Pulitzer Prize winner added to GCC speaker series

Heather Ann Thompson

Dr. Heather Ann Thompson

FROM THE BATAVIA DAILY NEWS ONLINE

BATAVIA — Genesee Community College has landed a Pulitzer Prize winner for its Historical Horizons lecture series.

Author Heather Ann Thompson will lead a discussion on her book, “Blood in the Water,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, in Room T-102 at the school’s Batavia campus.

Released last year, “Blood in the Water” is Thompson’s exposé on the 1971 Attica Prison riot. It won the Pulitzer Prize for History in April.

It is a major get for the school.

“I have known about this book for years, even before it was published,” said associate professor of history Derek Maxfield, who organizes the lecture series. “I had reached out to her when the book was released and told her how much I liked it. Then I congratulated her when she won the Pulitzer. I also told her I would love have her come in if she was ever in the area. Finally, we were able to work out a date this fall.”

Thompson spent 13 years researching the riot before finally writing her book. Part of the reason it took so long was that she waited until certain government documents were made available after being classified for decades.

In her book, Thompson revealed previously unreported details, including the names of state police officers who allegedly committed crimes in the riot but were never indicted.

“Since the book has come out, it’s been really incredible that so many people have read it and the response that has come to me has been overwhelmingly positive,” Thompson told The Daily News in April.

The book, of course, has local interest despite its controversial subject.

“There have been a lot of books about the riot, but I believe this is the first in-depth report by a historian,” Maxfield said. “As a historian myself, that appealed to me. It’s a very balanced and well-researched approach to the story. I’m sure it makes some people feel uncomfortable, because it’s an ugly story. There are still people who lived through it in the area. I have a lot of students who have parents who work at the prison, so this will have local interest for sure.”

For Maxfield, the book and the author’s visit hold even more significance, since he previously taught classes in the prison. It was an experience he called “eye-opening.”

“Your whole outlook changes a lot when you go into that atmosphere and see what kind of life the prisoners have,” he said. “You have an abstract view of it unless you see it for yourself.”

Maxfield added that he hopes this presentation will lead to a discussion about incarceration.

“We send too many people to prison and don’t work hard enough at rehabilitation,” he said. “Certainly there are violent criminals there who should be punished. But we throw these people away and feel they can’t be redeemed or rehabilitated.”

Thompson is not the first Pulitzer Prize winner to take part in the Historical Horizons lecture series. Eric Foner took part in the 2016 series. His book, “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for History.

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