In Memoriam 1910-1998
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.
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."
Reprinted with permission
from The Nebraska Review, Summer 1998
Nebraska Literature Festival
George O'Connell's Getting the Range
Black Star Press
South of Resurrection
Iron Mountain Road|
The Women at the Well
Peru Nebraska Poets Calendar
Nebraska Book Arts Center
Missouri Valley Reading Series
Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Nebraska Shakespeare Festival