Local author, lawyer and Haskell Indian Nations University professor Lucia Orth’s passion for books, travel, equality, fairness and justice took root during her childhood in Hannibal, Mo.
“My father and grandfather ran Hannibal News Company, the town’s only bookstore,” she says. “I loved being surrounded by books and enjoyed meeting all the tourists who came into the shop.”
Orth’s grandmother, a teacher, encouraged her to read the classics and instilled in her the importance of helping others and working for equality and justice. Her first chapter book about Marco Polo birthed her desire for world travel.
“One high school girlfriend and I would ride our bikes to the Mississippi and just sit there talking about leaving Hannibal,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to travel and see the world.”
Orth graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing in 1975, but she felt she was too young to have a “voice” to continue fiction writing. Her continuing interest in justice and women’s issues, and a desire to challenge herself, led her to enroll at Notre Dame’s law school.
“Notre Dame offered a second-year study program in London, so that was an added attraction,” she says.
Despite limited funds caused by her father’s early death, Orth’s mother encouraged her to study abroad.
“My mother was very generous and helped me get there even though I know it was hard on her and my younger sister,” she says.
“I loved London. I sometimes tell people I studied law in London but majored in theater. I saw an early play by South African Athol Fugard and truly grasped how contemporary literature can reveal more of the human situation and struggle than simply facts could.”
Orth married fellow lawyer and travel lover John Head. They’ve traveled and lived for short periods in Europe and Asia. While working as lawyers in Washington, D.C., and shortly after the first of their three children was born, Head got an opportunity to work in Manila for the Asian Development Bank.
“Manila was a Third World city, and it was a true culture shock for me,” she says. “Ninoy Aquino was assassinated within six weeks of our arrival. We were there for five years and during the People Power Revolution that overthrew Marcos.”
Orth gathered material for her first novel, “Baby Jesus Pawn Shop” (published by The Permanent Press in 2008), centered in and around Manila during the height of Ferdinand Marco’s brutal regime. It explores an unlikely couple’s relationship as they struggle to lead a moral life when reality defies conventional notions of right and wrong.
She’s recently spent six months in Italy (with Head), where she’s developed an idea for her second novel based partly in 1900s Manila and World War II Italy.
Balancing time between travel, writing and teaching in Haskell’s Indigenous and American Indian Studies department is an ongoing challenge.
“It helps that John and I have similar goals and passions,” Orth says. “He also teaches law, writes and loves to travel. We support and encourage one another.”