A technological accident added some unexpected profundity to Ian Stansel’s heartfelt piece “Finding the Essential in the Literary Midwest.” Here’s how the piece ended, at least when I read it (only the first paragraph was intentional):
So to you folks flying over, I say this: go ahead. Go on to Colorado or New Mexico or California. Go on to Brooklyn and Portland and Austin. Go on to your more glamorous regions, to your fashionable residents and well-spiced food and detectable topography. We’ll be here in the heartland, gnawing on an ear of corn and quietly, patiently making literature.
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Goosebumps. Hard to imagine a better coda.
One question I had. Stansel writes:
Of course the Midwest is more diverse than it gets credit for, and likewise Midwestern literature encompasses a wide array of authors and styles. Look at the moral novels of Theodore Dreiser. Or the intimate psychology of Sherwood Anderson. Look at the gritty worlds of contemporary authors Donald Ray Pollock, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and Daniel Woodrell. Hell, look at the sentimental nostalgia of Robert James Waller. There is no one writer we can point to and say, “This is Midwestern writing.”
He points out the positive aspects of this:
I imagine it must be frustrating to be a southern writer, to always have the voices of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner echoing through literary conversations. Or to be a poet in San Francisco, with the ghosts of so many Beats still knocking about. But here in the Midwest, we have less of an overt tradition to which we must answer. We can do whatever we want.
He’s probably right. But I also wondered whether Garrison Keillor might not be as stifling to contemporary Midwestern authors as O’Connor, Faulkner, and the ghost of the Beats. Never underestimate the power of a folksy country bumpkin with ambition.
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