I am a mountain girl, transplanted to a water world, and have never actually been to the Midwest region of the U.S., but I have long been drawn to the landscape and the literature of that part of the world. It started in high school when we were assigned Willa Cather’s My Antonia in Honors English. I remember being completely carried away by the story, and by the greatness of her writing, the beauty of her language. That reading experience was followed closely by O Pioneers!, and I became a Willa Cather fan for life. My best friend and I chose secret names for each other during that innocent time long ago, and I still call her “Antonia” in my emails and letters.
After my son was born, there were quiet, rainy afternoons while he napped, and I reread all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books in her Little House series. That was a delight. And while reading those books, I realized that some of our family traditions (especially pertaining to food) went way back to pioneer times (my great, great grandparents were pioneers). Those family meals of biscuits and gravy, or the homemade whole wheat bread my Mom baked every Saturday, were throw-backs to an earlier time in our family history!
While I was working in the bookstore in the early 1980s, I discovered the University of Nebraska Press, which became my favorite publishing house. I loved every book I read that was published by them, including Letters of a Woman Homesteader, and Letters on an Elk Hunt by a Woman Homesteader, both written by Elinore Pruitt Stewart. Her location was actually southwestern Wyoming, but I associate her with the Midwest.
I also discovered Frederick Manfred’s books while working at the bookstore. I became fascinated by his tales of the Indians of the Great Plains, in particular by his Buckskin Man Tales, which included Conquering Horse, Scarlet Plume, and Lord Grizzly.
Other favorites over the years include Giants in the Earth, and Peder Victorious, by O. E. Rolvaag, and Sea of Grass, by Conrad Richter.
I wonder sometimes if those “pioneer” genes I carry fire up occasionally, this many generations later, and somehow hear the call of the grasslands and the big sky…