Richard Tropp’s Dramatic Reading

Richard Tropp
Photo Courtesy of California
Historical Society, MSP 3800

Richard Tropp is sometimes considered the narrator of Jonestown. He wrote several accounts of life in Jonestown which were intended for public consumption, whether that public was the Jonestown community or the outside world. More than simple descriptions or everyday prose found in letters, Tropp’s writing had a style and flair that extolled as much as it explained Jonestown. A letter to the world – written on Jonestown’s final day – which has been attributed to Tropp is here.

This document – “dedicated to Dad from Dick Tropp” – is a vivid, almost stagy, description of the people of Jonestown, attributes which were intentional. A note at the end says that it was Tropp’s recommendation “to make this into a dramatic reading for 4-5 voices.” The seven-page typewritten document even includes notations – in the form of hand-inserted marks – when one voice would take over from another, or at least when the narrator would pause for dramatic effect.

The essay seems to have had two audiences, and in fact, there may have been a second version which did not survive. Aside from the break notations and a couple of hand-written corrections, the only marginal note is on the second-to-last page, where Tropp writes “(toned down here for U.S. consumption)”.

The script is undated. However, a second note at the end of the text – that Tropp would like a transcript of the tape with the words of “those who spoke about revolutionary suicide” – indicate that the essay could have been written in late October 1978, shortly after dozens of Jonestown residents were taped making such declarations during a late-night meeting. The transcript and summary of that tape appear on this site.

Who Are The People of Jonestown? 89-4286-EE-1-T-57 – EE-1-T-63