My interview with the Rural Lit R.A.L.L.Y.

So, there’s this initiative out here on the interwebs that’s aimed at reviving interest in America’s literature about rural life—a joint venture of Buffalo State College (New York) and Buena Vista University (Iowa), the goal is to raise the profile of American novels about farm and country life that are disappearing from the national memory and conversation.  The idea in the long run is to work with universities, colleges, museums, and other cultural and educational institutions across the country to publicize books, get them in classrooms and libraries, etc., but you don’t have to take my word for it: you can find out more about the Rural Lit R.A.L.L.Y. at their website.

Anyway, these excellent people were steered my way by a friend of Following Pulitzer, Nancy Gluck of Silver Season (thanks, Nancy!), given that I’ve been reading a lot of semi-neglected rural American novels.  Veteran readers of my blog will be interested/amused/horrified to learn that one of Rural Lit R.A.L.L.Y.’s rural novels, and the novel they are in fact featuring this month, is none other than Margaret Wilson’s The Able McLaughlins.  Yes, that book.  And before you ask, the good people at RLR (who are fans of Wilson’s work) already know how I feel about the book, and nevertheless wanted to associate themselves with me—if that isn’t proof that us book bloggers are an open-minded and non-judgmental sort, I don’t know what is.  Anyway, they’re interested in linking to (and even excerpting from, with my permission) Following Pulitzer, and otherwise involving me at least peripherally in helping spread the word about America’s good rural literature—I’m pushing for them to give some much-needed attention to the wonderful Now in November, for instance.

This picture isn't the link to the interview, in case you were wondering...it's a link in the text to the left.

I swear, I only said a couple of unkind things about The Able McLaughlins in the interview—I think I deserve some credit for restraint. (Photo credit: smiling_da_vinci)

All of this is to say that, as a part of this association with RLR, they asked me if I’d be willing to be interviewed, and I said I’d be delighted to.  Right now, posted on their website, is a lengthy interview with me, so if you’re interested in my reflections on what I’ve learned so far, which rural novels I’d single out for praise (and why), how my work as a teacher has affected my project, etc., there’s a lot of pondering and pontificating there that I’ve never posted here.  Head to that link to find out even more insights into my psyche and this crazy quest I’m on.  And, in general, I hope you’ll poke around RLR’s site a bit and find out more about what they’re up to.  I’m still learning about their work (and how I might collaborate a little, down the road), and I think it’s definitely something that people who love books should be informed about.  Cheers to you all, and I hope October’s being good to you so far!

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“Claude Wheeler opened his eyes before the sun was up and vigorously shook his younger brother, who lay in the other half of the same bed. …”

The opening line of One of Ours, a novel by Willa Cather, and the recipient of the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, introduces us at once to the book’s central character, Claude.  There’s something refreshing about the shift in scenery and focus in this book.  Cather’s novel is set well out away from the captains of industry and complicated social networks I’ve been moving among for weeks now on this project.  Granted, the Wheelers are a wealthy family (by rural Nebraskan standards), but Claude’s still waking up his younger brother Ralph out of excitement that the circus is in town, and Claude will have to drive the wagon and mule team into town that day to sell some rank-smelling horsehide for his father.  This isn’t wealth in the way Mrs. Manson Mingott experienced it.

What I’m struck by so far is the inherent decency of the people in this society.  They have their flaws and faults, but generally they seem to be honest and straight-forward people with a sense of honor and ethics.  Claude, for example, has a bit of a temper and doesn’t get along with his older brother Bayliss, but when a rich friend of Claude’s mentions with pride that he’d struck Bayliss in the face for his rudeness, Claude insists on fighting his friend to defend the family honor.  When his friend refuses, Claude asks him to stop the car, because Claude will walk home rather than accept a ride from someone who’s struck his brother.  There’s a kind of nobility to Claude: he is a scholar (and befriended a young immigrant who has become his close friend and study partner) as much as any Nebraska farmboy circa 1915 had the opportunity to be a scholar.

I don’t want to dig into the details of the society too much yet, since I can’t tell what matters.  Claude’s father has a tendency to hire objectionable (and incompetent) hired hands, most of whom don’t seem to get along with Claude, but this fault is mitigated by the fact that Mr. Wheeler doesn’t need a successful farm to be rich.  He acquired so much land long ago, his rents will surely see him through any hard times.  Claude has some brief encounters with friends and acquaintances in town when he goes in to see the circus.  And there’s a long-standing disagreement over college: Claude feels he ought to go to the state college, but his mother insists on him attending a small religious college, out of her faith in ministers as conduits of truth.  I can say this, though: the characters seem real, they seem grounded in their environment, and I feel as though I can understand them and connect with them.

More will follow once more has been read, but the early signs are promising.  I hope Willa Cather proves worthier of her reputation than Tarkington did!