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When Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Miriam Pawel met Gov. Jerry Brown in Colusa in 2015, she knew she had a story to tell.
Although the author of “The Browns of California,” who spoke Saturday at the annual meeting of the Colusi County Historical Society, is a New Yorker, she said there is no better background to what shaped California than the story of the Brown family; not just because Brown, like his father, Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, was a fixture in California politics, but because his roots in the 31st state, as the great-grandson of a Gold Rush-era immigrant, was as common as those of most multi-generation Californians who still call the Golden State their home.
Pawel’s book begins with August Schuckman, who settled in Colusa County in the mid 19th century, and takes the reader though the vast political careers of his grandson, Pat Brown, the 32nd governor of California, and his great-grandson, Jerry Brown, the 34th and the 39th governor.
Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, attended Saturday’s gathering of history buffs, as did some of Schuckman’s other great-grandchildren, including Walt Seaver, who introduced Pawel to Brown at Colusa Western Days five years ago.
Because Pawel’s book – about a family dynasty that transformed California and helped shape the nation – begins and ends in Colusa County, the award-winning author said it was an honor to speak at Saturday’s meeting.
The well-attended gathering was held at Granzella’s Banquet Hall, in Williams, not far from the family homestead where Brown and his wife live today, somewhat off the grid.
“I live there mostly because I got the land for free,” Brown joked. “I talked my father out of his interests. I told him since I was the only male heir, he should cut my three sisters out.”
Although Pawel’s book is about the lives of the Browns, it is a prism through which its readers gain an understanding of California’s history and its impact on the nation.
When she started the book, working with the governor at the family’s Mountain House, she said she realized to what degree that his family history paralleled the history of California.
“It’s a selective history, not a comprehensive history,” Pawel said. “But it is a way to tell the story of California.”
Saturday’s annual meeting of the Colusi Historical Society was the largest gathering to date, members said. Guests, who had not read “The Browns of California” prior to the meeting, were able to purchase copies of the book there. Others got a glimpse into the Brown family history through Pawel’s slideshow presentation of the many photographs that are in her Los Angeles Times bestseller.
“The Browns of California” is available from Amazon.
The San Francisco Chronicle said, “Pawel’s narrative is unflaggingly direct, but it also functions as deep art, for the book is actually a history of California posing as a family portrait.”
The Wall Street Journal called the book “An enormous contribution to the historical record.” ■