After I published Jonestown Survivor: An Insider’s Look in March 2010, I anticipated that I’d be able to take a breath. That hasn’t happened.
In some ways, I’d been writing the book in my head for about 12 years. I was first able to talk openly about my survival in 1998, when I reconnected with fellow survivors for the 20th anniversary of the deaths in Guyana. Since then, I have been interviewed in every media forum. I was driven to clarify everything I know about the people of Peoples Temple.
When I started the actual writing process about five years ago, I may have thought that, by putting everything on paper, I would be able to empty my head. But that turned out to be the first half of my task. It’s one thing to publish a book, it’s something else for people to know you’ve published a book. I had to become my own publicist. Even while still teaching my sixth graders, I have traveled around the country visiting universities, libraries, Quaker venues, service clubs, writing events, conferences, and friends’ homes to tell my story and to open a dialogue. I have sold over 900 printed and electronic copies, and tried to provide a forum where people can both learn and talk about the topic once considered taboo: Jonestown.
If there has been a shift in the last year or so, it is that many of my speaking engagements seem to be more academic now. I speak to Sociology, History, Religion, and Political Science students. I have also been approached in recent months by others who have faced trauma, not just people damaged by cults, but also by holocaust survivors and military veterans with PTSD. I feel that I have lived a life that gives hope for overcoming grief and trauma, and if I can convey that hope to others through Jonestown Survivor, I will have succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.
I might just have the one book in me, although I plan to have many interviews and write articles for different publications. I expect I’ll always have a lot to say and write about my experiences in life.
I don’t really know where I’ll end up. The one thing I am absolutely sure of is my activism. Now, I am involved with writers’ groups and scholarly groups in conferences, but my heart is in humanitarian and political issues. I am a parent and a wife; I am part of Occupy Escondido; I am a teacher; I am a Quaker; I am an active supporter of many humanitarian issues. As I dance between the past – now nearly 34 years since the deaths in Jonestown, and the present, and the future – I know I will continue to work to change the status quo.
Laura Johnston Kohl is a frequent contributor to the jonestown report. Her other articles in this edition include Who Could Have Stopped The Deaths In Jonestown?, Hate? What is it good for?, Paula Adams: Caught Between Two Men, Rheaviana Beam: A Kaleidoscope Of Parts, Peoples Temple And Synanon – Modern Communities: The Role Of Women, and Finding My Voice. Her previous writings appear here. She can be reached at email@example.com.
(The website for Laura’s book Jonestown Survivor is here. It was reviewed earlier this year by The WriteEdge Bookshelf, a project of the WordPress website for book aficionados (also available here). Her blog on her site includes a number of articles, including A Gathering of Peoples Temple Survivors , Grief, and Going Home Again.
(Laura was also interviewed for a podcast at the Escondido Library following a presentation of her book in May 2012. A podcast from November 2011 appears here (scroll down to Baycast #2; program begins after 30 seconds of intro music).)