Top of the Rock for November 1998


In Memoriam 1910-1998

A WRITER IN NEBRASKA is soon familiar with Flannery O'Connor's dilemma as a writer working in the South. Roughly paraphrased, you're on the track, pumping away on your little handcar, and then the Faulkner Express comes barreling through. In Nebraska the roaring freight is Willa Cather. People here who don't write often assume those of us who do must want to make the same whistlestops. Almost as often they are surprised to hear that we don't; we're too busy scuffing our own toes in our own dust to try hopping a ride on Cather.
   I must confess that at the age of 18, when I did not know my writerly ambitions, the endless talk of Cather was puzzling: O! the prairie, O! the plains, O! the pioneers.
   Oh, please.
   I was a smart-alecky kid from elsewhere, and "Paul's Case" and A Lost Lady seemed insufferably boring. It was years before I read another Nebraska author, and when I did it was by accident, a free copy of The Fork River Space Project.
   Scholars of Wright Morris can make a cogent case that this book is one of his decidedly lesser works. They may be right, but in my case it doesn't matter. I had never read a voice like this. The sheer command of the language was astonishing. I bought everything in sight, and at 35 books or so, this hollowed out my wallet.
   I've read about half of his books. By now I save them. I dole them out. I know when I'm in the mood for what I call his mannered vernacular, that consistently inventive voice which, for all its familiar tics, engages my ear and once again makes me want to be writing. This is no small gift. That Morris' work is largely unknown is a shame. He is a writer of care and attention and grace. And he's funny. Somehow that's another fact that's overlooked. Why I do not know. Perhaps The Fork River Space Project's narrator, Kelcey, puts his finger on it best:
   "Sometimes it takes years to notice the obvious."
— James Reed
Reprinted with permission
from The Nebraska Review, Summer 1998

Past Top of the Rock Features

redball.gif Tillie Olsen
redball.gif Nebraska Literature Festival
redball.gif Duane Hutchinson
redball.gif George O'Connell's Getting the Range
redball.gif Art Homer
redball.gif Creighton Conference
redball.gif Black Star Press
redball.gif Mildred Walker
redball.gif Critical Care
redball.gif Self Storage
redball.gif South of Resurrection
redball.gif Solstice '97
redball.gif Iron Mountain Road
redball.gif The Women at the Well
redball.gif Peru
redball.gif Nebraska Poets Calendar
redball.gif Nebraska Book Arts Center
redball.gif Missouri Valley Reading Series
redball.gif Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering
redball.gif Paper Wings
redball.gif Nebraska Shakespeare Festival
redball.gif Prairie Schooner
redball.gif Nebraska Poets
redball.gif Atticus

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Nebraska Center for Writers