I’ve blogged before about the cool things going on at Rural America Contemporary Art (RACA), but now the fine folks have launched the first issue of the online magazine.
Why do I think this is great? Being “rural” is important to me. It’s a huge part of my identity. I grew up in a small Minnesota town, and now I live in a small Minnesota town about 25 miles away from my hometown. I’ve been perfectly happy in this setting all these years. My writing would not have been any different had I lived in Minneapolis or Chicago or San Francisco. The city wouldn’t have made me a better writer. In fact, as I was working on my memoir, being so close to the place about which I was writing was immensely helpful.
I believe in the psyche of places, that the spirituality of a place sinks into you and puts down roots. If I were to leave here, I’m certain the sense of uprootedness would spring me loose, make me wobble.
I sometimes dream of living along the shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota (who doesn’t? It’s so incredibly beautiful), but I can’t imagine ever leaving this state. We have a good thing going on here. The coasts may ignore us, agents and editors in New York may pass over a “Midwestern” manuscript, but we go about our lives unimpeded.
RACA Online features work by talented artists: John Jodzio, Debra Monroe, Norwood Creech. My friend and beautiful person, Nicole Helget, writes this about living in a rural place. She brings to her writing a sensibility that comes from growing up on a Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, farm. If you haven’t read her memoir The Summer of Ordinary Ways, rush, rush, rush out and get it.
Richard Gilbert said:
Fine sentiments, much truth. That is a gorgeous journal, too!
I never experienced the rural until I went on my grand RV adventure and lived in Missouri. It was so very foreign to me and I felt out of place. But the longer I stayed, the more attractive it became. I became enchanted with the culture and, importantly, the people. It is truly a wonderful thing that markets allow for local publishing houses, and I hope that with this changing climate in publishing and self publishing, this will continue to grow.
I appreciate your perspective! If I went to an urban area I would similarly feel like a “fish out of water.” I like visiting the city (in my case, Minneapolis), and I like hanging out there for a while, but I think if I lived there I would feel claustrophobic.
A number of fantastic presses are willing to publish voices from the heartland; for that, I am grateful!
Tracy Lee Karner said:
I agree with you. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the value of place, and the seeming contempt that the coasts have for life in the middle. I thought it was some kind of superiority complex (and sometimes it is), but I think it isn’t actually very much about the value of life or even of literature (for the publishers who view a memoir or book as too “midwestern”), it’s about the statistics of profitability and markets. When they say “no one gets excited about quite midwestern stories,” what they mean is, “the people we’re marketing to don’t respond to those stories, and the vehicles we market with don’t reach the people who would respond, and it’s too costly (when weighed against the return), or inexplicable to market in ways that would reach those people who would respond.”
That makes the goals and the marketing business of national publishers and its writers, who hope for blockbuster returns on a national level, entirely different from that of regional publishers and writers, who are living and reflecting the nuances and qualities of a particular place and its impact on individuals and society. There’s a place for both, and I’m so glad that small presses publish the kind of work I prefer to read.
There is a place for both, for sure! And you’re right about the way that books are marketed by the big houses. They *could* market more voices from the heartland, but it would take a lot of effort and money, and the risk is too high. Might as well stick with a formula that is safe.
I’m teaching an Intro to Mass Media class right now so the corporate media world is very much on my mind! It makes me mad every semester. So much content (books, movies, TV) is just formula. I wish we as consumers would rise up and rebel en masse!
Tracy Lee Karner said:
We could rebel (there’s enough consciousness of the problem)–but we need a viable articulated plan, and leaders. And oodles of money or a huge crew of people who are willing to donate time to the work.
Or maybe what we’re doing IS rebelling, in a quiet way–just writing what we believe in writing, living the life we believe we ought to live…