Jeff Biggers (born in 1963) is an American author, journalist, playwright, master storyteller and performance artist. He is the author of four books, and co-editor of a fifth. His next book, "State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream," is due out in the fall of 2012. Selected as a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Title in Social Science, "State Out of the Union" was praised by Kirkus Reviews as "masterful at showing how the past is prologue…A timely book, especially with immigration policy playing a major role in the upcoming presidential campaign.”
According to Technorati: "For Jeff Biggers what the immigration policy of this country should be is as clear as unpolluted, smog-free air, and crystal clean, unchemicalized water. Biggers, an author, journalist, storyteller and playwright is not typical, however. His knowledge and writings about vital trending issues (look for his work in the Huffington Post, Salon.com and Washington Post to name a few) run far and wide. He is a discerning advocate. He has followed and joined the immigration movement in Arizona before and after the fashioning of SB1070. According to Dr. Rudy Acuna, founding chair of the Chicano/a studies department at CSUN, Biggers is one of the few journalists who have been with the movement since the beginning. Acuna has said, Biggers "is a very progressive person. He’s one of the people who I respect because he’s not only writing, but he’s active, and he feels the issue.”
Biggers has worked as a writer, educator and community organizer across the United States, Europe, India and Mexico. His award-winning stories have appeared on NPR, PRI, CNN, The Nation, Salon.com, the New York Times, Washington Post, and in scores of travel, literary and music magazines, and national and foreign newspapers, and various anthologies. He blogs regularly for the Huffington Post. He has been a commentator on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and for Pacific News Service national syndication. His work has received numerous honors, including an American Book Award, the Sierra Club's David R. Brower Award, Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, a Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism, a Field Foundation Fellowship, a Plattner Award for Appalachian Literature, a Delta Award for Literature in Southern Illinois, and an Illinois Arts Council Creative Non-Fiction Award. He serves as a contributing editor to The Bloomsbury Review, and is a member of the PEN American Center. In the 1990s, as part of his work to develop literacy and literary programs in rural, reservation and neglected communities in the American Southwest, he founded the Northern Arizona Book Festival.
Biggers is a frequent performer and speaker at festivals, theatres, conferences, universities and schools across the country.
In the 1980s, Biggers served as an assistant to former Senator George McGovern in Washington, DC, and as a personal aide to Rev. William Sloane Coffin at the Riverside Church in New York City. As part of his work with the homeless in New York, Biggers co-founded the Interfaith Assembly on Housing and Homelessness. Born in Ohio, raised in Illinois and Arizona, he earned a B.A. in History and English at Hunter College in New York City. He also studied at the University of California in Berkeley, Columbia University and the University of Arizona.
As the grandson of a coal miner from southern Illinois, Jeff Biggers has been a vocal critic of mountaintop removal in Appalachia and reckless strip mining across the nation, as well as poorly enforced black lung and mining workplace safety laws, and the fallacy of "clean coal" slogans. Reckoning at Eagle Creek examines the loss of his family's 200-year-old homestead to strip mining, and the historical parallel impact of coal mining on communities and their environment.
Over the past two years, Biggers has also extensively covered politics, immigration and cultural issues in Arizona and the US-Mexico borderlands for Salon.com, The Nation and Huffington Post. His article in Salon.com, "Who's Afraid of the Tempest," broke the story on Tucson's removal of Mexican American Studies books from banned courses. Biggers chronicled the history of Arizona's century-long resistance against anti-immigrant extremists and the rise of a new movement to overturn the state's controversial SB 1070 immigration law in the New York Times.
Biggers, Jeff (2012), "State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream." New York: Nation Books. ISBN 978-1-56858-702-8
Biggers, Jeff (2011), "Dans La Sierra Madre". Paris: Albin Michel. ISBN 978-2-226-21504-8
Biggers, Jeff (2011), "They'll Cut Off Your Project: A Mingo County Chronicle" by Huey Perry. Foreword by Jeff Biggers. Morgantown: WVU Press. ISBN 978-1-933202-79-2
Biggers, Jeff, (2007), The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture and Enlightenment to America. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker and Hoard. ISBN 1-59376-151-1 ISBN 978-1593761516
Biggers, Jeff (2006), In the Sierra Madre. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-03101-6
Biggers, Jeff, (2006), The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture and Enlightenment to America. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker and Hoard. ISBN 1-59376-031-0 ISBN 978-1593760311
Biggers, Jeff, Brosi, George and West, Don (2004), No Lonesome Road: Selected Prose and Poems by Don West. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-07157-3
Winner of the Sierra Club's David Brower Award, "Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland" is a family saga, part memoir, cultural history and journalistic investigation, examining the impact of coal mining on Biggers' native region of southern Illinois. Dating back to the removal of Native Americans, the nonfiction book laces the history of Biggers' family and the destruction of their 200-year-old historic community in the Shawnee forests into the development of the coal industry, from African slavery and coal mining, to a century of workplace safety and labor union struggles, to environmental and heritage movements against strip-mining and coal-fired plants. According to Publishers Weekly, "Part historical narrative, part family memoir, part pastoral paean, and part jeremiad against the abuse of the land and of the men who gave and continue to give their lives to (and often for) the mines, [Reckoning at Eagle Creek] puts a human face on the industry that supplies nearly half of America’s energy…it offers a rare historical perspective on the vital yet little considered industry, along with a devastating critique of the myth of ‘clean coal.’ ”
The United States of Appalachia argues that beyond its mythology in the American imagination, Appalachia has long been a vanguard region in the United States-—a cradle of U.S. freedom and independence, and a hot bed for literature and music. Some of the most quintessential and daring American innovations, rebellions, and social movements have emerged from an area often stereotyped as a quaint backwater. In the process, immigrants from the Appalachian diaspora have become some of our nation's most famous leaders. The Asheville Citizen-Times reviewed it as a "masterpiece of popular history...revelations abound." According to a review in the San Antonio Express-News, the book is "full of historical insights...debunking stereotypes is one of the driving motivations behind Biggers' writing."
In an interview on National Public Radio, Biggers laid out chapters of the progressive history of Appalachia. Specifically, he noted:
∑ Appalachians formed the first District of Washington as a defiant outpost outside of British control
∑ Southern mountain insurgents orchestrated their own attacks on British-led troops, turning the tide of the American Revolution in the South
∑ From an Appalachian hamlet in North Carolina came Nina Simone, who went on to become an international diva with her blend of folk, jazz, and Bach-motif riffs
∑ Adolph Ochs, a young publisher from Chattanooga, took over the New York Times and set its course for world acclaim
∑The first antislavery newspaper in America was founded in Tennessee, and Appalachians trained New England's legendary abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison
∑ Pearl S. Buck, the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, was recognized for her memoirs of West Virginia as much as for her literary contributions to the Far East
∑ Appalachia produced America's first woman muckraker Anne Royall, pioneering social realism author Rebecca Harding Davis, and literary innovators Martin Delany, Willa Cather, Thomas Wolfe, James Still, Cormac McCarthy, Edward Abbey, among many others
In the Sierra Madre is a memoir and narrative nonfiction history that chronicles the life and times in one of the most famous, yet unknown, regions in the world. Based on his one-year sojourn among the native Raramuri/Tarahumara, Biggers examines the ways of a resilient indigenous culture in the Americas, the exploits of the Mexican mountaineers, and the parade of argonauts and accidental travelers that has journeyed into the Sierra Madre over centuries. From African explorers, Bohemian friars, Confederate and Irish war deserters, French poets, Boer and Russian commandos, hidden Apache and Mennonite communities, bewildered archaeologists, addled writers, and legendary characters like Antonin Artaud, B. Traven, Sergei Eisenstein, George Patton, Geronimo and Pancho Villa, Biggers searches for the legendary treasures of the Sierra Madre (Mexico's Copper Canyon). In the Sierra Madre won the Gold Medal in Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year Awards (Travel Essays) in 2006. The memoir was praised by Booklist as "an astonishing sojourn." The San Antonio Express-News reviewed that it was "full of historical insights, and unforgettable characters."
Coal, Mountaintop Removal, Strip Mining, and Coal Miners
As an outspoken critic of mountaintop removal in Appalachia and strip mining in the Midwest and American Southwest, Biggers has written extensively for various newspapers, magazines and blogs. He has cited the dual impact of stripmining on destroying both the environment and its inhabitants and their heritage. In an article for Salon.com, Biggers has also explored alternatives to coal mining in the coalfield regions, including a proposed industrial wind farm on Coal River Mountain in West Virginia. In several blogs for the Huffington Post, Biggers has appealed to President Barack Obama, and Vice President Al Gore, among others, for their help in bringing green jobs to the Appalachian coal fields.
In the Washington Post, Biggers challenged the concept of "clean coal," by examining the extraordinary human and environmental costs of extracting coal, and the still infeasible technologies available for carbon capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired plants. As a cultural historian, Biggers often explores the devastating impact of mining on uprooting local communities, cultures and histories.
Biggers is also a playwright, whose first play, "4½ Hours: Across the Stones of Fire," explores the fate of a family threatened by an impending strip mining operation in their community. The play toured nationally and appeared on Off Broadway at the Gene Frankel Theatre in New York City on June 4–13, 2010.
- Official Website
- "From these mountains: The Southern Appalachians and the making of America" Review of The United States of Appalachia by Jon Elliston, 22 February 2006 Mountain Xpress (Vol. 12, Iss. 03). Link confirmed/reference expanded 2010-02-26.
- "Celebrating the History of Appalachia" NPR, May 7, 2006.
- Podcast, Yellowstone Public Radio with Leni Hollman.
- Jean Feraca interview re: In the Sierra Madre. NPR/Wisconsin Public Radio's Here on Earth. February 26, 2007.
- "As Obama Pushes 'Clean Coal,' Jeff Biggers Tracks History of Destructive Mining in Reckoning at Eagle Creek" Interview with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now, February 26, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
- Hundredth Anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre, Jeff Biggers and historian Jonathan Rees, The Real News, 2014.04.20