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‘Iowa History Journal’ James Hearst article

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The November/December 2012 issue of Iowa History Journal features a story of mine about Iowa poet James Hearst, an important if lesser-known artist of the Regionalist movement that included Grant Wood and Hamlin Garland. An expanded version of an article I’d previously written for Yahoo Voices, it’s titled “Planting Thoughts” and details the life and work of farmer-turned-writer Hearst, who offered a clear-eyed vision of Midwestern agrarian life that was sympathetic but unsentimental.

James Hearst
1900 – 1983

As the sub-heading notes, Hearst overcame tragedy, specifically a diving accident at age 19 that fractured his spine and left him a paraplegic, although he eventually regained the use of his arms. He attempted to continue working the family farm, but Hearst eventually had give that up, at which point he began an illustrious career writing poetry, essays, and short stories and teaching creative writing at the University of Northern Iowa. [read story here]

The timing of my story’s publication was interesting, as I had met Scott Cawelti, a UNI professor who edited The Complete Poetry of James Hearst (Univ. of Iowa Press, 2001), just one week earlier at the Iowa Authors Fair. Scott and I both agree that Hearst was truly an Iowa treasure who is sorely under-appreciated, something we both hope will change eventually.

Being myself a Navy veteran, I was gratified to have my article appear with a cover story about the Sullivan Brothers,who died together during WWII when their ship, the USS Juneau, was sunk by a Japanese torpedo at the Battle of Guadalcanal. As I told IHJ editor Mike Chapman, this story has an added resonance for me: the first of two ships named for the brothers, the destroyer USS The Sullivans, after serving in the Korean War, was decommissioned and docked at a memorial site in my hometown of Buffalo, NY — in fact, I once attended a wedding reception held on the ship.

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2012 Iowa Author Fair

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It’s been a while since I’ve participated in a book fair, so I was pleased when Wendy Delsol contacted me and invited me to be a part of the 2012 Wonder of Words Festival, specifically this year’s Iowa Author’s Fair. Titled “Voices from the Prairie” (not necessarily how I think of myself, but when in Rome . . .), this event featured some sixty Iowa writers representing the full spectrum of literary genres.

Along with the opportunity to chat with local book lovers — and sell a few copies of Warrior of God, of course — the great thing about these events is the chance to meet other authors, particularly those who share my interest in literature and history.

I was especially pleased to get to meet Professor Scott Cawelti, our leading authority on the late James Hearst, about whom I’ve written for Yahoo Voices and Iowa History Journal magazine. Scott, an extremely talented gentleman, is not only a ranking literary scholar and film critic but also an accomplished musician/songwriter as well.

I also greatly enjoyed meeting James Patrick Morgans, a Civil War scholar from Council Bluffs who has written three books about the Underground Railroad in Iowa. In particular, his book about John Todd, an abolitionist clergyman who sheltered John Brown during the “Bleeding Kansas” turmoil, is a subject of keen mutual interest, and James intrigued me with several fascinating local anecdotes from  that historical period.

I was also able to chat with two of my favorite local literary ladies, Alice Meyer, proprietor of Beaverdale Books, and Jan Kaiser, marketing manager for the Des Moines Public Library. Alice and Jan were the driving force of this event, and their tireless efforts to support and promote books — both those who read them and those who write them — rank them among Des Moines’ leading contributors to the local cultural scene.

2012 Iowa Authors Fair
Capitol Square, Des Moines

Yahoo! Voices

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The latest development in my freelancing career involves Yahoo’s Contributor Network, through which writers, bloggers, photographers and videographers  of all sorts, across a wide range of topics and perspectives, contribute articles, stories, opinion pieces, etc.  — and get paid for it!

Gabriel García-Márquez

The general subject categories include news, finance, entertainment, shopping, sports and movies. The specific category that caught my attention was Yahoo Voices, an initiative to build an on-line digital library in areas of general interest such as auto, business, health, tech travel — and even creative writing. Seeing this latter category, out of curiosity I took a look at what kind of stories the editors were looking for. I was pleasantly surprised to see, among the assignments offered, one that would discuss North America’s top five “magical realist” authors. Since discovering Franz Kafka in high school and Gabriel García-Márquez in college, this literary genre has fascinated me.

So I submitted a short article titled Magical Realism: North America’s Top Five Authors, told everyone about it, and quickly garnered over 100 hits.

James Hearst
1900-1983

Encouraged by this start, I then claimed an assignment to write a short essay on my favorite poet. Although my reading tastes tend toward novels, short stories, and historical nonfiction, I was quite taken a few years ago when introduced to the work of James Hearst, a farmer/poet/professor who was Iowa’s unofficial poet laureate throughout most of the 20th century.

USS La Moure Country (LST-1194)

The next assignment that piqued my interest was one calling for a first-person account of some aspect of my military career. Of course, four years in the Navy left me with enough stories, anecdotes and recollections to fill a book. I decided to use a rather vivid episode that I witnessed in Germany on my first extended overseas cruise on my first ship, the USS La Moure County (LST-1194). Titled My Navy Career & Americans’ Historical Memory Loss: What a Doomed Overseas Romance Taught Me, it employs a true-life, latter-day Romeo and Juliet episode to illustrate a larger point about the very selective way Americans learn and remember their history.

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Spec. 5 Dennis Koepp
1940-1968

My fourth article appeared on Memorial Day 2013, when Yahoo voices invited stories from family and friends of American service members who died during military service to share memories and photos of them. I wrote a short piece about an uncle-in-law, Dennis Koepp, who died from a kidney infection while serving in Vietnam as an Army corpsman.

I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from family, friends and professional acquaintances about these articles, and even made a few bucks, too (which is always nice), so I will certainly be contributing further articles as congenial assignments are offered.