Quail Ridge Books and Music—Question for nonhistorian readers: How much do you really know about the history of North Carolina? Don’t feel bad if your answer’s “Not much.” Four years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz found himself in a similar position. His solution? He wrote a book.
A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World tells of Horwitz’s travels across America to discover its history prior to Plymouth Rock. Speaking by telephone last week, Horwitz says, “We consider ourselves a young country, the New World, but it goes back much further than that—the native history goes back thousands of years,” says Horwitz, whose other works include the bestselling Confederates in the Attic.
Horwitz, who’s married to fellow Pulitzer winner Geraldine Brooks (“She’s my first and last editor, and I do the same for her”), says he was unaware of the South’s rich connections to early explorers. “People are so fixated on the Civil War—and I’m one of those people, or used to be—that they miss out on centuries of earlier history,” Horwitz says.
Raleigh residents may know that the city’s namesake, Sir Walter Raleigh, helped popularize tobacco smoking, but not that his widow kept his embalmed head in a velvet bag after his execution. “When you get into the details of the story, it’s fantastic,” Horwitz says of Raleigh. “He’s this sort of cavalier and poet and tobacco smoker, and ultimately he’s accused of treason and loses his head.”
Horwitz says he hopes to “educate a bit, but also entertain” with his book. “One of the reasons I think many Americans are turned off by history is because we tend to treat it so piously, with so little humor,” Horwitz says. “I’m really trying to draw the reader in and make them as excited by this history as I am. The full story is much more interesting than the sort of canned version we get in our grade school textbooks.” —Zack Smith
Tony Horwitz appears at Quail Ridge on May 12 at 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, at Regulator Bookshop.