The crucial balance between family, faith and fame is uncovered in visiting assistant professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar’s best-selling nonfiction book Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free.
The book brings to light the experiences of the 33 men who were trapped for 69 days in a collapsed Chilean mine in 2010. Tobar captures the tension and drama of being trapped underground in the story he calls the greatest nonfiction project of his life.
Deep Down Dark, released last October, has already been named one of Publisher’s Weekly Top 10 Books of 2014 as well as one of The New York Times Notable Books of 2014. The book hit #8 on The New York Times Best Sellers list for Hardcover Nonfiction in January and Tobar was featured in the Sunday “Inside the List”. Additionally, Deep Down Dark was selected as the inaugural NPR Morning Edition book club selection for December. Tobar answered NPR reader questions on January 20, 2015.
“It’s a story that everyone saw unfold on television. I was given exclusive access to the miners and they trusted me with the story,” explains Tobar. “I am very proud of the book. It has many different human emotions involved, from the tragic and the sense of loss to the absurd and the funny.”
Tobar worked for three years on Deep Down Dark, which is the only account of this historic incident that is based on actual interviews with the men involved. While trapped, the miners agreed to keep their experiences a secret and collectively sell the rights to “their most precious possession,” so for most, speaking to Tobar was the first they were able to share their stories.
“They hadn’t told anybody, not even their family members,” Tobar says. “ To be able to tell me – a stranger – was really important to them.”
Every day that Tobar sat down for an interview, he learned something new.
“I didn’t realize it until I was finishing the book that it was really a story about family and home,” says Tobar. “These were men who wanted to go home. In the end, what made them recover and heal themselves after the trauma of being trapped underground for 10 weeks was family. That, to me, was the great realization of this book – that it really was a story about familial love and the power of family love to carry you through a crisis. When you face death, those things that are most important to you are the things that keep you going.”
Aside from the book, Tobar says simply having listened to the miners themselves was something positive – a concept he translates to his students and aspiring journalists at the SOJC.
“When you’re a reporter, one of the human justifications for what you do is that you listen,” Tobar states. “You’re not just talking; you’re listening to people and you give something back when you listen to them.”
“Nonfiction writing and journalism is a craft. You need to do it to learn it,” says Tobar. “It’s very experiential. I’m learning something new every day in my own writing, and I try to share what I’m learning with my students.”
Story by Katie MacLean ’15