Joe Jackson

The Man, The Myth, The Books

Joe Jackson, standing before some unidentified body of water. The photo was taken before his disappearance and alleged rebirth as a pirate.

Selected Works

"An astonishingly rich saga . . . Jackson's biography works to represent 'the flesh-and-blood wicasa wakan' (holy man) . . . We see Black Elk balancing tradition and modernity, with fleeting but vivid scenes of him on a ferris wheel and in a movie house. We hear of struggles within subsequent generations over his legacy and Lakota identity more generally. Jackson succeeds in interweaving the secular and the spiritual to the point that the non-native reader can experience Harney Peak in the Black Hills . . . as what [Black Elk] knew it to be: the centre of the world." ―Christine Bold, The Times Literary Supplement
"A penetrating evaluation of Lindbergh's triumph set against the backdrop of the hero-worshipping Twenties. Painstakingly researched, Jackson's balanced work is a singular contribution to the history of flight in general and to Lindbergh historiography in particular. Highly recommended." -- Library Journal (starred review)
"An exhilarating narrative, sweeping us through great discoveries and international rivalries.... Here is the drama of the scientist made real." -- Jenny Uglow, author of The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World
"A tragic yet triumphant book about the limits of humanity and human endurance."
--Publishers Weekly
"Leavenworth Train is an express ride into one man's nightmare and redemption."
--American History
"A frog-coughing, spider-barking, toad-strangling jim-dandy of a road novel."
--The Orlando Sentinel
Nonfiction; True Crime
"A gripping tale of a death-row inmate's life and eventual death in the Virginia prison system . . . [and]an intriguing, sometimes darkly comic, saga of the escape of death-row inmates who became known as the 'Mecklenberg Six.' Readers looking for a true-crime story that reaches for broader themes, such as THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG, will find one in DEAD RUN. -- The Orlando Sentinel

Biography, or "What Little is Known"

Joe Jackson is the author of seven works of nonfiction and a novel. His nonfiction includes: Leavenworth Train, a finalist for the 2002 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime; Dead Run: The Shocking Story of Dennis Stockton and Life on Death Row in America, with co-author William F. Burke and an introduction by William Styron; A Furnace Afloat: The Wreck of the Hornet and the Harrowing 4,300-mile of its Survivors; A World on Fire: A Heretic, an Aristocrat, and the Race to Discover Oxygen; The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire, one of Time magazine's Top Ten Books of 2008; and Atlantic Fever: Lindbergh, His Competitors, and the Race to Cross the Atlantic, released by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in May 2012. A first novel, How I Left the Great State of Tennessee and Went on to Better Things, was released in March 2004.

His seventh work of nonfiction -- Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary -- was released by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in October 2016; it chronicles the life of Oglala Lakota holy man Black Elk, best known for his 1932 Black Elk Speaks, written in collaboration with the Nebraska poet-laureate John Neihardt. Jackson's biography received the following honors and awards in 2017: Winner of the PEN/​Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography; Best Biography of 2016, True West magazine; Winner of the Western Writers of America 2017 Spur Award, Best Western Biography; Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography; and One of the Best Books of 2016, The Boston Globe.

Jackson holds an MFA from the University of Arkansas and was an investigative reporter for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk for twelve years, covering criminal justice and the state's Death Row. His journalism has resulted in the acquittal of a man wrongly convicted of murder, the federal investigation of a jail in which sixteen prisoners died of medical neglect, the investigation of federal agents for misconduct, and the recantations of two men whose testimony helped send men to Death Row. He was the writer-in-residence at the James Thurber House in 2001, and is currently the Mina Hohenberg Darden Endowed Professor of Creative Writing in the M.F.A. creative writing program at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and overly exuberant dog.

These, at least, are the official facts. But there are many unsubstantiated rumors. Jackson has been sighted in the Amazon and Africa, on Virginia's Death Row, in the midst of a revolution, on a South Sea atoll east of Papua New Guinea, and in innumerable dusty archives all over the world. Or has he? There are apparently many Joe Jacksons, past and present, including a Major League outfielder who preferred going barefoot, a vaudeville clown, a Virginia homicide captain, the father of a doomed and talented pop star, and a prolific British pop star. The latter, especially, has often been confused with the Writer Joe, and their books are often listed together. In order to establish provenance the two fought a series of duels in the late 1990s and early 21st century. Yet they were too evenly matched, and today both men sport a number of scars from the saber, rapier, and bastinado.