John Backderf at 60 on Kent State at 50

In the opening pages, Derf is 10 years old on April 30, 1970, clutching a MAD magazine in the passenger seat of his mom’s car. She drives along a road lined with National Guard soldiers, whose bayonets are fixed, ready to put down a wildcat Teamsters strike.

In a couple days those troops Derf saw in his Richfield hometown would be moved north.
To Kent State University.

Sheehan Hannan and Cleveland Magazine visit with John Backderf on the occasion of Derf’s new book.*

Derf conducted [his] research to faithfully tell the stories of the four students who were killed by the National Guard on Kent State’s campus. Those stories are touching and horrifying, a reminder of the domestic costs of forever wars, the human cost of dissent and the consequences of placing state powers in the hands of what Derf sees as idiots, ideologues and warmongers.

Derf’s life is examined, as is his research:

It was as a journalist that Derf approached Kent State. He started by interviewing student activists and friends of the four students who were killed, and then dove deep into the archival sources available, most prominently the May 4 Collection at Kent State’s library. He also drew from books … He cites his sources for every scene, resulting in 26 pages of endnotes. Collecting it all took two years. But he is able to authoritatively re-create scenes of which there are no or few photos or video.

*Due to publishing problems associated with the coronavirus pandemic the release date of Kent State, originally scheduled for April, has been pushed back to September 2020. Preorders are available.


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