight of Jerusalem earned a B.R.A.G. Medallion, and was selected as a Finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction. The second book in the series did even better: Defender of Jerusalem took the “Silver” for spiritual/religious fiction in the 2015 Feathered Quill Awards, won the Chaucer Award for Medieval Historical Fiction, and is a finalist for the M.M.Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. It too is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree.

Helena a career American diplomat currently serving in Africa. In June 2010 she was awarded the “Dr. Bernard LaFayette Lifetime Achievement Award for Promoting the Institutionalization of Nonviolence Ideals in Nigeria” by the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria.

She grew up sailing on the Maine coast and served as a petty officer on the sail-training schooners Sir Winston Churchill and Malcolm Miller. She has owned four horses over the years and remains a resolute horsewoman. She owns property in what was once Lacedaemon, which she visits regularly and where she and her husband Herbert intend to retire.

Visit her website or Amazon page for a complete description and reviews of her publications. Follow her blog for updates on current works in progress, recent reviews and excerpts. For more on the crusader kingdoms and Balian d’Ibelin visit: or follow her blog on the Crusader Kingdoms at: