Local author’s book debuts after 25 years in the making

December 1, 2009

By Kathleen R. Merrill

Zoe Escobar

Zoe Escobar

Issaquah resident Zoe Escobar didn’t plan a career in writing. But she didn’t plan for her first book — “Beyond Cuckoo’s Nest, The Art and Life of William Sampson Jr.” — to take 25 years to write either.

“I’ve always enjoyed writing, but currently, I’m relating to Winston Churchill’s quote: Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then, it becomes a mistress, and then, it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that, just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him out to the public.”The book is a large, beautifully bound and covered coffee table book about Sampson’s art. His name might not be familiar, but once you see his photo, you might remember him from the films “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or “The Outlaw Josie Wales.”

The book is one that will capture and hold your attention, if not for the gorgeous art, then for the story of how it came to be.

The Press asked Escobar some questions about her book last week as she prepared for a book signing at The Grange.

What made you decide to publish a book about Sampson’s art?

When I was traveling with him, he often stopped to visit friends, many of whom had purchased his paintings before he became famous as an actor. They all proudly insisted on showing me his work. After realizing his work was all in private collections (except the two he donated to the Creek Museum in Okmulgee, Okla.), the only way to share them with others was to photograph them and publish a book.

What do you love most about his art?

Every picture tells a story. You can clearly see what the participants in the picture feel.

What can or should people learn from his art?

He painted with his own sense of what it was to be a Native American, taking as his subjects his ancestors, the land, the hard days and opportunities seen by a Creek Indian in the 20th century

Is there a special memory about him that you’d like to share?

When you were introduced to Sonny, his conversation with you would be about you. He showed genuine curiosity about you and your life. And if 10 years passed before you saw him again, even if it was in a different location than when you first met, he would remember you, your name and what you were talking about 10 years before. He was charming with a great sense of humor. He was always willing to share what he had.

Did he know about this book before he passed away?

In 1980, I asked Sonny if I could do the book and he said, “You bet.” He called many original holders and asked them if they would participate. Everyone he called said yes, so I traveled to Oklahoma with my Hasselblad camera and lights to take the photographs. Sonny passed away in 1987.

How long have you lived in Issaquah? Why did you move here?

I moved here from Hollywood in 1989. Phil Lucas (1942-2006) invited me up to work on a few documentaries that he was working on. I found the work on Native American documentaries personally rewarding and decided to relocate here.

What made you decide to write? Are you a career writer? Did you want to be?

After taking the photographs, I was told if it was going to be a book it needed words. It took me nearly 25 years to put the words together.

Have you written other books? Are you working on any upcoming ones?

This is my first book. I currently have no plans. I was hoping to publish Norma Jean Bible’s manuscript “Beloved Brother,” her memoir of growing up with Sonny, her younger brother. Norma passed away last month, so I don’t know if that will happen now. However, I was able to quote her in my book.

Where can people purchase this book?

‘Beyond Cuckoo’s Nest, the Art and Life of William Sampson Jr.’ can be purchased online at www.beyondcuckoosnest.com and at the Grange. It’s also listed on Amazon.

If you go

Zoe Escobar book signing

11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Dec. 5

The Grange

145 N.E. Gilman Blvd.


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