Producers Buy Film Rights to Book by UMass Amherst Historian on Abolitionist John Brown

October 15, 1997

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AMHERST, Mass. - Two Hollywood producers have just bought the filmrights to "Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown," by University of Massachusetts historian Stephen B. Oates.

Oates is a professor of history and Paul Murray Kendall Professor of Biography at the University.

"Purge This Land" was first published by Harper & Row in 1970. The book eventually became a Literary Guild Book Club selection. The University of Massachusetts Press republished the book in 1984 in both hardback and paperback editions, and has kept the book in print since then.

"My first reaction was giddiness," Oates said. When he made the announcement to students in his Civil War class, he said students started suggesting actors for the leading role, including Tommy Lee Jones.

Oates said Paul Kohner Inc., a talent and literary agency, of Beverly Hills, Calif., negotiated the contract. The producers, George Moffly and Brian Cox, are aiming for a full-length feature film, he said.

Oates is the author of 16 books, including a Civil War Quartet that included "Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.," "The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion,""To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown," and "With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln." A 17th book is scheduled for publication next year.

The John Brown biography tells the story of Brown who, in October 1859, set out to end slavery in the United States by force of arms. His raid on the federal arsenal and armory in Harpers Ferry, W. Va., ended in failure, but with it Brown became a folk hero. Oates’s account focuses on Brown’s antislavery career in the 1850s. In 1970, New York Times book reviewer Eric Foner said: "Oates tells us his story in a manner so engrossing that the book reads like a novel, despite the fact that it is extensively documented and researched."

Oates joined the University’s faculty in 1968, having received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Texas. An extremely popular teacher, he has won numerous awards including the Distinguished Teaching Award at UMass, and a silver medal in the CASE Professor of the Year program.