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About Lisa Knopp


What the River Carries
Copyright © 2012
by Lisa Knopp
U of Missouri P

In this informed and lyrical collection of interwoven essays, Lisa Knopp explores the physical and cultural geography of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte, rivers she has come to understand and cherish. At the same time, she contemplates how people experience landscape, identifying three primary roles of environmental perception: the insider, the outsider, and the outsider seeking to become an insider. Viewing the waterways through these approaches, she searches for knowledge and meaning.
Because Knopp was born and raised just a few blocks away, she considers the Mississippi from the perspective of a native resident, a “dweller in the land.” She revisits places she has long known: Nauvoo, Illinois, the site of two nineteenth-century utopias, one Mormon, one Icarian; Muscatine, Iowa, once the world’s largest manufacturer of pearl (mussel shell) buttons; and the mysterious prehistoric bird- and bear-shaped effigy mounds of northeastern Iowa. On a downriver trip between the Twin Cities and St Louis, she meditates on what can be found in Mississippi river water—state lines, dissolved oxygen, smallmouth bass, corpses, family history, wrecked steamboats, mayfly nymphs, toxic perfluorinated chemicals, philosophies.
Knopp first encountered the Missouri as a tourist and became acquainted with it through literary and historical documents, as well as stories told by longtime residents. Her journey includes stops at Fort Bellefontaine, where Lewis and Clark first slept on their sojourn to the Pacific; Little Dixie, Missouri’s slaveholding, hemp-growing region, as revealed through the life of Jesse James’s mother; Fort Randall Dam and Lake Francis Case, the construction of which destroyed White Swan on the Yankton Sioux Reservation; and places that produced unique musical responses to the river, including Native American courting flutes, indie rock, Missouri River valley fiddling, Prohibition-era jazz jam sessions, and German folk music.
Knopp’s relationship with the Platte is marked by intentionality: she settled nearby and chose to develop deep and lasting connections over twenty years’ residence. On this adventure, she ponders the half-million sandhill cranes that pass through Nebraska each spring, the ancient varieties of Pawnee corn growing at the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, a never-broken tract of tallgrass prairie, the sugar beet industry, and the changes in the river brought about by the demands of irrigation.
In the final essay, Knopp undertakes the science of river meanders, consecutive loops of water moving in opposite directions, which form around obstacles but also develop in the absence of them. What initiates the turning that results in a meander remains a mystery. Such is the subtle and interior process of knowing and loving a place. What the River Carries asks readers to consider their own relationships with landscape and how one can most meaningfully and responsibly dwell on the earth’s surface. — from the publisher

A river gathers the countryside, drawing the current of tributary streams into a single flow, offering passage to travelers, nurturing all manner of creatures, and eventually, perhaps by way of larger rivers, delivering its waters to the sea. Just so, in the hands of a skillful writer like Lisa Knopp, an essay draws material from a varied terrain of memory, history, folklore, observation, and reflection, gathering far-flung sources into a forceful narrative. Linked together, these narratives trace the ways in which three great rivers have been used, abused, and partly restored by humans over the past ten thousand years—a panoramic history that should be of interest to any reader who’s curious about the shaping of America’s interior.—Scott Russell Sanders, author of Earth Works and A Conservationist Manifesto

Lisa Knopp has the eyes of an archeologist and the soul of a great blue heron as she renders this intimate portrayal of three national treasures—the Mississippi, Platte, and Missouri rivers. Here we visit places as exotic as Little Egypt yet as familiar as streams connecting our own backyards to these great waterways. Knopp asks hard questions about human interaction—and interference—with these watery corridors which are largely responsible for American expansion. Journeying through these pages, we also find tales of the shell button industry, Indian burial mounds, Mormon settlement, catastrophic flooding, barge commerce, and everyday lives of people who work and play along the shores. What this book carries? Majesty. Knowledge. Inspiration. — Katherine Fischer, author of Dreaming the Mississippi

Field of Vision
Copyright © 1996
by Lisa Knopp
U of Iowa P

In this contemplative collection of essays, Lisa Knopp moves out from the prairies of Nebraska and Iowa to encompass a fully developed vision of light, memory, change, separateness, time, symbols, responsibility, and unity. Knopp charts a stimulating course among the individual, community, and culture that removes the boundaries between self and other, allowing one to become fully present in the world. Her keen vision sees beyond the ordinary to illuminate the mysteries and meanings of our personal and natural worlds. — from the jacket

In her first collection of nature essays, Knopp offers 16 pieces filled with the evidence not only of books but also of the eyes, ears, nose and taste buds to give a multidimensional view of nature. ... Knopp, like Eiseley, Burroughs, and Dillard, addresses the central question of American nature writing: how to "see herself in the natural world but also see the natural world of herself." — Publishers Weekly

A collection of essays on vision, not from the standpoint of the visual scientist but from the perspective of an observant writer. ... Some of the essays are clearly autobiographical. Others are less directly so, but all are the product of Knopp's personal observations. Her writing style is clear, engaging, and at times almost poetic. ... This work is reminiscent of The Object Stares Back, by James Elkins, except that the latter is from the viewpoint of the art historian. — Choice

Lisa Knopp wants "to see the mundane as profoundly new," to "see and record the wild places I know before they are gone. Each day, I am reminded that the natural world is vanishing." Knopp, who wrote [this] book while living in Nebraska, and now teaches at Southern Illinois University, presents a series of essays linked, she finds only after writing them, by their common exploration of "the act of seeing." ... Wearing her erudition lightly, Knopp leads readers through meditations that begin and end in close observation but fly in all directions in between. She is the kind of writer whom I would follow on any subject, confident that she could teach me new lays of a land I thought already familiar, as well as lead me into altogether new territory. — Women's Review of Books

Flight Dreams:
A Life in the Midwestern Landscape
Copyright © 1998
by Lisa Knopp
U of Iowa P

Reminiscent of Thoreau's introspective nature writing and Dillard's taut, personal prose, each chapter in Flight Dreams stands alone as a distinct narrative, yet each is linked by profoundly personal descriptions of dreams, the natural world, defining experiences, and chance encounters with people that later prove to be fateful. Part Eastern meditation, part dream sequence, part historical reconstruction, Flight Dreams testifies to a deep understanding of how the natural world — its visible and invisible elements — guides our destinies. — from the jacket

In Flight Dreams, Lisa Knopp captures the midwestern experience — what it means to grow up in a Mississippi River town and to wonder how it would feel to soar like one of the birds overhead. Like an eagle or hawk, she finds ways to "move beyond what seems oppressive and dull" and flies in the face of convention — working her way through a PhD program, becoming a single mother, entering into a multiracial marriage, and launching a writing career. Knopp lands on some of the key social and political issues for women in the latter half of the twentieth century. — Mary Swander

The Nature of Home
Copyright © 2002
by Lisa Knopp
U of Nebraska P

For Lisa Knopp, homesickness is a literal sickness. During a lengthy sojourn away from the Nebraska prairie she fell ill, and only when she decided to return home did she recover. Homesickness is the triggering event for this collection of essays concerned with nothing less than what it means to feel at home. Knopp writes masterfully about ecology, place, and the values and beliefs that sustain the individual within an impersonal world. She is passionate about her subject whether it be an endangered beetle in the salt marshes near Lincoln, Nebraska, a forgotten Nebraska inventor, a museum muralist, a paleontologist, or the roots of Arbor Day as a misguided attempt to "correct" a perceived lack in the Great Plains landscape as seen from the sensibilities of Eastern settlers. Here is a writer who has read widely and judiciously and for whom everything resonates within the intricately structured definition of home. — from the jacket

An abiding devotion to a place and its inhabitants: sentimental in the right way, mnemonic, tempting. — Kirkus Reviews

A significant treatment of home, environment, and natural history. It succeeds on several levels: as an observant work of regional nature writing, as a thoughtful collection of interlinked essays, and as a moving book of personal reflections. ... It has the breadth and vision of Thoreau's Walden and the intimacy and integrity of Scott Russell Sanders' Hunting for Hope while still maintaining its own unique identity and its author's individual voice. — Robert Root, the author of EB White: The Emergence of an Essayist

Interior Places
Copyright © 2007
by Lisa Knopp
U of Nebraska P

[A] smart sequel to Knopp’s earlier study, The Nature of Home. . . . Rapt observer, botanist, birder and chronicler of the human condition, Knopp is also, in the best literary tradition, a wanderer of lingering curiosity. . . . Elegiac, soulful and discerning. — Kirkus Reviews

In these engagingly written pieces Knopp describes the people and places of Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio, and, in one essay on the famous flyer Amelia Earhart, Atchison, Kansas. Her recounting of a visit to the aviatrix's birthplace, interspersed with town history and an account of Earhart's equal dedication to flying and serving the urban poor (the latter manifest in her work with the settlement house movement of the early twentieth century), demonstrates Knopp's method of looking closely at geographical spaces as windows upon more interior places. — Kansas History

Lisa Knopp explores the inner life — subjectivity — with grace, compassion, and a love for landscapes. This book brings together two of the major currents in creative nonfiction — memoir and nature writing — from the mature perspective of a writer dedicated to careful inhabitation. Like those geodes that open this fine collection, Interior Places sparkles all the way through. — Elizabeth Dodd, author of Prospect: Journeys and Landscapes

Lisa Knopp is one of the finest essayists in the Midwest and the nation. In this moving and informative book, she takes us on a journey into the heart of places emotional and geographical, personal and universal. From the graveside of a beloved grandmother to the resurrection of native prairie, Knopp’s transformative vision reminds us that the difference between soil and soul is only one letter. — John Price, author of Not Just Any Land and Man Killed by Pheasant

Knopp is one of our finest American natural history writers. There’s no writer I know who is better at capturing the beauty and detail of the tall grass prairie and plains states. Knopp writes lyrically yet scientifically with her facts grounded in both experience and solid sources. She now takes her place among such writers as her literary mentor Aldo Leopold. — Mary Swander, author of The Desert Pilgrim: En Route to Mysticism and Miracles

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