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Nate Schweber remembers Bernard and Avis DeVoto—and their fight to save our public lands

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Award-winning journalist Nate Schweber, author of ‘This America of Ours: Bernard and Avis DeVoto and the Forgotten Fight to Save the Wild’ (Mariner Books).

This week on The Write Question, host Lauren Korn is joined by award-winning journalist Nate Schweber. When Nate was in Missoula for the In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean Literary Festival, the two sat down to chat about his book, This America of Ours: Bernard and Avis DeVoto and the Forgotten Fight to Save the Wild (Mariner Books).

In late-1940s America, few writers commanded attention like Bernard DeVoto. Alongside his brilliant wife and editor, Avis, DeVoto was a firebrand of American liberty, free speech, and perhaps our greatest national treasure: public lands. But when a corrupt band of lawmakers, led by Senator Pat McCarran, sought to quietly cede millions of acres of national parks and other western lands to logging, mining, and private industry, the DeVotos entered the fight of their lives. Bernard and Avis built a broad grassroots coalition to sound the alarm—from Julia and Paul Child to Ansel Adams, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Alfred Knopf, Adlai Stevenson, and Wallace Stegner—while the very pillars of American democracy, embodied in free and public access to Western lands, hung in the balance. Their dramatic crusade would earn them censorship and blacklisting by Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, and Roy Cohn, and it even cost Bernard his life.

About Nate:

Nate Schweber is an award-winning journalist for the New York Times and ProPublica, among many other publications. His recent work for the Times includes investigating sexual abuse within the scholastic athletic communities and a 2016 series about murders in the Bronx that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The Outdoor Writers Association of America awarded him a conservation writing award in 2015. He has also won magazine writing awards from that organization in 2015 and 2018, respectively, for a story about a biologist for the magazine Trout, and a story about prairie conservation for the Anthony Bourdain publication Explore Parts Unknown. He has appeared on Today, CNN, and WNYC. He lives in Brooklyn.

Nate Schweber recommends:

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America by Timothy Egan (Mariner Books)

This Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams (Picador USA)

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner (Penguin Random House)

Lauren Korn recommends:

This America of Ours: Bernard and Avis DeVoto and the Forgotten Fight to Save the Wild by Nate Schweber (Mariner Books)

Angle of Repose (Vintage Books) and Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the American West (Modern Library) by Wallace Stegner

The team for this episode of The Write Question included Lauren Korn, host and co-producer; Chris Moyles, co-producer and editor; and Tom Berich, sound engineer.

The Write Question logo and brand (2022) was designed by Molly Russell. You can see more of her work at iamthemollruss.com and on Instagram @iamthemollruss. Our music was written and recorded by John Floridis.

Funding for The Write Question comes from Humanities Montana; members of Montana Public Radio; and from the Greater Montana Foundation—encouraging communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans.

The Write Question is a production of Montana Public Radio.

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Lauren R. Korn holds an M.A. in poetry from the University of New Brunswick, where she was the recipient of the Tom Riesterer Memorial Prize and the Angela Ludan Levine Memorial Book Prize. A former bookseller and the former Director of the Montana Book Festival, she is now the host of Montana Public Radio’s literature-based radio program and podcast, ‘The Write Question.’