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Mining disaster expert to speak at St. Bonaventure today

In the wake of one of the most successful and most media-covered mining rescues in history, Buffalo native Mark Nowak, a poet, labor activist, and mining disaster expert, wants people to recognize this fact:

The Chilean mining rescue was an exception, a rare happy ending in a history book filled with tragedy.

"What usually happens is that miners die, almost everyday somewhere in the world, and a lot of people don't hear those stories," said Nowak, who is originally from Cheektowaga and now teaches nonfiction writing and investigative journalism at Washington College in Maryland. 

Nowak will read some of his own work and discuss ideas for reducing the number of mining tragedies when he visits St. Bonaventure University today.

Nowak is no stranger to labor issues. He says it's something he's been exposed to since childhood.

"My grandfather was a steel worker at Bethlehem Steel and my other grandfather was a mechanic for the railroad and he actually lived right across the street from the old train station," said Nowak in a phone interview. "Even my dad was vice president of his union at Westinghouse so those were just the kinds of issues and concerns that were around me. It's how i grew up."

His book Coal Mountain Elementary provides testimony from the the Sago Mine Disaster survivors and rescue teams and his Cold Mountain blog covers global working class policies and issues with a focus on mining disasters.

Nowak appeared as a guest commentator on the Al Jazeera English news network on the first night of the Chilean mine rescue.

He hopes some of the Chilean miners will use their voice to spread the message of a need for change.

"Miners in Chile now really have the microphone," said Nowak. "They can use their celebrity status due to this terrible accident to help other workers like themselves around the world. That would be a tremendous benefit."

Listen to Nowak discuss his appearance on Al Jazeera and his ideas for reducing mining disasters:

The reading and discussion will begin at 4:30 p.m. at St. Bonaventure's Walsh Amphitheater.

More from an interview with Nowak:

--Lauren Nicole Mariacher

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