Morning Word

“The Milagro Beanfield War” Author John Nichols Dies at 83

Gov. Lujan Grisham announces new council to address murdered and missing Indigenous people

John Nichols, author of The Milagro Beanfield War, dies at 83

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the state who hasn’t read one of your books.” So said Report from Santa Fe host Lorene Mills to John Nichols, a long-time Taos resident and author of the seminal 1974 New Mexico novel The Milagro Beanfield War, during a televised interview last year. During the interview, Nichols discussed his last book, the memoir I Got Mine: Confessions of a Mid-list Writer, along with sundry topics, including his lifelong love for his craft. “I just loved writing,” he told Mills, discussing his time in college. “Instead of going to the bar on Saturday night, I would just sit in my room and type, or write on pads of paper or whatever. I loved it…and they were terrible books, the writing was just awful.” Be that as it may, Nichols published his first novel, The Sterile Cuckoo, in 1965 when he was 24 years old. His commitment to writing never wavered, and he produced 24 books in the course of his life, many acclaimed, and several of which were made into films—most notably The Milagro Beanfield War in 1988, with Robert Redford directing. Nichols died Monday night at the age of 83, his family announced yesterday. “He took [writing] serious as hard, hard work,” Nichols’ daughter, Tania Harris, tells the Santa Fe New Mexican. “He worked tirelessly on novels, sometimes over the course of 10 years.” Nichols’ love for writing was matched by his devotion to Northern New Mexico, where he moved with his family in 1969, and to social justice. Taos News Tempo Editor Lynne Robinson writes: “His political views were long considered radical before the world caught up with him. Nichols was on the frontlines of every humanitarian cause, an activist who was unafraid to speak up when he felt it warranted.” Or, in Nichols’ own words: “I’ve always believed, if you’re involved even in a very small struggle—in some sort of infinity in a grain of sand—in your local neighborhood, that every action has universal implications. I believe that if I struggle for the rights of an acequia in Taos, New Mexico, that the ripple effect [will spread] from that tiny struggle.”

Let there be light

The City of Santa Fe reports progress on a delayed and controversial streetlight conversion. The city and contractor Dalkia Energy Solutions in May 2022 completed the conversion of all city-owned streetlights to LED luminaries—roughly 3,500 out of the total 5,500 scheduled for replacement. The rest of the lights belong to PNM, which recently finished required regulatory work with the Public Regulation Commission based on the city’s design changes in response to public input. The City Council approved that revised plan, which called for warmer, dimmer lights, in May 2021. “PNM had to get approved for those, and as I like to say, in true Santa Fe style, we have the warmest and the dimmest lighting design that you can get in a well-manufactured and 10-year-warranted product,” Public Works Director Regina Wheeler tells SFR. A PNM representative says the company and the city are negotiating a contract, but anticipate having one ready for review at the start of 2024; Wheeler says her department will seek funding for PNM to convert 1,000 more of the roughly 2,000 streetlights it owns within the city, with the remaining lights replaced later at the city’s request. While there’s “no exact timeline yet” for that process, Wheeler anticipates completion between six months to a year after officials sign the contract.

Health providers announce diabetes initiative

The state Department of Health, Presbyterian Healthcare Service and the University of New Mexico’s Project ECHO yesterday announced a series of programs aimed at the approximate 255,000 New Mexicans with diabetes, along with the 587,000 people who are prediabetic. According to a news release, each organization received five-year funding through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grants ($850,000 to DOH; $1 million each to Presbyterian and ECHO) to advance health equity for populations with or at risk of having diabetes—Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, in New Mexico’s case. The projects will include prevention and management services through the state’s Paths to Health New Mexico: Tools for Healthier Living; expansion of Presbyterian’s Diabetes ReCHARGE program and Kitchen Creations; and a focus on border and other communities at high risk by Project ECHO. The grant allows all three entities “to leverage resources, infrastructure and subject matter expertise to focus on the communities most impacted by diabetes while identifying and addressing social determinants of health,” DOH Diabetes Prevention and Control Program Manager Christine Brown says in a statement. “Reversing the trend of diabetes requires a team approach and the DOH looks forward to working together to address the diverse needs of New Mexico communities.”

Gov announces new MMIW council

The state of New Mexico will create a new council to address the ongoing plight of missing and murdered Indigenous people, the Associated Press reports. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration ended a prior task force with little fanfare, a move that has led to ongoing criticism from advocates. The AP reports officials said yesterday they are forming a new state council led by Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. Jenelle Roybal and Picuris Pueblo Gov. Craig Quanchello. The rest of the council’s makeup has not been disclosed. “Bringing more law enforcement to the table will help address a major crux of this issue: a lack of coordination among federal, tribal, state and local entities,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “The work of this group will help bring missing Native people home, provide closure to families and communities, and prevent other families from experiencing these tragedies.” Advocates yesterday reiterated their concerns. “The state response plan was done in May of 2022 and there were short-term goals that should have already been met,” Darlene Gomez, a lawyer who has been helping families with missing relatives told the AP. “They cannot point to what goals they’ve met.”

Listen up

Two recent episodes of the design and architecture podcast The Second Studio focus on the Southwest. Hosts architects David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet of FAME Architecture and Design first discuss their trip through the region, along with adobe buildings, local architecture, the integration of nature within cities and more, with specific emphasis on Taos Pueblo, Monument Valley and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, to name a few spots. On a companion episode, Lee and Bourderonnet talk about all the other things that happened during their trip through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and California.

Write like George

In addition to all the other undertakings he funds, Santa Fe’s benefactor George RR Martin of Game of Thrones fame also has given a $3 million gift to his alma mater Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism to fund this summer’s inaugural George RR Martin Summer Intensive Writing Workshop. The workshop, according to the school, is aimed at mid-career journalists hoping to publish their first novel or book-length work of fictional prose. The workshop will take place in Evanston, Illinois and run from July 10 to 17, 2024. “Journalists have always been compelling storytellers, and many have a wealth of stories and ideas that would make for rich novels,” Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Medill’s George RR Martin Chair in Storytelling, who will be leading the workshop, says in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be launching this unique program that will help journalists make that leap from news narratives to writing fictional prose.” The deadline to apply is Jan. 16, 2024.

Speaking of writers, read the winners of this year’s nonfiction category in the SFR annual writing contest in this week’s edition, and come hear from both the winning fiction and nonfiction writers at tonight’s reading and reception (6 pm Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie Suite B), along with nonfiction judge and author Jenn Shapland, whose newest collection, Thin Skin, was named among the best books of the year by Time Magazine and Publishers Weekly.

Smile! You’re in Santa Fe

Amongst its many lauded attributes, Santa Fe receives ongoing recognition for its natural beauty, arts scene, culinary wonders and cultural diversity. Now, it’s also picking up a shout-out for its friendliness. According to Condé Nast magazine, Santa Fe ranks sixth among the United States’ “friendliest” cities. “The friendly residents aren’t just artsy, though,” the magazine writes,”because the city attracts such a diverse range of people, you see it reflected in its dining scene and elsewhere.” Santa Fe’s purported friendliness, by the way, emerged from the magazine’s 36th annual Readers’ Choice Awards and appears to be the only Southwestern city that merited as such. Now, while Carlsbad did not make the friendly list, it can lay claim to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which Geoffrey Morrison, aka the Bald Nomad, writes about for Forbes magazine, providing “10 things to know” before visiting. They include how to dress for the subterranean experience and what level of accessibility to expect. While one can descend via elevator, Morrison writes, “If you’re reasonably fit, I highly recommend walking down into the caverns through the natural entrance, and then taking the elevator back up. This is an experience I’m extremely glad I did, letting you discover the caverns’ different layers, being amazed at every turn, only to discover the next corner reveals something even more incredible.”

Snow chance

The National Weather Service forecasts a mostly sunny day, with a high temperature near 45 degrees and north wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Tonight, however, brings a 20% chance of precipitation, with isolated snow showers after 2 am, heading into likely snow Thursday morning.

Thanks for reading! The Word enjoyed watching Paul Lynch win the 2023 Booker Prize and listening to his acceptance speech (at the bottom of the story).

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