On Sept. 21, 2001, Mark Stroman walked into a convenience store and attempted to murder Raisuddin Bhuiyan. Ten years later, in a twist of fate, Bhuiyan campaigned against the Texas courts to save Stroman from the death penalty.
In his most recent book, “The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas,” New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas, who spoke at a master’s tea in Ezra Stiles College on Wednesday afternoon, tells the story of Stroman’s shooting spree and Bhuiyan’s mission to prevent his execution. At the event, which drew about 30 people, Giridharadas talked about the process of writing “The True American.”
Giridharadas explained the backstory to his audience — Stroman was a white supremacist who wanted to retaliate against the racial group he held responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi Muslim, was the sole survivor of the shooting. His campaign to prevent Stroman’s execution ultimately failed, and Stroman was executed in July 2011.
Giridharadas said he wanted to write about the story of Stroman and Bhuiyan because of its far-reaching implications.
“I was excited by telling a story that was small in its contours but big in its ramifications,” Giridharadas said. “I saw an article about Mark Stroman’s death penalty case at 9 a.m., and by 11 a.m., this amazing story had formed in my mind.”
As an Indian-American, Giridharadas said he had to approach Bhuiyan and Stroman’s family cautiously in order to write his book. Unlike his previous writings, which involved sourcing a multitude of individuals, this book only focused on two men and the worlds around them.
By the time Giridharadas began writing, he said, Stroman had already been executed, making the reporting process even more difficult. But Giridharadas said he managed to obtain access to restricted information, such as the court documents from the case — sometimes using unorthodox means.
“I sweet-talked a woman in the courts of Dallas,” he said. “For three days, eight hours each day, I took pictures on my phone of every single page of the documents and ended up with a 88GB file.”
After discussing the writing process for “The True American” Giridharadas shared his opinions on modern journalism and society.
Giridharadas said he is optimistic about the current state of the journalism industry. Problems people frequently bring up, such as declining revenue, increasing layoffs of journalists and diminishing readership, are only temporary, he said.
“The New York Times has become 10 or 100 times more influential than it was 30 or 40 years ago,” he said. “The quality of investigative reporting has also improved, and journalists are doing complex, data-driven work.”
Audience members interviewed said they were impressed by Giridharadas’ talk, and that they found his views compelling.
Kevin Escudero LAW ’15 said he was struck by how Giridharadas challenged his idea of the American dream.
At the conclusion of the tea, Ezra Stiles Master Stephen Pitti ’91 said Giridharadas’ work is an example of remarkable investigative journalism.
“I very much admire what you [Giridharadas] do with race as a person and how you develop the characters over time,” he said.
Since 2011, Texas has executed 53 people.