Tag Archives: Memoir

Tips for Reading in Your Midwestern Hometown         

Today’s blog post is inspired by Courtney Kersten’s appearance at The Local Store in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where she read from her recently published debut memoir Daughter in Retrograde.

Avoid flippancy as you pack your bag in California. Yes, you really will need wool socks. No, despite any Midwestern fantasy of that one spring where it hit 82º, it won’t happen again. Yes, do bring pantyhose if you’re really going to wear that skirt. Bring your reading glasses. Bring that chamomile tincture. Don’t leave the door without deodorant.

Embrace the urge to ask the flight attendant on your flight from San Jose to Minneapolis for another Biscoff cookie. She’ll hand you three and tell you to stash them quickly. You do. You take her generosity as an omen of good luck. You realize you forgot your book.

When you arrive in your old home, embrace the brown leather jacket your father found in his closet that might be a forgotten leftover from his ex-wife. You look at the tag. You smell the armpits. You dig in the pockets and find a creased receipt. It’s dated from February 2001, a Gordy’s grocery store purchase of one rotisserie chicken. You’re not sure what this means. You decide to wear the coat. You may even take it home with you.

While strolling around your hometown before your reading, avoid the westside Dairy Queen where you once locked yourself in the bathroom as a child and screamed until you heard your mother’s voice on the other side. If you were to return, it would feel metaphorical. Avoid the park where you and your mother once threw bread to the ducks. This wouldn’t feel metaphorical, but it would smear your mascara. Avoid the mall where you and your mother spent hours shimmying in and out of jeans. Avoid the streets around the hospital and the entirety of downtown Chippewa Falls. These places would derail you entirely.

Avoid eating all three Biscoff cookies still stashed in your bag before reading. You’ll fantasize about their sweet snap. You’ll desire their powder on your fingers. You anticipate that it would be reassuring—they were your omen of good luck, weren’t they? You eat all of them five minutes before you’re supposed to read.

Now, embrace the water fountain. Embrace drinking slow. Embrace the book your Aunt Delores offers to let you read from. Embrace the heat shuddering through the vents, causing you to sweat—maybe this is your Midwestern fantasy come true. Maybe you didn’t need those wool socks after all . . .  Embrace the familiar sight of slush near the door reminding you that, yes, you really did need them. Embrace the nostalgia that blossoms within you upon seeing this dirty snow. Embrace turning to the podium and opening your book.

Avoid the quavering that wants to creep in your voice. Avoid that old tick of rocking back and forth in your shoes. Avoid channeling your nervousness into your hands that want to grip the sides of the podium—this may seem bizarre. You don’t want to seem bizarre, but calm and confident—though every sensation pulsing through your body assures you that, indeed, you are not. Avoid fixating on this.

Embrace the silence of an audience listening. Embrace your friends and family who clap for you. Embrace their hugs and congratulatory words whispered into your ear. Embrace the knowledge that the only reason you are here, in your hometown, reading a book you wrote, is because of their role in your life. Embrace this gratitude. Allow it to sit with you like a kitten curling up next to you, snug and purring. Allow this to glide you home and lull you to sleep. Embrace this tranquility.

Courtney Kersten is an essayist and scholar. A native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, she teaches creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her essays can be found in River TeethHotel AmerikaDIAGRAM, The Sonora ReviewBlack Warrior Review, and The Master’s Review.

 

UW Press & John Muir: A long walk together

80th-logo

The National Park Service is 100 this year, and the University of Wisconsin Press is 80. John Muir has had a significant influence on both!

A son of Wisconsin pioneers, University of Wisconsin student, inventor, naturalist, and prolific writer—John Muir is one of the most fascinating figures in American history and the nation’s most celebrated advocate for land preservation and national parks. Muir’s writings convinced the U.S. government to create the first national parks at Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, and Mt. Rainier. An NPS biographical note states, “Muir’s great contribution to wilderness preservation was to successfully promote the idea that wilderness had spiritual as well as economic value. This revolutionary idea was possible only because Muir was able to publish everything he wrote in the . . . principal monthly magazines read by the American middle class in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

The Story of My Boyhood

UW Press editions of Muir’s “The Story of My Boyhood and Youth”

The University of Wisconsin Press has been publishing books by and about John Muir for at least 50 Muirsc1years. In 1965, we reissued Muir’s autobiography, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth. (It was first published before he died in 1914.) Muir recounts in vivid detail his early life: his first eleven years in Scotland; the years 1849–1860 in the central Wisconsin wilderness; and two-and-a-half inventive years in Madison as a student at the recently established University of Wisconsin.

We have also published four different biographies of John Muir.  Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir by Linnie Marsh Wolfe won the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for biography. UWP obtained rights to it, issuing an edition in 1978 and an expanded edition in 2003. Based in large part on personal interviews with people who knew Muir, it follows Muir his life from Scotland through his teens in rural Marquette Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John MuirCounty, Wisconsin, to his history-making pilgrimage to California.

The Pathless Way: John Muir and American Wildernessby scholar Michael P. Cohen, tracks the change in Muir’s aims from personal enlightenment to public advocacy, as he promoted the ecological education of the Pathless WayAmerican public, governmental protection of natural resources, the establishment of the National Parks, and the encouragement of tourism.

The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy by Stephen Fox is both a biography—the first to make unrestricted use of all of Muir’s manuscripts and personal papers—and a history of a century of environmental activism. Fox traces the conservation movement from Muir’s successful campaign to establish Yosemite National Park in 1890 to the 1980s concerns of nuclear waste and acid rain.

The American Conservation Movement

The Young John Muir

The Young John Muir: An Environmental Biography by Steven J. Holmes, published in 1999, offered a dramatically new interpretation of Muir’s formative years. Holmes uses rich archival material to show how the natural world confronted the young Muir with practical, emotional, and religious conflicts. Only with the help of his family, his religion, and the extraordinary power of nature itself could Muir in his late twenties find a welcoming vision of nature as home—a vision that would shape his lifelong environmental experience, most immediately in his transformative travels through the South and to the Yosemite Valley.

In the 1970s through the 1990s, UWP was very active in publishing both new collections and reissues of Muir’s writings about his wilderness travels. Some of these are now out of print, but his impassioned work of promotion, Our National Parks, remains a steady seller. Originally published in 1901, its goals were to entice people to visit the newly established parks and to Our National Parksencourage public support for conservation. The book treats Yellowstone, Sequoia, General Grant, and other national parks of the Western U.S., but especially Yosemite.

Articles that Muir wrote for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin in 1874 and 1875 comprise John Muir Summering in the Sierra, edited by Robert E. Engberg. In the course of the articles,  Muir grows from a student of the wilderness to its professor and protector.Yosemite, Alaska

John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, first published by Knopf in 1938, was reissued by UWP in 1979. John Muir: To Yosemite and Beyond, collected writings from the period 1863 to 1875, was published in 1980. Muir’s book The Yosemite was reissued in 1987, and Letters from Alaska appeared in 1993. All are now out of print with UWP.
Walking With Muir across Yosemite

In 1998, UWP published Tom and Geraldine Vale’s retracing of Muir’s steps, Walking with Muir across Yosemite, based upon Muir’s journals from his first summer in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From the foothills through Yosemite Valley and up to the Tuolumne Meadows, the Vales follow the present roads and trails that crossed Muir’s route, imagining his reaction to the landscape while reflecting on the natural world in both his time and our own.

We look forward to publishing a selection of Muir’s writing in A Driftless Area Reader edited by Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley, forthcoming sometime in 2017.

Subscribe to our blog (at right) to read more UWP history throughout the coming year.

Read past 80th anniversary blog posts here.