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Bronwen Dickey

 

Bronwen Dickey is a contributing editor at The Oxford American and the author of Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016). Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Virginia Quarterly Review, NewsweekOutside, Popular Mechanics, Best American Travel Writing 2009SlateGarden & GunThe San Francisco ChronicleSouthern Living, World Hum, Sport Diver, and The Independent Weekly, among other publications. In 2009 she received a first-place Lowell Thomas Award in travel journalism and a residency grant from the MacDowell Colony. She lives in North Carolina.

 
 

 

When Bronwen Dickey brought her new dog home, she saw no traces of the infamous viciousness in her affectionate, timid pit bull. Which made her wonder: how had the breed—beloved by Teddy Roosevelt, Helen Keller, TV's "Little Rascals"—come to be known as a brutal fighter. Her search for answers takes her from nineteenth-century New York City dogfighting pits—the cruelty of which helped spark the founding of the ASPCA—to early twentieth-century movie sets where pit bulls cavorted with Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton; from the battlefields of Gettysburg and the Marne, where mascot pit bulls inspired American troops, to desolate urban neighborhoods where the dogs were brutalized. Whether through love or fear, hatred or devotion, humans are bound to the history of the pit bull. With unfailing thoughtfulness, compassion, and a firm grasp of scientific fact, Dickey offers us a clear-eyed portrait of this extraordinary breed, and an insightful view of Americans' relationship with their dogs.

 

Read excerpts here and here.

 

 

 

 

praise for Pit Bull:

 

“This is a very good book… Ms. Dickey has earned her reputation as a first-rate reporter.” 

—The Wall Street Journal
 

“Like the pit bull itself, this book is sturdy, complicated and resists easy categorization . . . As Dickey exhaustively demonstrates, there is no ‘aggression gene’ and no such thing as a dangerous breed.”

The New York Times Book Review


"Ms. Dickey not only writes about the ebb and flow of public fear and loathing, she takes the reader on a thoroughly comprehensible tour of genetics and behavioral science to explain why breeding never guarantees an individual dog’s personality, and shouldn’t be used to condemn it.... Picking out one breed to blame is neither warranted nor effective, and a reader of her book will be hard put to disagree."

The New York Times (Science section)



“Brilliant… A powerful and disturbing book that shows how the rise of the killer-pit bull narrative reflects many broader American anxieties and pathologies surrounding race, class, and poverty… A remarkable study of our capacities for cruelty and compassion toward dogs and other humans, and an eloquent argument for abandoning the fears and prejudices that have made pit bulls in particular the victims of mistreatment.”

Christian Science Monitor



"In covering a subject that evokes strong, deep-seated emotions, Dickey herself refrains from making sweeping judgments about the pit-bull temperament. She neither condemns nor exalts these dogs. The story of the pit bull is complex, and at times heartbreaking. It’s fraught with cruelty and poverty, but also compassion, generosity, and, occasionally, clear-headed thinking. Somehow, Dickey manages to find hope for the future of this dog and its reputation." 

—Los Angeles Review of Books



“Sustained and heavily researched… Pit Bull is very good at framing and contextualizing the swirl of fear and aversion these dogs induced… Informative, keenly argued and engaging.” 

—San Francisco Chronicle



"A tremendous contribution to our understanding not only of these dogs but also of our human relationships with them. There's been too much hysteria about pit bulls, and Dickey shows that we've let myth and stereotype run wild when it comes to our thinking about these dogs." 

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States



"A tour de force; the most comprehensive, thoughtful, and dispassionate treatment of this topic ever undertaken... Dickey’s booka combination of exhaustive research, the presentation of impartial facts, the perceptive sense of social and political context and the addition of a rich and detailed historical frameworkis an enormously valuable contribution." 

Rick Bernthal, board chairman, Humane Society of the United States

 

"[Dickey] illuminates many of the facts and exposes many of the myths surrounding pit bulls and dogs in general... Dickey's immersive and illuminating work deserves a wide audience."

Publishers Weekly

 

"A thoughtful examination of pit bulls and an intense look at ourselves and society. Dickey adeptly scrutinizes the science used to condemn pit bulls to separate fact from fiction and thus weaves a narrative that artfully relays both the hard science and the emotion of the pit bull issue . . . This exceptional, thoroughly researched, and expertly written work is a must.”

Library Journal (starred review)

 

“Judiciously filled with data, anecdotes, illustrations and a self-deprecating, canny sense of humor, Pit Bull is a constantly surprising compendium of dog lore, human foible and social prejudice… The much-maligned pit bull finds redemption in Bronwen Dickey's entertaining, thoughtful and well-researched study of this noble canine.”

Shelf Awareness

 

"An appealing look at how our relationships with man's best friend provides a mirror of cultural mores."

Kirkus Reviews

 

“As appealing to readers of history and social science as it is to dog enthusiasts… With able writing, in tightly packed and thorough chapters, Dickey shares much food for thought… Dickey’s broad scope will leave readers affected and pondering.”

—Booklist

 

"[Dickey] repeatedly draws parallels between treatment of poor and disenfranchised humans and their dogs, and it’s damning testimony…With Dickey's thorough reporting on a provocative topic, 'Pit Bull' shows how the human need for something to blame can put innocent victims in the crosshairs."

BookPage

 

“The ‘pit bull’ is a legend, a fear, an exaggeration, a bête noire. Bronwen Dickey does this misunderstood animal the great service of looking beyond the myth. What she finds are dogs who deserve better than we've been giving them.”

Alexandra Horowitz, author, Inside of a Dog



“Pit Bull tells how ‘America's Dog’ morphed into ‘America's nightmare.’ Ms. Dickey's scrupulous, encyclopedic research pretty well proves that harmless pets have been scapegoated to feed our fears. Pit Bull is a fascinating, complex story of canine genetics, media missteps and an appalling national willingness to kill poor peoples' dogs.”

Donald McCaig, author, Nop's Trials and The Dog Wars: How the Border Collie Battled the American Kennel Club



“Bronwen Dickey writes so well, with such understated elegance. I spent a lifetime afraid of pit bulls, hating creatures that came to me through newspapers and the media, until I read this book.”

Pat Conroy, author, The Prince of Tides

 

"Bronwen Dickey set out to write about a single dog breed, but by investigating what happened to pit bulls she ended up writing about our whole crazy culture. Her quest began almost accidentally, when she acquired a pit bull that was nothing like its vicious stereotype. Curious, she discovered that the breed had once been an American favorite. Remember the RCA Victrola dog? It was a pit bull. So was the lovable mascot Pete the Pup in the immensely popular Our Gang movies in the 1930s. How had this symbol of friendliness and reliability become so feared that people fled when she walked her dog on the street? This beautifully assembled tale of how the pit bull was transformed into a demon perfectly captures a disquieting strain of hysteria in our national life. It's the rare dog story that tells us as much about people as about dogs.”

Charles Mann, author, 1491 and 1493 

 

"This is one of best dog books you will ever read. But, it is also about the big stuff – the moral status of animals, the science of nature and nurture, the role of race in our culture. In Pit Bull, Bronwen Dickey weaves tale in which the most divisive of animal issues becomes a metaphor for deep-seated conflicts in American society."

Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals
 


“The pit bull is truly America's Dog, and few breeds are surrounded with as much mythology, fear and misinformation. Bronwen Dickey has written the first comprehensive explanation of how the bull terrier of the gentry transformed nearly overnight into the chained-up hellhound of the underclass. This book gets to the cultural roots of the 'demon dog' fantasy and helps us understand that the stories we tell about pit bulls are really stories about violence, class and repressed rage. Dickey is a consummate reporter and a brilliant incisive writer who has given us a book about far more than dogs.”

Tom Zoellner, author, Train: Riding the Rails that Created the Modern World

 

"Bronwen Dickey’s book is a marvelously compelling read, both perfectly modulated and passionate without being strident, and completely eye-opening. She is a damn good writer, and the book is full of eloquent, sharp, clear, knowledge-bearing sentences that convinced me while they also broke down my easy and long-held assumptions. An impressive debut.”

Richard Bausch, author of Wives and Lovers

Essays:

Dogs of Character (book excerpt) | The Virginia Quarterly Review, 2016

Freeing Dogs with Fences (book excerpt) | Slate, 2016

The Last Wild RiverOxford American, 2008

  • Included in Best American Travel Writing 2009
  • Winner: 2009 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award
  • Listen to an interview about this piece on American Public Media's "The Story with Dick Gordon" 

Southern Enemy Number One: Ralph McGill and the Burden of History | Oxford American, 2009

The Rapture of the Deep: Diving the Sunken South | Oxford American, 2011

Born to Be WildOutside, 2010

Licked to Death by a Pit BullGarden & Gun, 2011

 

Criticism:

True NorthThe New York Times, 2016

The Emotional Manipulations of Making a Murderer Slate, 2016

The Short List: DogsThe New York Times, 2014

The American MuckSlate, 2014

Hurt Soldier: Coping with Life After CombatThe Independent Weekly

Unsentimental Journeys: Wrestling with Paul Theroux | World Hum

The Water is Wide | World Hum

Chuck Thompson's Smile When You're Lying The San Francisco Chronicle

 

Features:

Come Aboard, Ye Who Seek the Truth! (My Week on a Conspiracy Cruise) | Popular Mechanics, September 2016

Five Days in Papua New Guinea | Sport Diver, February 2012

Into the Forest (Great Smoky Mountains, NC) | Our State, October 2011

Legacy of Protection (Grand Cayman) | Sport Diver, October 2011

The Surprisingly Complex Science of Sinking | Sport Diver, August 2011

Roanoke Island: Manteo | Our State, July 2011

Paradise in Peril (Maldives) | Sport Diver, December 2010

The Story Hunters | Southern Living, September 2010

Exotic Escapes: Thailand | Scuba Diving, August 2010

Essential Europe: Scotland's Scapa Flow | Scuba Diving, July 2010

What It's Like . . . to Dive an Underwater Cemetery | Scuba Diving, March 2010

Bottom Time Behind the Glass | Scuba Diving, November 2009

Desert Divers (Sea of Cortez) | Scuba Diving, November 2009

Night Stalkers | Scuba Diving, September 2009

Dive Islands: Palau | Scuba Diving, September 2009

Top Dives: Belize | Scuba Diving, September 2009

Belize: Inside, Outside, and Underneath | Sport Diver, July 2009

Palau: Into the Shallows | Islands, Mar/Apr 2008

A Young Artist in Puerto Rico | Garden & Gun, September 2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Events and appearances

 

october 22, 2016—Raleigh, NC:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon

                   Phydeaux

                   1:00-3:00 p.m.                       

October 14-16, 2016—Nashville, TN:

Panel & Signing: Southern Festival of Books

                 Details TBA

 

October 1, 2016—Charlottesville, VA:

Seminar: The Tools of the Trade:

         Researching and Reporting for Creative Writers

         WriterHouse

         2:00-5:00 p.m.

         $50 members / $60 non-members

September 2-5, 2016—Atlanta, ga:

Appearance: AJC Decatur Book Festival

            Fri., Sept 2: Pat Conroy Memorial Keynote

                          Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts

                          8:00 p.m.

            Sat., Sept 3: Controversial Canines (with John Lane)

                           First Baptist Decatur, Carreker Hall

                           11:15 a.m

                           More info here.

 

august 25, 2016—sylva, NC:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon

                   Jackson County Library

                   Sponsored by City Lights Bookstore

                   7:00 p.m.

august 19, 2016—greensboro, NC:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon

                   Scuppernong Books

                   7:00 p.m.

july 22, 2016—Austin, TX:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   Book People (in partnership with Austin Animal CenterAustin Pets Alive!)

                   7:00 p.m.

july 2, 2016—Charleston, sc:

Luncheon & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   Hall's Chophouse (hosted by Blue Bicycle Books)                  

                   12:00 p.m.

JUly 1, 2016—PAWLEYS ISLAND, SC:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   Litchfield Books

                   Time TBA

June 28, 2016—Cambridge, MA:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   Harvard Book Store

                   7:00 p.m.

June 24, 2016—Charlottesville, VA:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                  Charlottesville Reading Series (co-sponsored by the Virginia Quarterly Review)

                  The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative

                  7:00 p.m.

 

June 23, 2016—Richmond, vA:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   Chop Suey Books (sponsored by Ring Dog Rescue)

                   6:00 p.m.

June 10, 2016—Pasadena, CA:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   Vroman's Bookstore

                   7:00 p.m.

June 3, 2016—Raleigh, NC:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   with John Lane, author of Coyote Settles the South (pre-order)

                   Quail Ridge Books

                   Time TBA

June 2, 2016—Durham, NC:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   with John Lane, author of Coyote Settles the South (pre-order)

                   The Regulator Bookshop

                   Time TBA

 

June 1, 2016—Chapel Hill, NC:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   with John Lane, author of Coyote Settles the South (pre-order)

                   Flyleaf Books

                   Time TBA

may 31, 2016—Durham, NC:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   The Other End of the Leash Pet Boutique & Bakery

                   5:30-7:00 p.m.

May 28, 2016—Seattle, WA:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   The Elliott Bay Book Company

                   7:00 p.m.

may 26, 2016—Portland, Or:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   Powell's Books at Cedar Hill Crossing

                   7:00 p.m.

May 19, 2016—Atlanta, GA:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum

                   (in conjunction with A Cappella Books)

                   Time TBA

                   

May 18, 2016—Athens, GA: 

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   with John Lane, author of Coyote Settles the South (pre-order)

                   Avid Bookshop

                   Athens, GA 

                   Time TBA

MAY 17, 2016—Spartanburg, SC:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   with John Lane, author of Coyote Settles the South (pre-order)

                   Hub City Bookshop & Press

                   Spartanburg, SC

                   Time TBA

 

May 10, 2016—New york City, NY:

Reading & Signing: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (pre-order)

                   The Strand Book Store

                   New York City, NY

                   7:00 p.m.

                   Click here for tickets and more info

march 30-April 3—Los Angeles, CA:

Conference: Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)

            Los Angeles Convention Center

DECEMBER 4, 2015—Durham, NC: 

Reading & Signing: Carolina Writers at Home (Hub City)(Amazon)

                   The Regulator Bookshop

                   Durham, NC 

                   7:00 p.m.

OCTOBER 17, 2015—Chapel Hill, NC:

Reading & Signing: Carolina Writers at Home (Hub City)(Amazon)

                   Flyleaf Books

                   Chapel Hill, NC

                   2:00 p.m.

October 16, 2015—Durham, NC:

Signing: Carolina Writers at Home (Hub City)(Amazon)

         Upfront Gallery

         Durham, NC

         7:00 p.m.