Selected Papers of William L. White

Senior Research Consultant

Chestnut Health Systems

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Ernie Kurtz (1935-2015)

Profile


Excerpt from: Ernest Kurtz Profile, Historian as Storyteller and Healer
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"History and imperfection are my specialties—not necessarily in that order."
    --Ernest Kurtz, 1996

The lives of Fr. Edward Dowling, Sr. Mary Ignatia Gavin, Fr. John C. Ford, Fr. Ralph Pfau, Dr. Austin Ripley, Fr. Joseph Martin, Sr. Therese Golden, and the history of Guest House constitute critical chapters in the larger story of the rise of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the role of spirituality in long-term recovery from alcoholism. It is thus quite fitting that Recovery Through Catholic Eyes is dedicated to Ernest Kurtz, the person most singularly responsible for uncovering and telling this larger story.

Ernest Kurtz published his seminal work, Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1979 and has continued his writing and teaching on the topics of AA, spirituality, shame, and storytelling. This final chapter of Recovery Through Catholic Eyes explores and honors his ideas, activities, and sustained influence. The chapter contains four sections: 1) a brief biography, 2) a sampling of the topical themes that permeate Kurtz’s work, 3) a profile of Kurtz the man, and 4) an appendix containing a chronology of the Kurtz publications. The chapter is designed to let Kurtz, and those profoundly influenced by him, speak directly to the reader in their own words.

When I began writing a book in the early 1990s on the history of addiction treatment and recovery in America, several people directed me to Ernie Kurtz as the authoritative source. I had no way of knowing that what I expected to be a brief consultation on the history of AA would evolve into a prolonged mentorship, multiple professional collaborations, and an enduring friendship. Through these years, Ernie Kurtz communicated a number of crucial lessons to me about researching and writing history. He repeatedly challenged:

  1. Tell the story chronologically (do not confuse your reader).
  2. Tell the story in context (let your reader know what else is going on around the event you are profiling).
  3. Present the historical evidence (sources)—all the evidence.
  4. Separate statements of fact from conjecture and opinion.
  5. Tell the story from multiple perspectives.
  6. Localize and personalize the story.
  7. Stay connected to your readers—keep them wanting to turn the page to find out what happens next (for an elaboration of these, see White, 2004).

I will try to be faithful to these guidelines in telling Ernie’s own story.

Three sources form the foundation of this chapter: the complete publications of Ernie Kurtz (See appendix), taped and transcribed interviews conducted with Ernie Kurtz in 2008 and 2009, and comments solicited from those who have worked professionally with Ernie Kurtz over the past three decades.


Continue reading the full 22 page Ernie Kurtz profile:  View File pdf

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Selected Papers of William L. White