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John Sayles is best known as an important American filmmaker, traversing zones somewhere between indie film and the outskirts of Hollywood, with a long filmography auspiciously launched with his classic proto-indie film Return of the Secaucus 7 and including Matewan, Eight Men Out, Lone Star, and The Brother from Another Planet. But Sayles’s particular skill in mediating social, historical, and progressive political interests with art has also graced the pages of literature, going back to 1977’s Union Dues, nominated for a National Book Award.
The seventh and latest Sayles novel is the timely Yellow Earth, about Native American land preservation struggles in North Dakota, faced with the aggressive natural-resource-tapping interests of an oil company. As often happens for Sayles’s work, art abuts reality, with resonant links to the recent Standing Rock oil pipeline protest and tragic conclusion.
Recently, Sayles the Novelist passed through the 805 — a former stomping ground — for a special book signing at Chaucer’s. I caught up with the director-author over the phone just before his visit.