Earl Redman is the author of an exciting volume about the Guardian that is fresh off the press called Shoghi Effendi: Through the Pilgrim’s Eye. You may already be familiar with his work; in celebration of the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to the West, Earl Redman gathered together all the historical accounts of the Master’s travels and put them into chronological order in Abdu’l-Baha in Their Midst. When I contacted Earl about a possible interview, we discovered we had a mutual friend — my grandma and writer, Claire Vreeland. She compiled a book of pioneer stories (entitled And the Trees Clapped Their Hands) in which both of our families’ pioneering accounts are included. Linked through stories, I was keen to ask Earl about his creative process and the legwork behind his fascinating new book.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Earl. To begin, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work as a writer?
In 1977, I fell off a mountain. Or rather was invited to fall off the mountain when a friend I was roped to was blown down a steep, icy face on Mt Foraker in Alaska. We fell about a thousand feet and, during the fall, I left my body. The body was on its way to death, but I didn’t care. When I finally stopped the fall, I had two powerful emotions. First, while the body and the soul were separate, I was absolutely disgusted because I was back in, at that time, a rather battered body. That was followed, after the soul rejoined the body, by a feeling of absolute delight that I was still alive.
Knowing that the body and the soul were separate, I was prepared to listen when I met a Baha’i named Sharon. She talked of the Faith and, on the day we were married in 1980, I became a Baha’i. Since then, we pioneered in Chile for six years and have now been pioneering in Ireland for sixteen years.
I have always like to write, though I never expected to write a book. Some of my early stories somehow ended up in a book called And the Trees Clapped Their Hands. I also contributed to the Alaska Baha’i News. Professionally as a geologist, I wrote many reports and my first published book was about the history of the mines and miners in Southeast Alaska, based on many old newspaper stories. I never set out to write books on Baha’i history. They all just sort of appeared on my computer screen, quite to my surprise.
Baha’i Blog: How do you choose the subjects of your books, or do they choose you?
‘Abdu’l-Baha in Their Midst’ came into being because I was fascinated with Abdu’l-Baha and began collecting stories then putting them in chronological order, connected with a few of my own words. My second book, called Visiting Abdu’l-Baha and to be published late next year, came about because I’d made a mistake in one of the references in In Their Midst. The reference was from Star of the West, which was completely unindexed so I had to go through page by page looking for the correct one. In doing so, I read several stories of people going on pilgrimage and having their questions answered unasked. When I was finishing Visiting Abdu’l-Baha, I had to include a section on Shoghi Effendi and was amazed at how great the changes were from Abdu’l-Baha to Shoghi Effendi. That enticed me to continue researching Shoghi Effendi. That book obviously couldn’t end with the passing of the Guardian because the Baha’i world was in the middle of the biggest decade the Faith had ever experienced, the Ten Year Crusade. So the book expand to 1963. Then it became too long so we split it into two volumes. Volume 1, recently published, covered the years 1922 through 1952: how the Guardian developed and trained the Baha’i administrative order. For the Ten Year Crusade, I began to add a few stories of the Knights of Baha’u’llah. When the Knights stories filled up over 100 pages by themselves, we decided to split them off into their own book.So, basically, I ended up being led to write a sort of history of Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi from 1898 until 1963.
Baha’i Blog: What is the process like when working on a Baha’i book of non-fiction? How does creativity play a part in telling history?
Writing books of non-fiction requires sources. Many of my sources came from published books, the internet and National Baha’i Archives. The America Baha’i Archives supplied 2,500 pages of pilgrim’s notes for the book called Visiting Abdu’l-Baha, plus another 1,500 pages of pilgrim’s notes for the Shoghi Effendi volumes. The book on the Knights required a lot of emailing, letter writing, phone calls and divine assistance. It was amazing how the stories of the Knights of Baha’u’llah just kept coming, commonly from very unexpected sources. Sometimes, finding a source required going through a dozen people to find the one person who could contribute to a story.
My books are about what it was like to meet Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. We can’t do that today, so the only way we can try to understand what it was like is to read the notes of the pilgrims who did meet them. Writing about spiritual things is difficult to put into words. Since I was most interested in the feelings and emotions of the pilgrims, I quoted extensively from the pilgrims in order not to dilute what they wrote.
I’m not sure what part creativity plays in writing history – I’m sure it is essential, but I don’t know what part it played in my writing. I would get excited about something and would chase down various strands until I had the story I liked.
Baha’i Blog: What was your favourite part of writing ‘Shoghi Effendi: Through the Pilgrim’s Eye’?
The most exciting part of writing about Shoghi Effendi was trying to put together a continuous story of what was happening through the words of the pilgrim’s. The pilgrim’s stories sometimes flowed smoothly together, but sometimes one pilgrim would talk about something which no one else talked about. Trying to find out the full and true story was a treasure hunt.
Baha’i Blog: While you were researching for the book, was there anything that you came across that was particularly striking but that didn’t make it into the final version?
There was really nothing that was cut from volume 1. For volume 2, the Ten Year Crusade, some of the pilgrim’s notes were pretty graphic and unpleasant where they concerned Shoghi Effendi’s expectations of America’s efforts. America didn’t live up to Shoghi Effendi’s expectations because of its station as the Executors of the Tablets of the Divine Plan during the first half of the Crusade and the Guardian was blunt in his criticism. After the Guardian’s passing, America did rise to the challenge and finished the Crusade going strong. I had about two dozen pilgrim’s notes about America’s lack of effort, but only used a few – just enough to get the point across.
Baha’i Blog: What will Volume II cover?
Volume 2 is all about the Ten Year Crusade. It includes the stories of many pilgrims who visited the Baha’i World Centre both before and after Shoghi Effendi’s passing and, through their words, the activities in Haifa and Akka. It also includes the persecutions in Iran in 1955 and Morocco in 1961, and Mason Remey’s abandonment of the Faith.
Baha’i Blog: What words of wisdom and encouragement might you have for aspiring Baha’i writers of non-fiction?
Write the book you want to read. That is really all I did. At first, I wanted to read a book about the Master’s travels to the West, but there was no book that covered all of His travels – so I wrote what I wanted to read. Otherwise, find something that excites or fascinates you.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us!
If you’re interesting in reading Earl’s work, Shoghi Effendi: Through the Pilgrim’s Eye can be purchased on Amazon, or from your local Baha’i bookstore.
I’m eager to get my hands on this new book and look forward to the release of Visiting Abdu’l-Baha as I thoroughly enjoy when someone like Earl, a dedicated researcher and talented story-teller, produce a work of Baha’i history for us to enjoy and study.