From beer to Bin Laden 

The unexpected connections to Indiana with author Douglas Wissing


Douglas Wissing is an award-winning journalist-scholar-adventurer who has written about the war in Afghanistan, a Hoosier missionary in Tibet, and the history of Indiana's beer. His latest book, IN Writing: Uncovering the Unexpected Hoosier State, is a collection of articles about aspects of Indiana's history that might be forgotten or ignored as the state celebrates its second century as a state this year. Travis DiNicola recently spoke to Wissing about his new book and the unexpected ties to Indiana.

NUVO: In this collection, are all the pieces previously published?

Douglas Wissing: They were, with the exception of the "Jihadis in Indiana" which was written just for this book.

NUVO: That was certainly unexpected. It's wild to think that at one point in the late '70s Osama Bin Laden was here in Indianapolis and his wife went shopping at the mall.

WISSING: (Laughs) Yea, the image is just so bizarre, but it is really true! I was surprised to find that out. Then of course the question is, why is he here? That doesn't make sense. But then in the process of tracing it back, it all makes sense. Indiana is clearly an interesting place, and as I realized while I was putting the book together it has held my interest for most of my life.

NUVO: Let me ask you about the story "The Stuff of Legend," about how Indiana limestone was used to build the Empire State Building, you wrote about everyone from the original cutters to the people today who are waterproofing the stone.

WISSING: For me it was all about that journey — from being down in the quarry to hanging on the outside of the Empire State Building at about the 60th floor clutching on a guy-wire as the catwalk is swaying away from the building. I was out there for an hour or two, and the waterproofers are saying, "Oh, this isn't so bad, some days it flips all the way around!" And my stomach was lurching. It's hard to take notes when you have a death-grip on a guy-wire. But that's what's great about these stories, with each one I got to learn something new and that's such a great joy.

click to enlarge Douglas Wissing
  • Douglas Wissing

NUVO: I didn't realize that Ezra Pound had taught at Wabash College. When I first read that I thought you were making it up.

WISSING: (Laughs) I had read about that in a book on modern poetry. It was literally one sentence: "Ezra Pound moved to England after being thrown out of a job at Wabash College." And you know, Ezra Pound and Wabash College don't go in the same phrase, or the same paragraph much less the same sentence! I tucked that thought away and it was some years later I finally had time to look into it. And I found this enormous body of material in the Wabash College archives because it was a pretty juicy story!

NUVO: The subtitle of the book is Uncovering the Unexpected, and Ezra Pound at Wabash was certainly unexpected. What was most unexpected for you?

WISSING: Well, I've been doing this a long time, and there are lots of weird things . . . but there's that connection between Indiana and Tibet that goes back far more than a century. At one point the only place you could learn how to speak Tibetan was in Indianapolis. It was a Hoosier who introduced Tibet to an America. It was a famous ethnologist that lived out in a very remote part of Tibet. Indiana was the epicenter of Tibetology from a very early point. That was a surprise to me. And then of course, with the Kinsey Institute Art Exhibit, who would have known that we have the second largest collection of erotica in the world, right after the Vatican, and here in my hometown? Also, I was working on some article once about a remote Belgian brewery that was rated the best beer in the world, and it was made in a monastery by these monks. And I thought it was fascinating, and went to Belgium, and wrote about it, and that later lead to me writing about Indiana breweries in Indiana: One Pint at a Time. And the thing that was really funny, is after once writing about the best beer in the world, that year that I'm working on One Pint, Three Floyds brewery ends up being ranked as the best beer in the world! And I thought, that's odd. And then later they were ranked best brewery in the world. So, I wasn't expecting the find the best brewery in the world in Indiana.

NUVO: Well, it's a little bit easier of a trip.

WISSING: (Laughs) Yes it is. It is a little bit easier of a trip!


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About The Author

M. Travis DiNicola

M. Travis DiNicola

M. Travis DiNicola is the Executive Director of Indy Reads, and of Indy Reads Books. He is also the co-host and producer of WFYI’s “The Art of the Matter.”

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