Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  John Griswold  

Pen Name: Oronte Churm

Genre: Fiction History Non-Fiction

Audience: Adult;

Born: 1963 in Saigon, Vietnam

-- Website --
-- John Griswold on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

I was raised in Herrin, Illinois. After army service, I attended Northern Illinois University, moved to the Chicago suburbs and worked in corporations there. In 1997 I went to the University of Miami, Coral Gables, for a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Since 2000 I've taught in the Department of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. In 2009, my novel, ''A Democracy of Ghosts'', was published. It's set during the Herrin Massacre of 1922 and looks at the event through the perspectives of eight main characters. One of the characters is based on my grandfather, William J. Sneed, who was a state senator and the United Mine Workers Subdistrict President in Herrin at the time. My nonfiction history of Herrin (''Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City'') will come out at the end of 2009.

Biographical and Professional Information

My stories, poems, and essays have appeared in ''War'', ''Literature and the Arts''; ''Brevity''; ''Perigee; Monkey Bicycle''; ''Juked''; ''Ninth Letter''; and ''Natural Bridge'', which nominated me for the 2001 Pushcart Prize. ''The Stork'', a story chapbook, is available from Featherproof Books . An essay was listed as notable in ''The Best American Nonrequired Reading'', 2009, ed. Dave Eggers.As Oronte Churm, I'm also a contributing writer for ''Inside Higher Ed'', as well as a columnist for ''McSweeney's Internet Tendency'', and a contributing editor for ''Adjunct Advocate''. My Churm writing has been in ''Mountain Man Dance Moves'' (McSweeney's Books) and ''The Best Creative Nonfiction'', Vol. 3 (WW Norton).

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

A Democracy of Ghosts
ISBN: 1877655635

Wordcraft of Oregon, LLC. 2009

A Democracy of Ghosts is a love story of four couples, set against the backdrop of the real-life Herrin Massacre of 1922. This clash of miners and strikebreakers in Bloody Williamson County, in Southern Illinois, resulted in the deaths of 21 men -- 19 of them the "scabs" tortured and murdered by average men, women, and even children in what was once the most radical community in America. John Griswold has drawn from contemporary eyewitnesses and news accounts, an ethnography of the area, histories, and his own grandfather's letters to create the lives of four fictional couples whose ambitions, self-doubts, and social and sexual jealousies contribute to this great American violence that still echoes down through time.

Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City
ISBN: 1596297972

The History Press. 2009

Herrin, Illinois, has seen many dramatic events unfold in the nearly two hundred years since it was a bell-shaped prairie on the frontier. Now, Herrin native John Griswold, a writer and teacher at the University of Illinois, provides the first comprehensive history of this most American city, a place that in its time became not just a melting pot, but a cauldron. Discover why the coal was so good in the “Quality Circle” and what happened to the boom that followed its discovery. Explore the roots of the vicious Herrin Massacre of 1922 and learn why the entire nation has focused its gaze on this small Midwestern city so many times. Incorporating the most recent scholarship, interviews, and classic histories and narratives, this brief and entertaining history is illustrated with more than seventy-five archival photos that help tell this important American story.


  • Delta Award, Friends of Morris Library, SIU-C, ''A Democracy of Ghosts''

    Speaking Engagements

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