“My dear Students,
If I could endow every young person in Nebraska and in the world with two things, and two things only, I should choose not beauty or fame or power or riches. I should choose to endow you with courage and a love for reading.”
So begins a letter written by Great Plains author Mari Sandoz (1896-1966). “With a fondness for reading you would have at your elbow, as often as you liked, all the strange and precious things of the world and never have to guard them against thieves and never have to dust them at all.
And with courage—ah, with courage you would find that all the obstacles of the world shrink away before you and are as nothing.
Take these two gifts then, if you will. They are yours, not from me but from yourself. And if you go out as a teacher, office worker, housewife or any other position, even writer, they will serve you well, particularly if you wish to be a writer will you need these two gifts ever with you.
Sincerely, Mari Sandoz”
In the spirit of Mari Sandoz’s courage and love of reading, writers gathered for the Story Catcher Summer Writing Workshop and Festival at the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center at Chadron State College in Chadron, NE to explore the art and craft of writing. I was thrilled to be included to give workshops on Writing the Land, Meadowlark, and Will this Book EVER Be Published? (Presentation materials that I gave for each of these workshops are attached to the bottom of the page of this piece.)
Conference creator and organizer Dr. Matt Evertson wove together three days of workshops, walking and writing the land, and readings at Open Mic night at the local coffee shop to create a textured writing experience that captured the essence of this year’s theme “What’s YOUR Story?”
Author and buffalo rancher Dan O’Brien (Buffalo for the Broken Heart, Stolen Horses) kicked off the conference with his keynote “Writing the High Lonesome,” exploring James R. Mead’s book Hunting and Trading on the Great Plains 1859-1875 and the essential component in writing—a writer’s honesty with oneself on the page, including one’s own internal beasts. If a writer isn’t willing to recognize those beasts and let them loose on the page, the reader senses this lack of authenticity and honesty.
The gardens around the High Plains Heritage Center overflowed with native grasses and flowers and I found some of Grandma Grace’s hidden prairie roses blooming amidst the other flowers.
Writers and I dove together into writing the land, the journey of Meadowlark, and composing a writing life. We talked, we wrote, we mused, and we wrote some more.
While writing the land, we explored how the land can convey character, emotion, connection, and story. As we looked at composing a writer’s life, writers created visual representations in word, image, and art of their own maps of a writing life. This is the first time that I’ve woven this aspect into this presentation and I’ll definitely do again. To see these unique, individual, authentic paths of a writing life was such a treat. I am going to create one myself.
The presentations are attached here, including the steps writers took to write the land and to create their individual maps of a writing life.
I think again of Mari Sandoz, the spirit of her writing and teaching surrounded us and grounded us in this place. “With a fondness for reading you would have at your elbow, as often as you liked, all the strange and precious things of the world and never have to guard them against thieves and never have to dust them at all. And with courage—ah, with courage you would find that all the obstacles of the world shrink away before you and are as nothing.”
The Story Catcher Writing Festival and Workshop was a time of deep writing, deep musing, deep laughter, newfound friendships, and promises to stay in touch.
I am grateful for all.
Now, I think I am going to go and compose that map of a writer’s life.
Presentations included here:
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