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For Educators

Not by the Sword
How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman
Kathryn Watterson

Northeastern University Press
2001 • 364 pp. 6 x 9"
Criminal Justice / Religion

$29.95 Paperback, 978-1-55553-471-4

“This rare investigation of American hate-mongering provides a unique glimpse as well at the power of tolerance and love. Once Watterson places us inside the Lincoln, Nebraska apartment of the ‘Klansman’ of the subtitle, it’s almost impossible to put this book down.”Patricia Holt, San Francisco Chronicle

The inspiring true story of how a Jewish cantor and his family changed the life of a virulent white supremacist leader

The riveting account begins in 1991, when Cantor Michael Weisser receives his first threatening phone call from Larry Trapp, Grand Dragon of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Nebraska. Trapp, a wheelchair-bound amputee holed up in a cramped apartment filled with automatic weapons, Nazi paraphernalia, and stacks of hate literature, had for years led a campaign of terror in Lincoln, Nebraska. But Cantor Weisser and his wife Julie refused to be intimidated by Trapp’s escalating threats. Instead, they made a stunning offer of friendship; after an emotional confrontation with the Weissers, Trapp shocked everyone -- including himself -- by resigning from the KKK and breaking his ties with other neo-Nazi leaders.

Not by the Sword recounts Larry Trapp’s life as a racist, his startling transformation in response to the Weissers’ kindness, and his subsequent crusade to redeem his past by apologizing to his victims and speaking out publicly against racism and bigotry. Kathryn Watterson movingly describes how one family, along with other individuals from the Jewish, African American, and Asian American communities in Lincoln, feared, fought, and then forgave a man who had tried to destroy them.

This gripping tale gives the reader an inside view of hate mongering, and offers a powerful testament to the triumph of the human spirit and the transforming power of love and tolerance.

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“Watterson has written one of the most powerful, painful yet healing stories about our most explosive issue—race. Her book [Not by the Sword] is not only literally true, but also symbolically true for us as a people – if we acknowledge and transform who and what we are.”Professor Cornel West, Author, Race Matters

“Kathryn Watterson’s Not by the Sword tells an astonishing story of daring and resourcefulness in making contact with another who would negate one’s very right to exist. Michael Weisser, the cantor at B’nai Jeshurun synagogue, had been the recipient of chilling threats from Larry Trapp, the Grand Dragon of the KKK in the state. Not surprisingly, [Weisser’s] initial reaction was fear and anger. But Weisser and his wife Julie decided that the wisest course, and the one truest to what Weisser had been preaching in his sermons, would be to meet hate with love and understanding. Watterson’s account of the events is fascinating, and the story itself is so extraordinary that one cannot but be gripped by it.”Paul L. Wachtel, The Washington Post Book World

“‘He changed his mind and he changed his life,’ marvels Author Kathryn Watterson, whose latest book tells the extraordinary tale of Trapp’s conversion. In the course of researching Not by the Sword, [she] discovered that most people who engage in virulent race hatred were abused as children. Full of self-loathing, ‘they stay in the perceived wrongs that have been done them,’ she said, ‘but the fact that their hatefulness is defensive doesn’t mean it’s less dangerous.”David O’Reilly, The Philadelphia Inquirer


“The true-life people in Kathryn Watterson’s Not by the Sword are unforgettable human beings, especially Larry Trapp. This eerie, wounded, hate-filled man, this Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, who is holed up and dying in an apartment packed with enough weapons to blow up a small city, and who is dragged out of hell into a redemption of love, is one of the most perfectly rendered characters in literary non-fiction that I’ve ever encountered. I can’t get Larry Trapp out of my mind. His story and the heroism of the cantor’s family is a parable for modern America, told with great intelligence and skill.”Richard Preston Author, The Hot Zone and The Cobra Event

“Kathryn Watterson has written one of the most powerful, painful yet healing stories about our most explosive issue—race. Her book, Not by the Sword, is not only literally true, but also symbolically true for us as a people—if we acknowledge and transform who and what we are.” Professor Cornel West, Author, Race Matters, Harvard University


Christopher Award

KATHRYN WATTERSON, an award-winning author, teaches creative writing (fiction, creative nonfiction and memoir) at the University of Pennsylvania. Her writing and teaching reflect her deep interest in issues of race, class and justice. Her books, three of which have been chosen by the New York Times as Notable Books of the Year, include Not by the Sword (which won a 1996 Christopher Award); You Must Be Dreaming (basis of the NBC movie, “Betrayal of Trust”); and Women in Prison (basis of an ABC documentary, “Women in Prison” and a play, “The Concrete Womb”). A variety of magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The International Herald Tribune, have published her essays and articles. Her short stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, Writers’ Forum, Northeast Corridor, Santa Monica Review and TriQuarterly Online. Watterson taught from 1987 to 2002 at Princeton University in the Princeton Writing Program and in the Program for African-American Studies. While there, she created a community-based seminar called “The Writer in the Community,” in which undergraduates worked in poverty programs while also reading and writing about race, class and poverty. Watterson frequently gives lectures, readings, and workshops around the country. Currently she’s working on a novel, a short story collection, and an oral history, The North’s Most Southern Town: A Living History of African-American Princeton, 1900-2000. She performs as a singer and drummer with PLP TheUnity, a popular musical trio in Philadelphia.

Mon, 1 Apr 2013 21:21:11 -0500