Stay Human: Growing up in Truckee

BUZZY JACKSON, who grew up in Truckee, is the author of four books. She has a Ph.D. in history from UC Berkeley and is currently working on a new novel based on a historical American true crime.

By Buzzy Jackson

I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in Truckee. My mom, Ruth J. Hall, and I moved to town in 1976 when I was 5 years old. Both my parents grew up in Detroit, where there was no shortage of exciting cultural opportunities open to them, and I think my mom may have worried that this funky little ski town in the Sierra wouldn’t provide that kind of enrichment for me. Fortunately, our good friends, the Meschery family, had recently opened Truckee’s only bookstore, Truckee River Book & Tea (located where Gallery 5830 currently operates), and we joined them in the project, with my mom in charge of the bagel and tea shop in the back of the bookstore. Suddenly, not only did Truckee have a beautiful new addition to its cultural offerings, but the long afternoons I spent in the bookstore were as creatively and intellectually rich as any kid’s, anywhere.

I basically lived at Truckee River Book & Tea when I was a kid and it was an incredible gift: I could read any book I wanted. And I did. I read children’s books, adult fiction, cookbooks, travel guides, and anything else that looked interesting. The bagel and tea shop soon became a beloved hangout for some of the most interesting folks in the Truckee area. Local professionals, Olympic skiers, random oddballs, and, of course, tourists made my mom’s little cafe a great place to people-watch. It was the perfect setting for a future writer, a place to observe human interactions and eavesdrop on fascinating conversations.

My father, Jon A. Jackson, is a writer, too, and so were Tom and Joanne Meschery, who owned the bookstore. In fact, my parents met the Mescherys at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City years earlier. So, growing up around writers was just part of life for me.

BOOKWORMS: Tom and Joanne Meschery at the Truckee River Book & Tea in 1978.

I had a great stroke of luck when I entered Sierra Mountain Intermediate School because I was a student of a gifted English teacher, Candyce Carter. It was in her classes that I first experimented with writing. I got twice lucky when Mrs. Carter made the decision to teach at Tahoe Truckee High School, just in time for my freshman year. Mrs. Carter, with her challenging (long) reading lists, field trips to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and her insistence on understanding language from the Latin root up, were a huge gift to me as a young person. She encouraged my writing and, like me, she just loved books. I’m so happy to say that Candy and her wonderful husband, Nick Carter, are still close friends of mine, even though none of us live in Truckee anymore.

After graduating from TTHS in 1988 I went to college at UCLA. I had notions of being a writer, but was not yet ready to announce them to the world or myself. I majored in English, like a good would-be author, and after graduating I moved to New York City to work in publishing. In some ways I think I wanted to work in the publishing industry as a way to dissuade myself from my writing ambitions. I figured I would get to New York and be surrounded by brilliant people and realize how unrealistic my dreams of being an author really were. I took a job at a literary agency and began in the same position everyone does: junior editorial assistant, which meant that the only thing I was in charge of was the dreaded slush pile.

The slush pile is publishing jargon for unsolicited manuscripts. They get mailed (via the post office in the 1990s) to agents and editors and some lowly assistant is tasked with reading them. I’d say our agency received at least 50 to 75 unsolicited submissions each week. Though I expected to find myself overwhelmed with the work of geniuses, I discovered something else: most of the manuscripts weren’t very good. Some of them were terrible. Equally heartening was the fact that the good ones were easy to distinguish and everybody in the office, from me to the senior agents, agreed on the quality. Good writing actually seemed to be valued and recognized.

Figuring I was at least as good a writer as some of the submissions I’d read, I finally embraced my dream of writing and joined a writing group in New York. A year later I was at graduate school in UC Berkeley’s history department, where I hoped to further my understanding of the world so I could, possibly, write something about it one day.

My long, wandering plan for becoming a writer finally reached its destination when I published my first book, A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the Women Who Sing Them (W.W. Norton, 2005). One of my sweetest memories is of the huge, joyful book party my mom organized for me at the Truckee Recreation Center downtown, where so many members of my hometown showed up to support the book. It’s the kind of thing that only happens when you come from a small town, and I was so touched by the reception.

Since then I’ve published three additional books, including my debut novel which just came out in 2023, To Die Beautiful, based on the true story of Dutch resistance fighter Hannie Schaft. Like me, Hannie was a bookworm from a small town. I felt I could relate to her, despite the distance between us in time and space, because I, too, had the good fortune to grow up in a small, close community of creative and caring people. I’ll never be the hero Hannie Schaft was, but I share her values, which she summed up in the phrase “stay human,” encompassing her commitment to justice, equality, and compassion. My little hometown of Truckee, and the people in it, taught me that, too.

~ Buzzy Jackson grew up in the mountains in Truckee and Montana, lived all over the world, and then moved back to the mountains again, where she resides with her family in Colorado. She is the proud daughter of Truckee legend Ruth J. Hall and beloved mystery writer Jon A. Jackson.


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