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1919 race riot, lynching of Will Brown, topic of book and panel discussion at Creighton

Kings of Broken ThingsAuthor and Creighton University alumnus Theodore Wheeler will read from and discuss his first novel, Kings of Broken Things, at an upcoming event Thursday Sept. 5 beginning at 7 p.m., in the Harper Center auditorium.

Wheeler’s historical novel set in Omaha takes place against the backdrop of the Omaha baseball scene, the Dennison political machine, the 1919 race riot and the lynching of Will Brown.

His talk will be followed by a panel discussion on how fiction can advance the conversation on racial justice and reconciliation, and how racial themes referenced in this novel manifest now.

“Many people thought that things like this only happened in Alabama or Georgia, never Nebraska. Hopefully, people reading Kings will consider how these events have affected what came later — why Omaha is set up the way it is geographically, why our schools are divided the way they are and how the events of September 1919 set into motion so much of what our city has become 100 years later. This happened in Omaha, too, and we have to face that,” Wheeler says.

Wheeler’s acclaimed book — which Kirkus Reviews called “an unsettling and insightful piece of historical fiction” — follows a group of characters living in an atmosphere of world war, political graft and racial resentment that led to a heinous act of mob violence.

To inaugurate the study and work of the Kingfisher Institute for the Liberal Arts and Professions, Creighton is engaging students, faculty, staff and the wider Omaha community in a closer look at the events of the 1919 riot and how they echo a century later.

“Over the last year, I’ve been helping the Kingfisher Institute and Omaha Community Council for Racial Justice and Reconciliation to memorialize Will Brown, who was lynched on Sept. 28, 1919. The anniversary and commemoration give the city an occasion, and a responsibility, to be self-reflective about who we’ve been, who we are and who we want to be,” Wheeler says.

Panelists for the event are: Eric Ewing, executive director, Great Plains Black History Museum; Creighton professors Heather Fryer, PhD, history; the Rev. Henry W. Casper, SJ, professor of history and director, American Studies Program; and Palma Strand, JD, professor of law, negotiation and conflict resolution program. The moderator for the discussion is Lydia Cooper, PhD, associate professor of English.

A book signing will follow the discussion, with Wheeler’s novel available for purchase.

Wheeler has more than 20 publications to his credit, including placement in the prestigious Best New American Voices series, and in respected literary journals such as Boulevard, The Kenyon Review, The Cincinnati Review and Confrontation. He is also the author of the short story collection Bad Faith and the upcoming novel In Our Other Lives (on sale March 2020).

In 2008, he earned a master’s degree in English, and in 2015 he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, both from Creighton.

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