About Don Mitchell
I’m a writer, ecological anthropologist, and photographer who lived among the Nagovisi people of Bougainville Island (in the southwestern Pacific) for several years in the 1960s and 1970s, and returned in 2001 after Bougainville’s war of secession.
I was born and grew up in Hilo, on the island of Hawai’i, and graduated from Hilo High in 1960. I studied anthropology, evolutionary biology, and creative writing at Stanford (BA 1964) and went on to earn a PhD in anthropology from Harvard in 1972.
For many years I was a professor at Buffalo State in western New York where I taught Intro (my favorite course) and, among other things, managed a DEC computer system and was the first Women’s Track Coach. I ran marathons (2:51 best) and ultra-marathons (7:24/50 miles) and became one of the world’s first professional road race (running) timers (my company was called Runtime Services). I lived in the city of Buffalo but grew weary of city life and moved to Colden, a small town about 30 miles south of Buffalo. Eventually, with Ruth Thompson, I moved back to Hilo.
I have a son (Ethan) who works as a film editor in NYC.
Among my more obscure accomplishments are being named “Corrector of English” for a Dutch ethnographic film festival, being inducted into the Western New York Running Hall of Fame, and having written a technical monograph about tropical rainforest agriculture. In 2011 I co-authored an evolutionary psychology paper.
In the mid 1990s I returned to writing fiction and poetry. My stories of another culture have won praise from many quarters, including a Pushcart nomination and awards from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, New Millennium Writings, Green Mountains Review, and other journals. I also publish online at The Nervous Breakdown.
In 2013 Ruth Thompson and I spent two weeks as Artists In Residence for the City of Portales, NM.
In that same year, my story collection A Red Woman Was Crying was published. The stories take the reader into the rich and complex internal lives of South Pacific rainforest cultivators — young and old, male and female, gentle and fierce — as they grapple with predatory miners, indifferent colonial masters, introduced religion, their own changing culture, their sometimes violent past, and the “other” who has come to live with them. The stories demystify ethnography by turning it on its head. The narrators are Nagovisi, and it’s through their eyes that the reader knows the young anthropologist, himself struggling with his identity as a Vietnam-era American, who’s come to study their culture in a time of change.
For more information and links to my work, you can go here.