Monday, December 13, 2010

Place-Identity and the Great Plains

Hello PSR contributors and readers! I am writing to you shortly after our interview with conservationist photographer, Michael Forsberg, who will be featured in this years edition of the magazine. We had a really great talk with him, and I am excited for you all to read what had to say about his work. When I was preparing my questions for Forsberg, I was reminded of a Literature in Nature class I took over the summer a few years ago, and the kind of Great Plains writing I was introduced to.

The book on our reading list dedicated to the Great Plains was John Price's Not Just Any Land, which explores a sense of place on the plains. As a native Nebraskan who has lived here his entire life, I was especially interested in the contents of this book. One of the concepts I hear floating around all the time as an English major at UNL is this abstract idea of "Place," capital P. As a younger student, I had incorporated this turn-of-phrase into my lexicon of English major humor, as a way to laugh at the absurdities of the field. This book, however, helped me seriously consider and actualize what the idea of "place," lower-case p.

The standard questions of "what is place?" and "where is home?" aside, Price's book helps readers understand how an identity centered in the location one makes one's home and the reasons behind the home-making can motivate an individual to learn and conserve the physical realm in which they reside. It sounds abstract and intangible, yes; but rest assured Price writes with an accessible and thoughtful style, patiently and honestly revealing his journey through the plains and his encounters with those who have written about them.

I've been all over the United States during my life time. I've spent a great deal of time on the East Coast, explored the forests in Alaska, wandered the San Antonio River Walk, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and hiked through Colorado. But I've also ridden my bike across the state of Nebraska five times, and I've spent much of my life getting personal with the land. Many of my strongest memories of my childhood are ingrained in the prairie. As I read through Price's considerations of how writers operate and interact with the land, I found a lot that resonated with me. Issues of regional writers, writers who write outside the region they are interested in, and writers who seem to have it tough because the Midwest lacks the big-name publishing companies held up in New York: as a writer who has found identity in classical literature and local, modern poetry (among other writings), I am increasingly interested in place-identities.

If you also feel a draw to a certain place, feel it characterizes the way you live your live, give this book a read. Not Just Any Land delivers a great commentary on these concepts and also speaks to the power and worth of the Great Plains as a place to protect and admire. Michael Forsberg's photography is a fantastic look into the merits Price bring to light in his book.

I will leave you with some questions:
If you are a native to the Great Plains, how is your perception of home shaped by the landscape?
If you are reading us from outside the region, how does writing from the Great Plains shape how you perceive it? How does it inform your own perception of home in your region?

Give Price's book a read if you want to learn more:

And check out Michael Forsberg's work!

Have a safe Holiday season! Look out for more updates as we near submission deadlines!

-Neal Gebhard