Steve McQuiddy writes about people with eccentric histories who are outside of the mainstream. “Oregon has its share of characters,” he said. “I’ve always had a connection with people in the margins.”
His recent book, titled “Here on the Edge” is an in-depth account of Camp Angel, a conscientious objector camp located on the Oregon coast during World War II. This group, according to McQuiddy, had a profound influence on the development of the peace movement. Their art and philosophy were pivotal in the development of the movement that followed in the 1950s.
The camp was created as a unique partnership between three peace-promoting churches and the U.S. government. Under this arrangement, objectors provided unpaid labor for public projects, filling a void left by men who were called to war. Prior to that, conscientious objectors were incarcerated.
McQuiddy spent the better part of five years researching the project, traveling to several states, visiting archives, going over records and gathering photographs of group members. His efforts paid off — the book was one of the finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and made it to number 13 in its category on Amazon.
McQuiddy wanted to create a work that was both scholarly and accessible. He chose to make the research readable by telling the stories of the people involved. One day he hopes the book will be adapted into a movie.
“One thing led to another and as the 90s wore on I fell into what I have come to term as ‘the eccentric history beat.’ I’ve always been interested in marginalized people, people that live outside of the mainstream for whatever reason,” he said.
Currently, McQuiddy is honorary director of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission. He has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for some of his feature writing and has studied at several different colleges, including Lane. After moving to the west coast he studied at Oregon State University, finally earning a B.A. in English at the University of Oregon and later completing an M.F.A. in creative writing.
As an OSU student he began reading and being inspired by books written by “radical edgy authors.” He has written many unpublished novels and has worked in varied jobs to earn money to go to school.
While in his 20s, McQuiddy decided that he would like to write a history book someday. Later in the ‘90s, journalism was a way to put food on the table and pay his bills. “I fell into teaching. I’ve always had an interest in history all of my life,” he said.
McQuiddy taught for a brief time at Linn-Benton College and for a couple of years in Japan. He taught in the School of Journalism at the U of O prior to working at Lane. “I was a student here 30 years ago,” he said. He was taking the more affordable classes here while working on his degree at UO.
McQuiddy’s writing career began when he wrote a detailed monographic story about Opal Whiteley, a local Cottage Grove naturalist and author with reputed mystical powers. The story, which he wrote for free, was published by the Lane County Historical Society. It has been widely circulated and reprinted. This gave him a chance to appear as a commentator for a program on Whiteley produced for Oregon Public Broadcasting.
That project also opened up a number of other opportunities. “Don’t be afraid to write something for free — you don’t know what it may lead to,” he said.
McQuiddy’s journalistic work includes written magazine and newspaper articles. He is also a writing instructor at Lane where he teaches academic learning skills for students working on foundational coursework before taking 100 level classes.
The remedial program serves between 3,000 to 4,000 students per term on average, but he said the number rose to about 6,000 students when the economy dipped. Current enrollment at Lane is close to 12,000 students.
McQuiddy is passionate about helping those who need to develop these skills, people who would otherwise be marginalized. He believes that they deserve the same opportunities as more mainstream students. “What we do in academic learning skills is teach classes so people can have those opportunities,” he said.