Thursday, May 19, 2011

Corn in My Accent & Why I'd Rather Be Reading Ruth Suckow

Living in the Midwest is delightful until you try to explain.  Then you hedge. 

Small towns and small cities.  No bumper-to-bumper traffic and Rush Hour is a joke.  Every day is Ride Your Bike to Work Day (if you have studded tires in the winter).  You can get Starbucks AND that specialty of the midwest, pork tenderloin sandwiches.   And there's nothin' happening after the 10:00 news.  Lights out!  No bags under anyone's eyes.

You can live quietly well.

When you said as a youth that you didn't belong here someone scornfully asked if you meant you were going to New York.

"I mean Bloomington, Indiana," I said. "I love university towns."

And I moved there.  It's lush, hot, and very green.  I loved it.  I left to find work in a city, but I wish I'd stayed and been underemployed.  It would have been rewarding to work at Howard's Bookstore, hang out at the Runcible Spoon, and attend films at Bear's Place.  A professional! Why? I can't imagine what was going through my mind. 

And then--you may ask--why return to the Corn Belt? 

Suddenly my tone changes and it's a brisk Top 10 list of things to do: the State Fair(s), the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, RAGBRAI (a cross-Iowa bike ride sponsored by the Des Moines Register), Brown County in Indiana, visiting Willa Cather's childhood home in Red Cloud, Nebraska (actually a five-star activity), Amish country, birdwatching--think sandhill cranes--in Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska, the Black Hills, the Root River Trail in Lanesboro, MN., and...

I'm stumped.

"There's corn in my accent," as one of my students once said.  

ALL IOWA READS. I've temporarily abandoned my All Iowa Reads book:  Stephanie Kallos's Sing Them Home.  The novel IS  enjoyable, and I will return to it, but it's magic realism laced with cuteness, which I can't take right now, and a Welsh-Nebraskan funeral that goes on for 100 pages.  And I have to finish Ulysses by Bloomsday, June 16. 

An important midwestern book discussion is coming up on June 11 in Cedar Falls.  The discussion of the little-known Ruth Suckow's novel The Folks is sponsored by the Ruth Suckow Society.  I loved the book years ago!  Of course I won't be at the meeting.  Last year they forgot to notify me.  And I had even paid $25 to be a member. 

And yet I don't think it's a scam.  :)

Suckow, born in Hawarden, Iowa, in 1892, was the daughter of a Congregational minister and lived in many small towns in Iowa during her childhood. Her short stories and novels, comparable to Bess Streeter Aldrich's and Willa Cather's, were popular in the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. 

She went to high school in Grinnell, Iowa, earned a bachelor's and master's degree at the University of Denver, and then studied beekeeping.  She returned to Earlville, Iowa, and ran a small apiary for six years, spending her winters in Greenwich Village.  She began to publish stories chronicling life in midwestern small towns.

H. L. Mencken, who edited some of Suckow’s early stories for Smart Set, encouraged her to write her first novel, Country People (1924).

Her 1942 novel, New Hope, is a fictional account of Hawarden, Iowa, at the turn of the century. It is in-print, published by University of Iowa Press. Her most famous is The Folks

Their publication by the University of Iowa Press is largely due to efforts of the Ruth Suckow Memorial Society, which meets once a year to discuss one of her books, and this June will discuss The Folks.

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