Writer John Nichols, author of ‘The Milagro Beanfield War’ with a social justice streak, dies at 83

SANTA FE, N.M. — Writer John Nichols, best known for his populist novel ‘The Milagro Beanfield War’, has died. He was 83.

Nichols died Monday at home in Taos, New Mexico, amid declining health related to a long-term heart condition, said daughter Tania Harris of Albuquerque.

Nichols gained early recognition with the 1965 publication of his unusual love story “The Sterile Cuckoo,” later made into a film starring Liza Minnelli. The coming-of-age book and subsequent film were set among private northeastern colleges that were a familiar environment for Nichols, who attended a boarding school in Connecticut and a private school in upstate New York.

He moved from New York City to northern New Mexico with his first wife in 1969, where he found inspiration for a trilogy of novels anchored by the success of “The Milagro Beanfield War.”

That novel—about a fictional Spanish farming community in the mountains of northern New Mexico, a plan by business interests to appropriate the town’s land and water supplies, and the spontaneous rebellion that results—was widely recognized for its mix of humor and sense of place. and themes of social justice. It was made into a film, directed by Robert Redford, starring Rubén Blades and Christopher Walken, with dozens of locals on camera in Truchas, New Mexico, as extras.

“I feel like he wrote that as a valentine to northern New Mexico. … He really became embedded in Taos and Chama and all the towns in northern New Mexico,” said Stephen Hull, director of the University of New Mexico Press, which published Nichols’ memoir last year under the self-deprecating note: “I I got mine: confession from a midlist writer.

“He wrote it as a gringo – an ‘Aglo’ – but he wrote it with real-life experience and it seems to me with a great deal of authenticity,” Hull said.

Nichols’ published works include at least thirteen novels and nonfiction, ranging from collected essays, original photography, a chronicle of his parents’ early lives, and more.

According to friends and relatives, after three marriages he lived alone in a Taos house full of papers and manuscripts, amid a lengthy work routine that required him to write all night long.