This is a book of stories about a North Dakota town before the oil boom changed everything, about the virtues displayed in the place the author grew up. This may not seem like much of a promising premise for a memoir, but the book is surprising, inspiring, deeply personal—and a page-turner.
Edwards grew up in Stanley, North Dakota, one county south of the Canadian border and smack dab in the Bakken oil deposits that transformed western North Dakota in the past few years into an overpopulated, industrialized, polluted area with all the ills of a fast-moving oil boom that now seems to be dying down. This is all covered in the introductory chapter in which the old and new Stanleys are contrasted.
The heart of the story of Old Stanley is in a series of eight virtues inherent in a small Great Plains farming community that are illustrated with the lives and actions of the town’s inhabitants. The stories are unique to Stanley but similar to the history and culture of many such places on the Plains. Each virtue has its own main characters and stories, often daunting and all providing their own kind of heroes.
The virtues are resoluteness, steadfastness, devotion to community, pluck, commitment, dauntless optimism, spirit of adventure and modesty. That residents of a small North Dakota town can so supremely exemplify these universal qualities of hope and life is a tribute to Plains culture in America.
Richard Edwards is the director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a longtime professor of economics with a Ph.D. from Harvard and has served as chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Find Natives of a Dry Place: Stories of Dakota before the Oil Boom at sdhspress.com for $16.95, plus shipping and handling.
An interesting book blog featuring Christmas descriptions through the ages has added The Jumping-Off Place to its list of books. A nice little review accompanies the short excerpt. Worth checking out!
It is always nice to have someone else tell you what a great job you are doing. When we start work on a book, we believe that it is going to be good, otherwise why else would we start the project. When the book is finally printed and people start reading it there is a little nervous energy. Will people like it? Will they want to buy it? Will they tell other people about it? So, when someone tells you directly, through a review, that you have done something good, well, let’s just say that the office is a happy place.
Here’s what the esteemed School Library Journal has just written about Dance in a Buffalo Skull. As you can imagine, we’re rather chuffed!
School Library Journal, 3/1/2008 ZITKALA-ŠA. Dance in a Buffalo Skull. vol. 2. illus. by S. D. Nelson. unpaged. (Prairie Tales from the South Dakota State Historical Society Press). bibliog. glossary. CIP. South Dakota State Historical Society. 2007. Tr $14.95. ISBN 978-0-9777955-2-9. LC 2007007099.
PreS-Gr 2—Zitkala-Ša recorded this Yankton Sioux story more than 100 years ago, but this tale of mice caught unaware is still satisfyingly scary. Out on the deep, dark prairie, a large group of mice is having a wild party inside an old buffalo skull. The small creatures, in festive paint and costume, are dancing, singing, and eating with abandon, and they have neglected to put anyone on security detail. Out of the dark emptiness stalks a wildcat that waits until the height of the music to suddenly appear, abruptly ending the festivities. This story was created to remind Yankton Sioux children to keep an eye out at all times, and it still does that. Zitkala-Ša is a wonderful storyteller—even with some old-fashioned language, the narrative tension builds deliciously to the scene of the fleeing mice. Nelson’s illustrations add to the tension between the creeping wildcat and the celebrating mice. Even the dark is a character here—children will almost need to squint through the shadows to see the animals at night. In the pictures of the party, by contrast, the glowing light and excited mice seem to vibrate with action. This tale would be perfect in a scary storytime, told with the lights down low.—Susan E. Murray, Glendale Public Library, AZ