Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Flint Hills ranchers William Browning and Bill Sproul (Photo:
Antonia Felix)

{Published in the Emporia Gazette on November 26, 2010:}

After fifteen months of writing about Kansas alternative energy and environmental issues, I have come to recognize two attitudes at work. They descend from a pair of frontier types defined by 18th-century writers like Hector Crèvecoeur, who sketched “the American, this new man” as either the industrious, family-oriented farmer or the self-reliant, isolated wild man.

Crèvecoeur’s farmer was a community builder, a fusion of pragmatist and visionary as dedicated to the public good as to his personal economy. He was optimistic, connected to the land and socially responsible. The other American was the frontier renegade: footloose, antisocial and, as Western writer Wallace Stegner describes him, “impatient of responsibility and law.” The wild loner embraced freedom in a coarse cloak of self-interest.

The remnants of those types live today in Midwestern- and Wild West-oriented Kansans who approach nature and the environment either as something to respect and defend or to abuse and exploit. In the middle are the numb and indifferent.

This Thanksgiving, I look back with gratitude at the many people I’ve spoken to about the land, wildlife, energy options and green economic opportunities in this state. Each of them can be associated with one of the frontier forebears and each has taught me where we are and where we may be headed.

Some descend from the renegade line, focused on short-term self-interests such as building more coal plants because it’s cheaper than investing in a sustainable-energy infrastructure. The rugged individualism of this type, which made colorful stories in the Eastern newspapers 250 years ago, lives on in individuals as well as energy corporations that are invested with all the rights of human beings but assume none of the responsibilities unless a government regulation requires it.

I have learned first-hand that the land-loving, socially conscious farmer type is also alive in people from all over the state, such as homeowners who have released their white-knuckle grip on the status quo and eased up on their energy use. In scientists at universities and government agencies who commit their careers to finding solutions to the challenges facing the prairie eco-structure. And in ranchers who break with tradition to employ the more sustainable method of patch burning and grazing.

The community-oriented, visionary type lives strong in the ranchers who spend their savings on legal costs in order to defend their conservation efforts in court. They believe that fighting for habitat and endangered species is a good fight and sometimes they win.

This type also lives on in energy-efficient construction experts who helped rebuild tornado-leveled Greensburg as a model green community and who are spearheading a high-efficiency movement that will one day be recognized as a revolution.

I am grateful for them all, and for the generous and passionate collaborators I’ve met who work on behalf of land and wildlife in groups like Audubon of Kansas and the Tallgrass Legacy Alliance.

All of these cousins in the lineage of community-nurturing farmer types whose sense of social responsibility extends from family to town to the natural habitat upon which everything is housed and depends, have nature on their side.

The lessons of nature—diversity, cooperation and interrelatedness—show us the way to thrive in this wondrous place. To see that thriving toward the common good as a way of life in so many around us is truly something to be grateful for.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Sotomayor Biography: Front and Center on the New York Public Library Blog for National Hispanic Heritage Month 2010

The BOOKLIST Review:
“Best-selling biographer Felix’s biography of Associate Justice Sotomayor is journalistic in tone and treatment, but it is good, responsible, nonsensational journalism, proving to be necessary reading for anyone interested in gathering a solid, accurate picture of this remarkable woman.” July 10, 2010


To read the entire post, which was published in July, click here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Edition of Rice Bio from Simon & Schuster

A new trade paperback edition of my 2005 biography, Condi: The Condoleezza Rice Story, will arrive in stores on October 12, 2010, from S&S's Threshold Editions. Find it at your local bookstore or order a copy here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Book Events in Minneapolis/St. Paul in August 2010

TUESDAY 8/17, 
7:00 p.m.
Live radio appearance on KFAI's "Write On Radio!" with host Ian Leask: 98.3 FM Minneapolis; 106.7 FM St. Paul; and streaming live at

WEDNESDAY 8/18 4:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Talk and Book Signing, BORDERS St. Paul, 1390 University Ave. W (U Ave. & N. Hamline)

THURSDAY 8/19, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.
Book Signing, Barnes & Noble on the Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (801 Nicollet Mall)
SATURDAY 8/21, 1:30 - 2:30 p.m.
Talk and Book Signing, Shakopee Public Library, 235 S. Lewis St., Shakopee, MN

Wichita Event on Thursday, September 9:
7:00 p.m.
4701 East Douglas


LISTEN to my recent interview on SIRIUS|XM'S "Left Jab" here:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My First Film Credit: A Documentary on Condoleezza Rice

Released in April 2010, AMERICAN FAUST is a hard-hitting documentary about Condoleezza Rice produced and directed by Sebastian Doggart. I'm featured in the award-winning film, which has been honored as:
    Winner: Golden Palm Award, Mexico International Film Festival
    Runner-up: Best Documentary, Marbella International Film Festival
    Runner-up: Best Documentary, Treasure Coast International Film Festival
    Nominated: Maysles Brothers Award for Outstanding Documentary, Starz Denver Film Festival
    Nominated: Best Documentary Award, New Hampshire Film Festival


"A must-see . . . a no-holds-barred perspective on how we got to where we are--and who is responsible." --Huffington Post

"EXPLOSIVE." --Daily Telegraph

Check it out! The DVD is available at:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Sing sorrow, sorrow"

A 2008 production of Aeschylus' Agamemnon at L.A.'s Getty Villa. 

[The following was published as "Tragic Opportunity" in GREEN STATE, my column in the Emporia Gazette, on June 18, 2010]

As I write this post, we are at Day 58 of the BP oil spill, the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Eleven people killed, countless birds and sea life dead, coastal lands soaked in toxic oil and the region's economy crippled. Every day, about 2.5 million gallons of oil are gushing into the Gulf with no end in sight.

“Tragic” barely describes it. The media has finally been let in, the high-definition cameras are rolling and we are now face to face with tragedy.

But tragedy does not have to be a one-way course. We can learn something this time. Watching the Deep Horizon disaster thrusts us into the emotional hot seat that tragedy always forges. The Greeks produced tragedies in order to purge themselves of pent-up emotional energy and observe the consequences of human flaws and misunderstandings. Drama, now delivered by the hour on TV and DVD, still affects us the same way. Going to the movies is a safety valve of sorts and we pay real money to indulge in the strife of heroes whose crises pile up by the minute. We savor the relief when those crises are resolved.

Real-life tragedy, however, has no safety valve. Our hearts and minds are as vulnerable to the toxic slime spreading through the Gulf as are the water, creatures and their habitat. Suffering is inevitable, but we can put it to use by applying our raised awareness to new policies about energy and those who control it.

Two silver linings, however faint they may appear today, are: (1) a wider acceptance of the fact that the fossil-fuel era is over, and (2) recognition that deregulation run wild is a policy that cannot sustain our way of life or our planet.

Oil is a finite resource and even the Saudis, who export more of it than anyone else, have admitted that they have to start investing in alternative energy. “The oil won't last forever,” said the Saudi minister of petroleum and mineral resources a few weeks ago.

Demand for oil has dropped among industrialized nations due to new policies for energy efficiency, but it is increasing in other areas, especially China, the fastest-growing economy in the world. With demand from China and India soon to outgrow supply, oil-producing nations have the foresight to diversify their energy industries. Two years ago, Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister described the kingdom's new focus on clean energy, including a solar program designed to make it “a major megawatt exporter” of solar energy over the next five decades.

In TV commercials airing over the past couple of years we've seen that ExxonMobile and others are tapping into green alternatives, too, mapping out ways to stay in the energy business by producing biofuels, wind and solar. But it's not giving up its potential for a few more years of multi-billion-dollar oil profits without a fight.

As President Barack Obama said in his Oval Office speech this week, the path leading away from our addiction to fossil fuels has been blocked for decades not only by the oil industry, “but also by a lack of political courage and candor.”

It takes political courage to go against the stream of fifty years of deregulation that have allowed one of the most destructive elements of human nature—greed—to run its course. Oil and gas, electric utilities, telecommunications and Wall Street have been given increasingly free reign under Republican and Democratic presidents alike. The result has been economic meltdowns like the savings and loan bailout, Enron, a global recession ignited by Wall Street's freedom to gamble, and an oil spill that hasn't been plugged because oil companies have been allowed to lie about their safety programs.

Regulation is a four-letter-word among those who try to equate it with the destruction of the free market. In truth, regulation does not destroy capitalism but makes it functional and sustainable. As FDIC chief Sheila Bair put it, “There's a difference between free markets and a free-for-all.” Unbridled greed that pursues profit at the expense of society cannot endure. Look what it's done to our economy. Look what it's doing in the Gulf.

I am optimistic that we are now learning from the crises created by the “free-for-all” free market. We elected leaders who are scraping away at the excessive practices that have degraded American capitalism into an obscene force of greed that has devastated our economy and quality of life (except for the 1 percent at the top). And I am hopeful that our suffering over the death of wildlife, habitats and economies in the Gulf will motivate more of us to accept the fact that the Age of Oil is giving way to the Age of Renewable Energy.

We cannot escape the Gulf tragedy, but we can anticipate a brighter future, like the Chorus in Agamemnon:

“Sing sorrow, sorrow: but good win out in the end.”

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Feel It to Heal It

Over the years, the work of French artist Louise Bourgeois (now age 98) has changed my life.
          If you've ever experienced a snag in your emotional, intellectual or physical life due to "mother issues," gazing on one of Bourgeois's spider sculptures will trigger you into a tidy little total meltdown. For which I'm always grateful because, as the saying goes, you've got to feel it to heal it. Take a look at her monster-sized sculpture below, entitled Maman. Still able to deny those unpleasant feelings about your mama?

I'm sorry, but I think this sculpture makes Spielberg's War of the Worlds--which I consider the most visceral portrayal of post-9/11 American angst in the arts--look like a Hello Kitty cartoon. I dare you to see the piece in real life--there's a bronze cast near me at the Kemper in Kansas City, but I haven't ventured near it. I think I'd pass out.

On the topic of women artists who make me glad to be alive (meltdowns are incredibly life-affirming when you wake up on the other side of them), here are a few images I treasure:

Kathe Kollwitz, Self Portrait, 1898

Berthe Morisot, Julie Daydreaming, 1894

Morisot, Young Woman Leaning on Her Elbows, 1894

Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Le Brun, Self Portrait, 1791. I love how she's not afraid to illuminate herself. You don't become a court painter for Queen Antoinette by second-guessing your worth.

Louise Bourgeoise, Arch of Hysteria, 1993. I like to call this one See How Far Thinking Alone Has Got You? The neglected body hangs frozen in space, but still shines like a . . . well, work of art.

Mary Veronica Sweeney, Plein Air Study, Vermont, 2007. By my friend and constant inspiration.  

Sweeney, The Way to Marin County, 2008. I never tire of this living sky.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Tallgrass Prairie in Early Spring

In March, the tallgrass prairie in Chase County, Kansas, is tan, brown and gray with specks of moon-colored limestone creeping through the grass. The Lower Fox Creek School was built with that rock--Cottonwood Limestone--in 1882.

The Ranch House at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was known as Spring Hill Farm when cattle rancher Stephen Jones built it in 1887.

Spring comes to the banks of Wolf Creek.

The tallgrass prairie once covered 140 million acres of North America and was home to the Kansa, Osage, Wichita and Pawnee Native American tribes as well as millions of bison. Less than 4 percent of the prairie remains today, and most is in the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Prairie fence, 19th-century style.

But spring is fickle:

The above photos were taken on March 18, 2010; on the 20th--the first day of spring--we awoke to five inches of snow in eastern Kansas. I lured one of our neighborhood cardinals, "Mr. C," and snowbirds, sparrows and starlings to the porch during the snowfall.

A cowboy eating lunch at the Hitchin' Post in Matfield Green, Kansas (population 57 ), in the Flint Hills.