Celebrated author/journalist Jeff Wheelwright will be the keynote speaker at the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies’ annual conference, June 30 – July 2 in Greenwood Village. Wheelwright takes us back to a pivotal time when genetic research, especially here in Colorado, was beginning to add to the rising awareness of the Iberian-Jewish heritage of the greater Southwest.
A graduate of Yale (1969) and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (1971), Wheelwright worked in public television and as an editor for the monthly “Life” magazine. Over time, the study of history and religion liberated him from science writing, a previous focus.
His first two books, “Degrees of Disaster,” about the ExxonValdez oil spill (1994), and “The Irritable Heart,” about the Persian Gulf War illnesses (2001), brought national acclaim. The latter was supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Then he turned to human genetics for his next topic because of interest sparked by the Human Genome Project. His third book was about a breast-cancer mutation characteristic of Jews that came to light in a population of Catholic Hispanos in New Mexico and the San Luis Valley of Colorado. The mutation proves that its carriers have Jewish ancestry, at least in part. In 2008 he published an article, “The Secret of the San Luis Valley,” in Smithsonian, and in 2009 was awarded a J.S. Guggenheim Fellowship to support the writing of the book, “The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA,” published in 2012 by W.W. Norton.