Wednesday, August 1, 2012
The Chief John Ross House Association will host special guest Jerry Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, for a book signing at the historic house Saturday, Aug. 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The rich insight and firsthand experiences toward spiritual fulfillment he has gleaned throughout his life have had a powerful impact on him and his sense of self and of his Cherokee ancestry, he said. But the path he took to that ultimate place of peace was not an easy one.
Ellis grew up in the sweeping mountains of Fort Payne, Ala., but by the age of 17 he had run away from home and hitchhiked to New York City. This decision, he said, literally changed his life.
“This trek influenced me to live a life of adventure,” said Ellis. “I believe that the experience of meeting people from all walks of life is the master teacher.”
Ellis never had a clue he would become a writer. Yet at the age of 40, while in New Orleans waiting tables, he decided to quit his job and devote his time to writing the fictitious story of a man who walked the Cherokee Trail of Tears in reverse to metaphorically bring home the spirits of the 4,000 who had lost their lives on the original journey in 1838.
Then, in what Ellis describes as an act of desperation, he experienced a cathartic moment that he was the man he had written about to walk the Trail of Tears.
This is where his life turned around.
Ellis, a Cherokee native, was the first person in the modern world to walk in reverse the 900-mile route from Oklahoma to Alabama, where his ancestors had died in 1838.
“People can identify with my journey as I am open with my emotions and fears,” he said. “I became empowered spiritually, mentally and physically, which is the winning element — self-actualization.
“There’s a sense of pride to those who have Cherokee blood to identify with the tragedy which parallels to our lives and the personal tragedies we face daily.”
He describes and tells of his personal journey and spiritual account in his first book, “Walking the Trail: One Man’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears,” which was published in 1991 and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.
His journey is one of Cherokee history, comprised of the stories of those he met living along the Trail.
“All those years I was on the road I would listen to people and learn about them,” Ellis said. “It’s the art of listening; it is crucial in this world for empathy and compassion.”
In addition to authoring books, Ellis has written for The New York Times, produced five plays and lectured on the history of the Cherokee in schools around the world, to list a few of his other accomplishments.
“I try to encourage people to believe in themselves, have a love for life and keep that sense of adventure,” he said.
Today, Ellis divides his time between Fort Payne and Rome, Italy. His latest book, “Ciao from Roma! Spring in the Eternal City of Love,” will be available on Kindle this month. He said he hopes it will touch people’s hearts and transport them to another world without ever having to leave their home.
At the book signing Ellis will only have first edition books for sale: $40 for “Walking the Trail: One Man’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears” and $30 for “Marching Through Georgia: My Walk Along Sherman’s Route.”