A Sense of Place

“I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.” William Faulkner

When asked, I usually offer wannabe writers that hoary old advice, “write what you know.â€? For a lot of people who put pen to paper do just that. Many of those, who practice the most solitary of professions, seek in their writing a search for home.

They try—in the words of Norman Mailer—“to come up with a sense of place as large as one’s birthplace or as small as the thought that takes place in a room.â€? Eudora Welty once spoke of place as “a gathering.â€? “It conspires with the artist,â€? she said, “we are surrounded by our own story—we live and move in it.â€?

That place is not confined to the Mississippi scenes of Faulkner and others of the southern school, or to the tales of Larry McMurty’s cowboy country. The Midwest stories of the early Mark Twain or his successor, Garrison Keillor, embrace their location.

There are the Nebraska poems of our recent Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser. And closer to home, the novels of “Moo”) or Phil Strong, who published “State Fair” the year I was born. And even closer to home, MacKinley Kantor and his “Spirit Lake”—based on the massacre in the 1800s, or Remsen-born Curtis Harnack and his “Gentlemen on the Prairie.”

These authors speak to us mind to mind, heart to heart. They provide a tide of words with thoughts that live in the feeling of place.

In my instance, Iowa—and Marcus—grabbed my heart. It’s a place I return to in my reading and writings. It’s a place to warm my being in the years of involuntary exile.

For we have lived all over in my career travels—Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, Hawaii (my South Dakota wife’s spiritual home), Indiana, Washington D.C., and crazy New York. (My wife’s relatives have always speculated that all that moving around was because I couldn’t keep a job).

But Iowa keeps calling me back—perhaps because it’s full of friendly folks. Perfectly sane strangers say “Hi!â€?

So I feel comfortable in reading and writing about my beloved place—even though I don’t live there any more. I often think that examining your sense of place just deepens the mystery of it.

And anyhow, writing about someplace else requires research. I’m too old for that anymore.

What Iowa authors have touched you?

Bob Reed


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