REGIONAL BOOKS: 'View from the Reservation' looks at life on Pine Ridge

Photographer John Willis has long been aware of the exploitation that sometimes occurs when photographers enter communities as outsiders. So, in 1992, when he first visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, he assure...

Photographer John Willis has long been aware of the exploitation that sometimes occurs when photographers enter communities as outsiders.

So, in 1992, when he first visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, he assured elders of the Oglala Lakota nation that he would not exhibit any of his images. But over time, Willis earned the respect and trust of the community, and elders urged him to show his work and create a book, a news release from University of Chicago Press says.

"Views from the Reservation," a book of black and white photographs by Willis, plus poetry and essays, is the product of several visits to Pine Ridge. Published by the Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago and distributed by University of Chicago Press, the book is 188 pages and retails for $50.

A news release said Willis meant the book to open eyes, minds and hearts to the Oglala Lakota people. His probing photographs of life at Pine Ridge, where the unemployment rate is 80 percent, alcoholism is rampant and life expectancy is 50 years, look beyond preconceived notions and Hollywood representations of American Indian culture. Willis sees a proud and dignified people struggling to hold onto their culture.

Filmmaker Ken Burns said: "This is a beautiful, painful book: a soulful reminder of a dark part of our past and present; an elegant road to a better future."


The book features writer Kent Nerburn, who contributes an original essay; Lakota elders and Pine Ridge High School students, who offer poems; Emil Her Many Horses, the associate curator of the National Museum of the American Indian, Kevin Gover, the assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, and Oglala Lakota artist Dwayne Wilcox.

Accompanying the book is "Heartbeat of the Rez," a compact disc of traditional songs compiled by the author, the elders, and KILI, the radio station of the reservation.

Willis is a professor of photography at Marlboro College and coauthor of "Recycled Realities." His photographs have appeared at the George Eastman House Museum, High Museum of Art, Library of Congress, National Museum of Native Americans, and The Whitney Museum of American Art, among other places.

'Letters to Zerky'

"Letters to Zerky: A Father's Legacy to a Lost Son and A Road Trip Around the World," Bill Raney, Nickelodeon Press, 2009, 436 pages.

When Grand Forks native Bill Raney wrote this family travelogue 40 years ago, he didn't plan to publish it. "Letters to Zerky" was intended to be the story of a wonderful trip that his son Zerky took as an infant and toddler and would be too young to remember.

Raney and his wife, JoAnne, had adopted Eric Xerxes Raney -- whom they called Zerky -- and in spring 1967, took him on an epic trip across Europe and Asia in a Volkswagen van. During the trip, Raney wrote a series of narrative snapshots to give to his son someday.

But circumstances changed those plans.


The years from 1966 to 1970 turned out to be ones of great happiness and adventure and great sorrow for the Raney family. First, there was Zerky's adoption and their trip of a lifetime. Then, when they returned to San Francisco, they moved to Santa Cruz, Calif., and adopted a second child. JoAnne became pregnant with a third, and together, the Raneys opened an art house movie theater in Santa Cruz called the Nickelodeon.

Then, when she was eight months pregnant, JoAnne died of an aneurism. A year later, Zerky, 4, was killed in an accident playing near his home.

"What's especially intriguing about the travelogue is that it is not written by an older and wiser Bill Raney, looking back on an adventure that largely defined his life," said an article in the winter 2009 Santa Cruz magazine. "Instead, it is culled from letters that he wrote back then, while he was traveling with no idea what crippling surprises life had in store for him, letters from a father to a son who was far too young to remember the journey."

Raney combined his letters with his wife's diary entries to write the book, which reads like a diary and contains photos and illustrations, Today, the book is a look at the world outside the U.S. during a moment in time and a way to keep alive the memory of Raney's wife and his lost son.

Raney will be in Grand Forks at 1 p.m. Oct. 16 to sign copies of his book at the UND Bookstore. His book is available online at and other sites.

'Daniel and the Sea Serpent'

"Daniel and the Sea Serpent," Scott Sheets, CreateSpace, 2010, 188 pages."

North Dakota pastor Scott Sheets captures the attention of tween boys with his new fantasy novel, "Daniel and the Sea Serpent." With it, he hopes to encourage reading among boys who often seem to resist it, he said.


"It's exciting to hear kids tell me that they read the book in a couple of days," Sheets, Mayville, N.D., said in a news release. "One mother told me she had to tell her son to put the book away because it was getting so late and he was still reading. Another gentleman shared how his grandson with Asperger's (syndrome), who doesn't like to read, couldn't put it down. That's so encouraging."

Sheets said the idea for his debut novel came during a vacation, when his sons asked him to tell them a story to pass the time as they traveled. Each night, they asked for the next chapter, and by the time they returned home, the embryo of the novel had formed, he said. The book has found its niche in the 9- to 11-year-old male demographic, he said.

In the book, Daniel, a discontented 13-year-old, yearns for more than his primitive desert life can offer him. He dreams about sailing across the seas in search of treasure and adventure, but his dreams turn into a nightmare and he has to discover the truth to survive.

Sheets has served churches in Bismarck and Mayville for 13 years and ministers at Riverside Evangelical Free Church in Mayville. He and his family -- wife Christy and children Toby, 11; Elijah, 8; and Abigail, nearly 5 -- would like to use proceeds from book sales to fund the adoption of another child, Sheets said. He was adopted, and he has a heart for children who need a family, he said.

You can visit Sheets' website at . The book retails for $12.99 and is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major book retailers.

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