And the Winner Is...

The Fishermen and the Dragon by Kirk Wallace Johnson!

The Gulf Coast Reads Committee is excited to announce the 2023 Gulf Coast Reads selection is The Fishermen & the Dragon: Fear, Greed, and a Fight for Justice on the Gulf Coast by Kirk Wallace Johnson. 

The Fishermen and the Dragon is a gripping, twisting true crime investigation of a small Texas Gulf Coast town set on fire by hatred, xenophobia, and ecological disaster—a story that weaves together corporate malfeasance, a battle over shrinking natural resources, a turning point in the modern white supremacist movement, and one woman’s relentless battle for environmental justice.

As with all Gulf Coast Reads selections since, 2011, the final selection was chosen by popular vote. Wallace's nonfiction novel eked out the win over the other two very worthy finalists: Deaf Utopia by Nyle DiMarco and Last Dance at the Starlight Pier by Sarah Bird.

Join HCPL, partner libraries and organizations, and thousands of Gulf Coast readers just like you for special programs including a virtual author talk with Kirk Wallace Johnson, and, of course, lots of lively discussion of the book! 

Author photo of Kirk Wallace Johnson



Cover art: The Fishermen and the Dragon by Kirk Wallace JohnsonBy the late 1970s, the fishermen of the Texas Gulf Coast were struggling. The bays that had sustained generations of shrimpers and crabbers before them were being poisoned by nearby petrochemical plants, oil spills, pesticides, and concrete.  But as their nets came up light, the white shrimpers could only see one culprit: the small but growing number of newly resettled Vietnamese refugees who had recently started fishing. 

Turf was claimed.  Guns were flashed.  Threats were made.  After a white crabber was killed by a young Vietnamese refugee in self-defense, the situation became a tinderbox primed to explode, and the Grand Dragon of the Texas Knights of the Ku Klux Klan saw an opportunity to stoke the fishermen’s rage and prejudices.  At a massive Klan rally near Galveston Bay one night in 1981, he strode over to an old boat graffitied with the words U.S.S. VIET CONG, torch in hand, and issued a ninety-day deadline for the refugees to leave or else “it’s going to be a helluva lot more violent than Vietnam!”  The white fishermen roared as the boat burned, convinced that if they could drive these newcomers from the coast, everything would return to normal.

A shocking campaign of violence ensued, marked by burning crosses, conspiracy theories, death threats, torched boats, and heavily armed Klansmen patrolling Galveston Bay.  The Vietnamese were on the brink of fleeing, until a charismatic leader in their community, a highly decorated colonel, convinced them to stand their ground by entrusting their fate with the Constitution.  

Drawing upon a trove of never-before-published material, including FBI and ATF records, unprecedented access to case files, and scores of firsthand interviews with Klansmen, shrimpers, law enforcement, environmental activists, lawyers, perpetrators and victims, Johnson uncovers secrets and secures confessions to crimes that went unsolved for more than forty years.  This explosive investigation of a forgotten story, years in the making, ultimately leads Johnson to the doorstep of the one woman who could see clearly enough to recognize the true threat to the bays—and who now represents the fishermen’s last hope.

Author photo: Kirk Wallace JohnsonKirk Wallace Johnson is an author and screenwriter.  His books include The Fishermen and the Dragon: Fear, Greed, and a Fight for Justice on the Gulf Coast, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century, and To Be a Friend is Fatal: the Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind.  He is also the creator of Drug Spies, a scripted series about pharmaceutical espionage.  He is the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, which resettled thousands Iraqi refugees who were imperiled as a result of working for the U.S. during the war.

His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, on This American Life, and 60 Minutes, among others.

Prior to founding the List Project, Johnson served in Iraq with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Baghdad and then Fallujah as the Agency’s first coordinator for reconstruction in the war-torn city.

He is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and the recipient of fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin, Yaddo, MacDowell, and the Wurlitzer Foundation.  Prior to his work in Iraq, he conducted research on political Islamism as a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt.  He received his BA from the University of Chicago in 2002.

Born in West Chicago, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife, son, and daughter.