I have lived in the Midwest most of my life. It is not a tourist region: people refer to it it as Flyover Country. It is a quiet place to live, “about as exciting as a glass of milk,” a Midwestern friend once said. But the stereotypes are usually wrong, I assure you. The majority of people live in cities and towns; the farms, alas, are mostly industrial now. Th Midwest is a place like any other, where people live and work, read great books, get Ph.D’s, go to concerts, are involved in politics, reserve Booker Prize finalists from the library, and support Shakespeare festivals and the Symphony.
Somehow, the Midwest evokes boredom in dwellers on the coasts. And Midwestern literature seems to me to be underpublished. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is famous, but of course few of the Workshop students actually are from the Midwest. I know of only two Iowa writers who attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: the talented writers Elizabeth Evans and Maureen McCoy.
You are familiar with some of the most brilliant Midwestern writers, though you may not consider them Midwestern: the Pulitzer Prize-winning Marilynne Robinson, whose whose new novel Jack will be published this fall; Rebecca Makkai, winner of the National Book Award for The Great Believers, her impressive AIDS novel; the National Book Award finalist Jean Thompson, author most recently of A Girl in the Shape of a Cloud; and the multiple award-winning Louise Erdrich, author most recently of The Night Watchman (so good it should win all the awards!).
At the moment I am primarily interested in 20th-century Midwestern literature, and that will be the focus of the so-called Book Club. The first selection is Booth Tarkington’s stunning environmental novel The Turmoil (1914), which is the first of the Growth trilogy. (The e-book is free at Amazon, Project Gutenberg, and other sites.). Tarkington was a two-time Pulitzer winner for his novels The Magnificent Ambersons (the second of the Growth trilogy) and Alice Adams. And The Turmoil is utterly brilliant, as are the other two in the trilogy, The Magnificent Ambersons and The Midlander.
I will post about The Turmoil on September 22. I do hope you’ll join me. You can comment here, or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
And if you want to pitch your favorite Midwestern books, I’d be delighted to hear from you.