Columbine Author Dave Cullen Sees Hope in Parkland

The esteemed reporter returns with a new book focused on a group of students who refused to let others tell their story.

Hopefully, a day will come when author Dave Cullen has no reason to write another book about gun violence. Unfortunately, that moment has yet to arrive.

In 2009, Cullen published Columbine — a masterpiece of reporting and social commentary. Issued on the 10th anniversary of the tragic Colorado shooting, Cullen’s text skillfully probes for answers in an attempt to understand what led high school students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to open fire on their peers and teachers in 1999.

Simultaneously it also tracks the aftermath and recovery of the survivors. In the process, Cullen details the profound consequences of gun violence while also dispelling widely disseminated falsehoods about the shooters, including suggestions that bullying, trench coats, or the music of Marilyn Manson played any substantial role in their motives.

Sadly, the legacy of Cullen’s work is that he is now often called upon to serve as a talking head when shootings occur. Such was the case on Feb. 14, 2018, when a gunman killed 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. However, when Cullen arrived at the scene the following month, what he discovered was not the usual rhetoric proffered by news outlets and politicians, but instead a remarkably dedicated community of young adults unwilling to let others tell their story.

Parkland eschews the killer’s narrative, instead focusing solely on individuals like Emma González and David Hogg, who grapple with high school concerns like prom dates and mid-terms while staging a spirited grassroots campaign to challenge the NRA and Congress by demanding sensible gun law reform.

In the hands of a less-skilled writer, a project like Parkland might risk becoming the type of uplifting but empty text that typically arrives with aspirations of cashing in on a cultural moment. Instead, Cullen utilizes the moment to amplify the Parkland students’ calls for actions while situating his views within a structure of quality reporting that emphasizes facts above emotions.

While it remains to be seen what will ultimately transpire in the unconscionably lethargic response to shooting after shooting at nightclubs, movie theaters, and elementary schools across the United States, Parkland represents a reason to remain hopeful that if those in power now cannot get the job done, the generation to follow has no intentions of repeating their ghastly mistakes.

by Dave Cullen, Feb. 12, Harper.

Five Other Books We’re Excited About

The Spirit of Science Fiction, by Roberto Bolaño
Feb. 5, Penguin Press
The Chilean writer has only grown more prolific in death, as seen in the posthumous releases of novels like 2666 and The Savage Detectives. Bolaño’s newest title to be translated is a meditation on youth, revolution, and bohemia, set in Mexico City.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James
Feb. 5, Riverhead Books
Marlon James follows his Man Booker Prize-winning novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, with the first installment of an eventual trilogy that’s being billed as “an African Game of Thrones” and which Neil Gaiman calls “as well-realized as anything Tolkien made.” You’ll be hearing about this one for a long time.

The Collected Schizophreniasby Esmé Weijun Wang
Feb. 5, Graywolf Press
Writing about mental illness is a perilous prospect, but Whiting Award-winner Esmé Weijun Wang handles the task beautifully. In this collection of essays, Wang (who suffers from schizoaffective disorder and Lyme disease) eloquently balances personal narrative and empirical research to offer a powerful series of insights into a woefully misunderstood world.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden, by Cara Robertson
Mar. 12, Simon & Schuster
Who would’ve thought one of 2019’s most compelling true-life mysteries would center on the 1892 deaths of Andrew and Abby Borden? Packed with fresh details and startling revelations, The Trial of Lizzie Borden is a fresh yet comprehensive dive into one of America’s most sensational murder trials and the young woman at the center of it all.

The Paradeby Dave Eggers
Mar. 19, Knopf
Novelist Dave Eggers (The Circle, A Hologram for the King) is always game for something new. His latest work of fiction is a tragicomic absurdist tale of two men tasked with finishing a road that will connect two halves of a foreign nation at war.

Read more from SF Weekly’s Winter Arts issue:

Still Squicky After All These Years, 1980’s Grimiest Movie Is Coming to the Drafthouse
William Lustig’s Maniac arrives at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Expressions of Exuberance: Michael Light’s Aerial Desert Photography
Hosfelt Gallery’s “Michael Light: Great Basin Autoglyphs and Pleistoseas” is nothing short of transfixing.

The African Dream, in Mfoniso Udofia’s America
Two plays in her “Ufot Family Cycle” make their Bay Area premieres this season, showing the Nigerian Civil War through one clan’s experience.

Meet Adia Victoria, Blues’ Heiress Apparent
In one of the most male-dominated genres in the rock pantheon, she knows how to establish the mood.

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