And Then They Were Gone: Teenagers of Peoples Temple from High School to Jonestown
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What is your book about?
The horror of Jonestown over 40 years ago when Rev. Jim Jones sent over 900 adults and children to their deaths after ordering the assassination of Congressman Leo Ryan will never be forgotten. Amidst the memories of how a paranoid madman set off one of the worst tragedies ever, And When They Were Gone holds uplifting stories about the Peoples Temple youngsters whom the authors came to know. They were idealistic, energetic, and, even in Jonestown, determined to be themselves in spite of the strict rules and harsh punishments in the jungle prison camp Jonestown had become. Judy Bebelaar and Ron Cabral, teachers at Opportunity II High, taught Peoples Temple teenagers and grew to know many of them very well. And Then They Were Gone tells the true story of these bright young people who perished in this tragic event that constituted the largest mass death of non-military Americans since 9/11. Today those deaths are more properly called murder/suicides. Few people realize that 1/3 of those who died were under eighteen, 1/2 in their twenties or younger. Set against the turbulent backdrop of the late 1970s, And Then They Were Gone: Teenagers of Peoples Temple is the story of these teens, who had little choice but to go to Jonestown, but many of whom were drawn in by Jim Jones’ promise of a utopian society with racial and gender equality. The book is based research in books, libraries and online. The authors also conducted interviews; many of the stories are told here for the first time. In this unprecedented time of social distance, depersonalization, and rising death tolls, it is more important than ever to see the humanity that creates statistics.
What inspired you to write your book?
Ron and I were inspired by the play, “The People’s Temple,” which we saw in 2006 and decided to write a book in the same spirit about the students we knew from the Temple, wonderful young people.
If you have a business related to your book, tell us about it:
Just writing and I love doing readings and book talks.
What is a typical day like for you?
Exercise in the morning, gardening or cleaning, then reading or writing, and in the evening sharing a beautiful meal my husband has prepared. One day we’ll be able to go to a play or a movie, but for now, a good movie on the tv or a bit of a series like Midnight Diner.
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
I love writing. Poetry is my first love, but writing this book, though sometimes difficult, was a labor of love which turned out to be amazingly rewarding.
What are some favorite books you’d recommend to our readers?
Isabel Allende’s “A Long Petal of the Sea,” and all her books; Louise Erdrich’s “The Night Watchman,” and all her books; Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby“; Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury:”; Richard Power’s “The Overstory.”
What advice do you have to offer our readers?
Write about what you know and care deeply about. Don’t give up. And when you nave to take a break, go outside if you can, and walk, and if you can’t find a Zumba or yoga class online! And read what moves you.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I performed a belly dance I choreographed (with help) for my 70th birthday and just celebrated my 80th and still love to dance.
What’s next for you?
I have a poetry chapbook, “Walking Across the Pacific, and am working on a full length book.