Don Mitchell is an ecological anthropologist, writer, and photographer who lived among the Nagovisi people of Bougainville for several years in the 1960s and 1970s, and returned briefly in 2001 after Bougainville’s war of secession.
Mitchell grew up in Hilo, on the island of Hawai’i. While a senior at Hilo High, he attended the University of Hawai'i, Hilo Campus, as an advanced admissions student, encountering anthropology for the first time. He studied anthropology and creative writing at Stanford and earned a PhD in anthropology from Harvard.
For many years he was a professor at Buffalo State in western New York, as well as a marathon and ultra-marathon runner and for 25 years operated a successful road race timing company (Runtime Services). In 2011 he was named to the inaugural class of the Western New York Running Hall of Fame. His most recent marathon was in 2016, on the 40th anniversary of his first one.
He lived in the city of Buffalo and later in the small town of Colden before returning to Hawai’i in 2013 and then, in May 2020, back to New York, where he lives with the poet Ruth Thompson in the Town of Dryden (near Ithaca) in a solar-powered geothermal-heated house in 136 acres of forest.
He published an academic book and articles about Nagovisi, but in the early 1990s returned to writing fiction and poetry. His stories of another culture have won praise from many quarters, including a Pushcart nomination and awards from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology (Poetry Prize 1993, Fiction Prize 1998, Fiction Prize (co-winner) 2008). One of his stories was runner-up in New Millennium Writings 2008 fiction contest. He has published in Green Mountains Review, El Portal, and other journals. In 2011 he co-authored an evolutionary psychology paper.
In 2013 he (and Ruth Thompson) were named "Artist in Residence" by the city of Portales, NM.
In Spring 2019 he held the Jack Williamson Endowed Chair in Science and Humanities, at Eastern New Mexico University (shared with Ruth Thompson).
In 2020 he published the memoir Shibai: Remembering Jane Britton's Murder.
On the island of Hawai'i he was deeply involved in community matters relating to the island's tallest and most contested mountain, Mauna Kea.
With Katie Nuai, in Nagovisi, 1972.
After 76K (47.2 miles) with 6000' elevation gain, Hawai'i, 2019. Each year Don walks his age in kilometres, from Hilo up over the Saddle Road.
With Simon Kenema, Colden NY 2009. Simon is the first Nagovisi Ph.D. (in Anthropology, degree awarded 2015, St Andrews University, Scotland).