Join author Matthew Gavin Frank, in conversation with poet and author of World of Wonders Aimee Nezhukumatathil, to learn more about his remarkable portrait of exploitation and greed in Flight of the Diamond Smugglers (released by W.W. Norton on February 23).Frank’s compelling investigation into the bird’s unexpected role in the diamond trade has been called lyrical, raw, and heartbreaking.
Registration is on Eventbrite where you will receive login information and full instructions close to the event. A general admission ticket to access the event is $5; a ticket that includes Flight of the Diamond Smugglers waives the admission fee and is $28; a ticket that includes the purchase of both Flight of the Diamond Smugglers and World of Wonders also waives admission and is $56. Registration closes at 5:00 pm on the day of the event.
The Ohio State University Creative Writing Program and Ohioana Library are Gramercy’s Community Partners for this program.
For nearly eighty years, a huge portion of coastal South Africa was closed off to the public. With many of its pits now deemed “overmined” and abandoned, American journalist Matthew Gavin Frank sets out across the infamous Diamond Coast to investigate an illicit trade that supplies a global market. Immediately, he became intrigued by the ingenious methods used in facilitating smuggling, particularly the illegal act of sneaking carrier pigeons onto mine property, affixing diamonds to their feet, and sending them into the air.
Entering Die Sperrgebiet (“The Forbidden Zone”) is like entering an eerie ghost town, but Frank is surprised by the number of people willing—even eager—to talk with him. Soon he meets Msizi, a young diamond digger, and his pigeon, Bartholomew, who helps him steal diamonds. It’s a deadly game: pigeons are shot on sight by mine security, and Msizi knows of smugglers who have disappeared because of their crimes. For this, Msizi blames “Mr. Lester,” an evil tall-tale figure of mythic proportions.
From the mining towns of Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth, through the “halfway” desert, to Kleinzee’s shores littered with shipwrecks, Frank investigates a long-overlooked story. Weaving interviews with local diamond miners who raise pigeons in secret with harrowing anecdotes from former heads of security, environmental managers, and vigilante pigeon hunters, Frank reveals how these feathered bandits became outlaws in every mining town.
Interwoven throughout this obsessive quest are epic legends in which pigeons and diamonds intersect, such as that of Krishna’s famed diamond Koh-i-Noor, the Mountain of Light, and that of the Cherokee serpent Uktena. In these strange connections, where truth forever tangles with the lore of centuries past, Frank is able to contextualize the personal grief that sent him, with his wife Louisa in the passenger seat, on this enlightening journey across parched lands.
Blending elements of reportage, memoir, and incantation, Flight of the Diamond Smugglers is a rare and remarkable portrait of exploitation and greed in one of the most dangerous areas of coastal South Africa. With his sovereign prose and insatiable curiosity, Matthew Gavin Frank reminds us that the world is a place of wonder if only we look.
Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of The Mad Feast and Preparing the Ghost, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, an NPR Notable Book, and. New Yorker Book to Watch Out For. His work appears widely in journals and anthologies, including The Kenyon Review, Guernica, and The Best American Essays. He teaches creative writing in the MFA program at Northern Michigan University and lives in Marquette, Michigan.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, & Other Astonishments, Barnes and Noble 2020 Book of the Year and finalist for the Kirkus Prize. She published four award-winning poetry collections and has received fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. She teaches in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.