December 14, 2004

In Memory of Lost Friends 

It's difficult to understand why someone would take their own life. It's even more difficult when that life has been so well-spent, with so much more promise to come. Similar tragedies in the past month make me pause and try to appreciate this moment, every moment, before it's gone forever. Iris ChangIris Chang, an extraordinary writer and alumnus of the University of Illinois College of Communications, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on November 9th. Her first book was Thread of the Silkworm, which told the remarkable story of the Chinese scientist Tsien Hsue-shen, founder of the Chinese rocket program who emigrated to the United States only to be isolated in America. Her second book, The Rape of Nanking, earned international acclaim and served to announce Iris Chang as a ground-breaking scholar and human rights advocate. He third book, The Chinese in America, told the extraordinary narritive of her own ancestors in a way that revealed America's own identity. I had a chance to interview Iris Chang in 1995, and was immediately struck by her intelligence and humanity. Apparently she had a similar impact on everyone she met. About 100 people attended a recent event in her honor at the University of Illinois, where her former professors, friends, and colleagues spoke movingly about her life, her work, and our loss. A scholarship in honor of Iris has been established by her family, with information available at the University of Illinois College of Communications, 217-333-2350. Gary WebbGary Webb, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, was found dead last Friday at his home in Sacramento County, California along with what appears to be a suicide note. Gary Webb won the Pulitzer for his reporting on the Loma Prieta earthquake. In 1996 he wrote a series for the Mercury News alleging that Nicaraguan drug traffickers had helped finance the Contras by selling tons of crack cocaine in Los Angeles with the knowledge of the CIA. Under attack, the Mercury News later backed away from supporting Mr. Webb, who went on to publish a book-length treatment of the story entitled Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. Today's college students most likely don't even know the word "Contra," unless they like the traditional dance. These stories are important to remember. With that in mind, and as an observance of the lives of these fine writers and human beings, we're republishing WILL's interviews with Iris Chang and Gary Webb (RealAudio format). They are gone, but their work lives on. Iris Chang: Thread of the Silkworm, from Focus 580, November 22nd, 1995 The Rape of Nanking, from Focus 580, December 17th, 1997 The Chinese in America: A Narrative History, from The Afternoon Magazine, May 19th, 2003 Gary Webb: Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, from Focus 580, August 13th, 1998

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