Writing Project Considers Life After November 18

About a year ago, I committed myself to write a book about the survivors of Jonestown and former members of Peoples Temple. I was inspired to write by the remarkable performance of The People’s Temple at Berkeley Repertory Theater in the spring of 2005.

What I would like to do in my book is pick up where that project – and almost every other book and documentary – left off. I would like to write about what happened to people after November 18, 1978. As a religion reporter for secular media – mostly newspapers and websites – I am most interested in where people are now on their spiritual journeys and how they got there. By “spiritual,” I do not necessarily mean religious. Spiritual can mean something different to every person. I am interested in how survivors and former members have come to understand it.

I have moved slowly in the last year, trying to understand Peoples Temple. I have seen literally hundreds of pictures at the California Historical Society, I have seen and read how others have portrayed the Temple, and – perhaps most important – I have spent hours reading the stories and reflections of the survivors on this website. It has all prepared me to begin my work in earnest.

If you are a former Temple member and/or a survivor of Jonestown, I want to talk to you. I want to hear what you learned from your time in Peoples Temple, how you managed to survive the months after the deaths, what you have done in the years since then, how you have integrated your experience into your life, how your spiritual beliefs, political views and social vision have changed, and what you think the lessons of Jonestown – both learned and unlearned – are for today.

I will attend the public memorial service at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland on November 18, and I would be more than happy and honored to meet anyone who would like to hear more about my project or learn more about me and my work.

In the interest of full disclosure, there is one more thing you should know about my project. I am scared to death of it. I know I’m asking people to open themselves up to old hurts and deep wounds. It isn’t going to be easy. But if we work on it together, I think we can come up with a book that will be a fitting testimony and a lasting testament to the movement and the people who lived and died in it.

(Kimberly Winston can be reached at 510-724-3679 or through her email address at kjwinston@comcast.net.)