essays


Gila National Forest Canyon
Photo of the Gila National Forest by Dolor Ipsum used under a Creative Commons license.

Sharman Apt Russell, Songs of the Fluteplayer (Bison Books, 2002).
Writing for Salon’s Literary Guide to the World about southern New Mexico, Philip Connors says that

for a vision of contemporary life in this part of the world, one could scarcely do better than to pick up Sharman Apt Russell’s “Songs of the Fluteplayer” (1991), a collection of personal essays that range from the clash between environmentalists and cattle ranchers to the moral quandaries involved in hiring illegal laborers. At its best, it explores human-imposed boundaries — say, between public land and private, or between America and Mexico — with clarity, grace and a subtlety that subverts simple-minded moralizing.

When she wrote the book, Russell taught writing at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, where she has been since 1981, and lived in the Mimbres Valley, also in the southwest part of the state. I haven’t read this one, but I enjoyed Russell’s Kill the Cowboy.

Here is Russell’s bio at WNMU. This brief bio links to several of her articles. Her Wikipedia entry isn’t much longer. Google Books lets you take a look. Janet Schoberg says it captures the charm and challenge of the American Southwest. Susan J. Tweit interviewed Russell for Story Circle Book Reviews.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

DSCF7298
Photo by Hamner_Fotos used under a Creative Commons license.

Vic Glover, Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge (Native Voices, 2004).
A Vietnam vet and former journalist, Glover wrote this series of short essays about life — his life — on the Pine Ridge reservation.  Pine Ridge is one of the poorest places in the country,  a hard place where car accidents, alcoholism and diabetes kill more than they should.  Glover is a survivor, and his essays glow with a dry humor and an understated spirituality, both keys to getting by.  I really liked this book, and I think it deserves a bigger audience.

Some of the essays were published first in Indian Country Today, including “Armageddon didn’t happen yet,” “Windy day sweat,” and “Ceremonies, hospitals, and cemetaries.” Timothy White (Shaman’s Drum) says it offers an honest portrait of contemporary Native beliefs and perspectives on the reservations. The Midwest Book Review says it reveals the challenges, history, bonds, and rich traditions that infuse and reflect the stark realities of life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Tom Rice sees despair on Pine Ridge. Glover blogs!

Buy it at Amazon.com.

stairs
Photo by shaymus022 used under a Creative Commons license.

Howard Mansfield, In the Memory House (Fulcrum Publishing, 1995).
An excellent collection of essays approaching New England’s history – mostly New Hampshire, but Massachusetts as well – from a variety of angles. A brief Part I roams through small-town historical societies and museums. Part II considers ancestors remembered and forgotten: Johnny Appleseed. Jack Kerouac, Franklin Pierce. Parts III and IV range more widely across town-meeting democracy, two murders in Peterborough, N.H., the proprietor of a drugstore, elms and other missing tall trees, Mount Monadnock, Walden Pond, and Boston’s West End.

Here is a bio of Mansfield. Mansfield was Laura Knoy’s guest on New Hampshire Public Radio, which also posted this “study guide” (.pdf) to the book. Here is Mansfield on the Paula Gordon show. This book’s fans probably will like Cow Hampshire, a New Hampshire blog. And here is the skinny on Mansfield’s 650-pound pig.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Storms, Osage County, Oklahoma
Photo of Osage County, Okla., by Wade From Oklahoma used under a Creative Commons license.

Richard Rhodes, The Inland Ground (University Press of Kansas, 1991).
A collection of essays generally grounded in Missouri and Kansas. There are pieces here, among others, about: Jesse Howard, the signpainter of Fulton, Mo.; riding a diesel freight train to Gridley, Kan.; Independence, Mo.; the Unity School of Practical Christianity in Lee’s Summit, Mo.; coyote hunting in Portis, Kan.; Kansas City (“Cupcake Land”); a 6,000-acre wheat farm in Beloit, Kan.; Dwight Eisenhower; the I-D Packing Company of Des Moines; the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.; the annual dances of the Osage Indians in Pawhuska, Grayhorse, and Hominy, Okla., with a detour to the Phillips collection in Woolaroc; and the Iowa Writers Workshop in Iowa City. Rhodes substantially revised this book for the 1991 edition, which is the one that I read, and probably the one that you’ll find.

Here is Wikipedia’s page on Rhodes. Here is Rhodes’ website. And here is more about Jesse Howard.

Buy it at Amazon.com.