Sherry L. Smith

in conversation with Peter Coyote

Recorded Saturday, January 30th, 2021

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Sherry L. Smith in conversation with Peter Coyote

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Sherry L. Smith‘s new book, Bohemians West: Free Love, Family and Radicals in the Twentieth Century is a revelatory biography of a radical romance at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Sherry L. Smith is a historian and author who grew up in Northwest Indiana, a place tucked between Chicago’s cultural treasures and the natural wonders of the Indiana Dunes. Yet, the American West won her over as a subject of historical study and place to live. She is University Distinguished Professor of History at Southern Methodist University.  Her award-winning books include Hippies, Indians, and the Fight for Red Power and Reimagining Indians: Native Americans Through Anglo Eyes, 1880-1940. Smith is a former president of the Western History Association and received the Los Angeles Times Distinguished Fellowship at the Huntington Library, which supported research for Bohemians West. She has also been honored with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Foundation, and Yale University. Smith lives in Moose, Wyoming, and Pasadena, California.

Peter Coyote’s memoir of the 1960’s counter-culture Sleeping Where I Fall which received universally excellent reviews, and has been in continuous print since 1999. His second book, The Rainman’s Third Cure: An Irregular Education, about mentors and the search for wisdom, was nominated as one of the top five non-fiction books published in California in 2015. His third book, Unmasking Your True Self (the Lone Ranger and Tonto Meet the Buddha) conflates 50 years of Buddhist practice and acting and uses masks and improv exercises to foster liberation experiences and teach people “how to get out of their own way.” It will be released by Inner Traditions Press in early 2020, and so will his first book of poems, The Tongue of a Crow.

Peter has performed as an actor in over 160 films for theaters and TV. He is a double Emmy-Award winning narrator of over 150 documentary films. An ordained Zen Buddhist priest and transmitted teacher, Peter is currently giving live weekly dharma talks on Facebook, preparing for a fourth book called Vernacular Buddhism.

“Pulsing with ideas and emotion, Sherry Smith’s riveting narrative explores how two unforgettable people found each other and created a set of commitments about living that progressives today would immediately recognize as their own.”

– Daniel J. Sharfstein 

A personal note from Sherry.

Sent following her Conversations with Authors session.

Dear friends,

      Thank you to fellow-Hoosier Elaine and Book Passage for hosting this event on “Bohemians West” and to Peter Coyote for his lively, wide-ranging, and thoughtful questions. I appreciate all who joined on-line, as well. It was a special treat to talk about my book via this wonderful venue, which is helping so many authors overcome shared obstacles to reaching readers during a pandemic. 

       Lately, I’ve been diving into books about California literary couples. Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s “Charmian Kittredge London: Trailblazer, Author, Adventurer,” offers an intimate view of Charmian and Jack London’s marriage and literary careers. William Souder’s “Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck,” provides considerable information on Steinbeck’s three marriages. Both books make clear the critically important role these men’s wives played in supporting and shaping their husbands’ work. They also shed new light on London’s and Steinbeck’s character as revealed through the lens of their relationships with women. 

        On a different tack one of the very best books I’ve read in a long time is Charles King’s “Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century.” This is a riveting tale of Franz Boas and a coterie of his astonishingly talented women students such as Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Ella Deloria, and Zora Neale Hurston. They championed  the paradigm-shifting  theory of cultural relativity and the belief that the only scientific way to study human societies was to treat them all as parts of an undivided humanity. This shattered notions of white supremacy and male dominance and encouraged greater tolerance of cultural difference and variety.