John Sayles, born in upstate New York in 1950, has a storied career as an independent filmmaker, screenwriter, and writer of fiction and nonfiction. He has written and directed many films including Return of the Secaucus Seven, Lone Star, Passion Fish, The Secret of Roan Inish, and Matewan. Writing scripts for others—he has a long list of credits as screenwriter—has generated the funds to support the production of most of his own films.
Sayles’ first novel, Pride of the Bimbos, was published in 1975 and was followed in 1977 by the novel Union Dues and a story collection, The Anarchist’s Collection, in 1979. Los Gusanos, his sweeping tale of Cuban expatriates in Miami, followed in 1991, and his most recent novel, A Moment in the Sun, was released this year by McSweeney’s and clocks in at 900+ pages. The novel is “a brutal picaresque complete with melancholy whores, militaristic robber barons, desperate cut-throat prospectors, and puppet soldiers…” according to William Vollmann, that looks at the United States discovering its own size and wealth and taking giant first steps at imperialism in the late 19th century.
Besides numerous awards and nominations for his film work and screenwriting including a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Writer’s Guild of America, literary recognition for Sayles has come in the form of an O. Henry Award for his first published story and nominations for both a National Book Award and the National Book Critics Award for the novel Union Dues. In 1985 he received a MacArthur Fellowship for his work in both film and writing.
Here is an excerpt, reprinted from the book jacket, A Moment in the Sun
It’s 1897. Gold has been discovered in the Yukon. New York is under the sway of Hearst and Pulitzer. And in a few months, an American battleship will explode in a Cuban harbor, plunging the U.S. into war. This is the story of that extraordinary moment: the turn of the twentieth century, as seen by one of the greatest storytellers of our time.
Shot through with lyrical intensity and stunning detail that recall Doctorow and Deadwood both, A Moment in the Sun takes the whole era in its sights - from the white-racist coup in Wilmington, North Carolina to the bloody dawn of U.S. interventionism overseas. Beginning with Hod Brackenridge searching for his fortune in the North, and hurtling forward across five years and half a dozen countries - through the voices of men like Royal Scott, an African American infantryman whose life outside the military has been destroyed, and Diosdado Concepcion, a Filipino insurgent preparing to fight against his country’s new colonizers - this is a story as big as its subject: history rediscovered through the lives of the people who made it happen.
“Sayles is a master of both architecture and affect… Devoted to offering us a new understanding of the past.” — Tom LeClair, New York Times Book Review
“A long time in coming, with an ending that’s one of the most memorable in recent literature. A superb novel, as grand in its vision as one of President McKinley’s dreams — but not for a moment, as Sayles writes of that figure, ‘empty of thought, of emotion’.” — Kirkus (starred review)