Printed on: April 02, 2013

Delivered from war

Author draws from upbringing in brutal civil war

By Zach Kyle
zkyle@postregister.com

Another hyper-accomplished speaker is coming to Idaho Falls thanks to the Idaho Humanities Council.

Alexandra Fuller, a best-selling nonfiction writer and journalist, will talk about her work and experiences growing up in war-torn southern Africa.

Fuller will offer insights from her tumultuous upbringing during her April 11 lecture at the Shilo Inn. The lecture is called "Tales from the Motherland: How Africa Gave Me a Voice and America Gave Me the Freedom to Use It."

The idea of "motherland" is complex for Fuller. She was born in England and speaks with a British accent despite her family moving to Rhodesia, an unrecognized state in southern Africa that was gripped in a civil war.

She now lives in Jackson, Wyo.

"This idea (of motherland) can mean what happens when patriotism gets misguided," Fuller said. "But it can also mean a commitment to the soil that we've landed on. That sort of ethos is the same here as in southern Africa. It's sort of a cowboy ethos to protect the Earth."

Fuller's upbringing gives her storytelling fodder, but it's her ability to re-examine her experience through writing and lectures that give poignancy to her work, said Rick Ardinger, director of the Humanities Council.

Fuller's books have been widely acclaimed.

Her debut book, "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight," was named a New York Times Notable Book for 2002.

"Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier" received the Ulysses Prize for Art of Reportage in 2004.

"The Legend of Colton H. Bryant" received the Toronto Globe and Mail's recognition as the Best Non-Fiction Book of 2008.

And "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" spent six weeks on the NPR Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller List.

Fuller grew up in a place where racism and censorship were normal. Ardinger said he enjoys how her views of Africa changed after she moved away and how her three books on Africa throw a mature and revelatory light on her time there.

"You are going to hear somebody who has had a truly unique experience growing up in Africa in a time of war," Ardinger said. "(Audience members) are going to hear about the power of memoir, about how you can better understand your life through writing."

Fuller, 44, said the move to the U.S. 20 years ago was jarring.

Americans are disconnected from war, she said. Fuller, whose parents taught her how to use an Uzi when she was 6, said she spent her first Fourth of July on U.S. soil under her bed, afraid of the exploding fireworks.

"We've gone through wars, but they are outsourced wars," Fuller said. "We don't even see the bodies coming back. (Military) families pay the price, but the rest of us really don't. We're not in bomb shelters. We're not on rations. We're not terrified. We haven't slept under our beds. I haven't been mortared once (here)."

Had she spoken out against authorities during her time in southern Africa, Fuller said she would have ended up in prison or been killed.

Her newfound freedom of speech seemed almost strange to Fuller once she moved to the U.S., at age 24, but she's happily adjusted.

She's written five books and tackled a diverse range of investigative subjects in articles in such publications as Harper's Magazine, National Geographic Magazine, Vogue Magazine and The New Yorker magazine.

"We often talk about (freedom of speech), but we're not very good about talking about the responsibilities that come with that," she said. "When you grow up with it here, you aren't really aware of the power of speech. It's not something to be cavalier about. Maybe because of the way I grew up, I never take it for granted."

If you go

The Idaho Humanities Council presents Alexandra Fuller, who is giving a program called "Tales from the Motherland: How Africa Gave Me a Voice and America Gave Me the Freedom to Use It." It is at 7 p.m. April 11 at the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls.

Cost: $70 for benefactor tickets, which includes predinner reception with the author and preferred seating. General tickets are $35.

Call (888) 345-5346 to purchase tickets or go to idahohumanities.org.

To check out Fuller's work and bio, go to alexandrafuller.org.