Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Tizon (Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self, 2014) honors undersung lives in a posthumously published collection.
As a reporter, Tizon (1959-2017) gravitated toward misfits, eccentrics, and outsiders, all of whom he treats with acute sensitivity in this roundup of articles originally published between 1994 and 2017. Two autobiographical pieces form the book’s moral center: an excerpt from his memoir of being Filipino American and the bittersweet June 2017 Atlantic cover story, “My Family’s Slave,” a loving portrait of a woman who worked for his family as a de facto indentured servant. The other entries consist of newspaper articles demonstrating the wide range of Tizon’s sympathies, rooted in his belief that everyone has an “epic story” to tell. This thread ran through all his stories, whether he was writing about the only Muslim family in a Wyoming town after 9/11 or the descendants of a chief of the Nisqually tribe who fought to exonerate an ancestor they saw as unjustly hanged by the authorities. Most of the author’s subjects exemplify broader cultural issues, none more heartbreakingly than the story of a Cambodian widow who saw her parents killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers, which reveals both her implacable grief and American psychiatrists’ lack of preparation for dealing with trauma of that magnitude. More upbeat pieces include “Onward Christian Surfers,” about missionaries on Waikiki Beach, and a profile of “a full-time UFO investigator and possessor of one of the world’s most comprehensive, though unofficial UFO databases.” Skillfully chosen by Verhovek, all of the pieces have brief introductions by fellow journalists or others. The collection lacks the articles for which Tizon shared a Pulitzer with two Seattle Times co-workers, but they remain available on the paper’s website, and many people will want to seek them out after reading this book.
A memorable collection that shows how much journalism lost with the early death of one of its finest.