New York Times bestselling author David Grann ’89 took to the podium in Connecticut College’s Evans Hall March 27 to tell the story of “one of the most sinister and chilling crimes in American history.”
Grann spoke about the gripping true tale he details in his book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. At the turn of the 20th century, after oil was found on their land, Native Americans of the Osage Nation became some of the richest people in the world. Then, they started dying. A ragtag team of investigators, led by a former Texas Ranger, went undercover for the new Bureau of Investigation in an attempt to solve the mysterious murders and expose the vast conspiracy to cover them up.
“This wasn’t a case about who did it. It was a case of who didn’t do it,” Grann told the students, faculty and members of the community who gathered to hear him speak.
Grann, an award-winning journalist who is also the author of the best-seller The Lost City of Z, as well as The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, was on campus to deliver the third annual lecture in the College’s President’s Distinguished Lecture Series, which brings notable figures to Connecticut College each year for a public presentation and informal meetings with students, faculty and staff. Grann also visited a narrative nonfiction class and hosted a book signing after his talk.
A staff writer at The New Yorker since 2003, Grann is lauded for his meticulous reporting and long-form nonfiction. After graduating from Connecticut College, he took a Watson Fellowship to Mexico, which launched his career in journalism. He holds master's degrees in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and in creative writing from Boston University. He has served as senior editor at The New Republic and executive editor of the newspaper The Hill, and his work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal.
In 2017, The Lost City of Z was released as a major motion picture, and Killers of the Flower Moon was chosen as a finalist for the National Book Award.
“David’s work epitomizes, in many ways, all the best qualities of the liberal arts, not just through its nuanced and persuasive communication—he is a beautiful writer—but also through its rich demonstration of critical thinking, problem solving, ethical intervention and deep research,” said President Katherine Bergeron, who also interviewed Grann for the next installment of her podcast, “Think.Do.Lead.”
Grann spoke about the influence of his Conn education and Weller Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence Blanche Boyd on his career.
“I would not have become a writer without the breadth of my liberal arts education, and without the influence of Blanche,” he said.
Boyd, who introduced Grann, praised his mastery of narrative nonfiction.
“It’s a way of writing history that starts with something specific, but opens up very wide. Killers of the Flower Moon is very specific about what it is dealing with—the murders of the Osage Indians for their oil money—but it opens up into a much wider story about American history and about good and evil,” she said.
Grann, who punctuated his talk with archival photographs and video footage, said he felt compelled to tell the story of the Osage.
“The real death toll was in the scores, if not hundreds. And yet, so many white Americans had no memory or knowledge of this. We had all but excised it from our consciousness,” he said.
“It’s important we reckon with history, and that we understand it.”
Read more about Grann’s work and Killers of the Flower Moon in CC Magazine.