State Poet Matt Mason’s collection, I Have a Poem the Size of the Moon, presents the Midwest he loves, and the one forgotten by time. His poems are infused with humor and sadness at they way things were and how they are now. Equal parts longing for the simpler times and thumbing his nose at the nostalgic, Mason reflects on the advancement of society in a state where it is possible to see the modern and the simple abut.
Author Archives: Kyle Williams
Matt Mason, Nebraska Author
Nebraska’s current State Poet, Matt Mason, writes about the seemingly conflicting sides of the state – its rural farmlands and the cities of concrete. He was born in 1968, attended college in California, and in 2019 was named Nebraska’s third State Poet.
The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee
The Nebraska sandhills are a land forever uncivilized. Even the plains to the south seem populated with farmlands and rows of crops. But in the sandy soils where nothing grows save wild grass, feelings of loneliness and desolation are difficult to fight off. This land is the setting for Bones of Paradise, and the opening chapters quickly relate the grim aspect of the place. A shallow, sandy grave holds the fresh body of a Native girl. A local ranch boss who stumbles upon her is quickly slain by a hand he knows. Another man soon comes along and is also shot down by a young stranger, but lives to help uncover the mystery. Who is responsible for these crimes? Why were they committed? And even more mysterious, why did the young girl’s corpse appear fresher than the men’s?
Jonis Agee, Nebraska Author
Following the tradition of Mari Sandoz and Tillie Olsen, Jonis Agee creates historical stories of harsh life in the Midwest, especially focusing on the desolate sandhills of Western Nebraska. Born in Omaha in 1943, she grew up in Nebraska and Missouri, and attended Central High School. She went on to receive her BA at Iowa University, then her MA and PhD at SUNY Binghamton.
Nebraska by Alexander Payne
How far would you travel for a million dollars? Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne, follows Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern, as he attempts to collect the winnings of a sweepstakes flyer claiming he’s won one million dollars, traveling from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska. His son David, played by Will Forte, takes it upon himself to take his father, knowing the money doesn’t exist but unwilling to let his elderly father travel alone. David’s rocky relationship with his girlfriend provides an extra reason to leave for a while.
Alexander Payne, Nebraska Director and Screenwriter
While often portrayed in works of fiction by native authors, Nebraska is not usually captured on film. However, Omaha director and screenwriter Alexander Payne frequently uses the state as a backdrop for his character-driven films. Born in Omaha in 1961, Payne attended Brownell-Talbot School, Dundee Elementary School, and Lewis and Clark Junior High. He graduated high school from Creighton Prep. He graduated from Stanford and UCLA Film School with Fine Arts degrees
A Lantern in Her Hand
A Lantern in Her Hand tells the life story of Abbie Deal and her life in the Midwest at a time when it was the newly minted West. The first of her family born in the United States, her father a wealthy aristocrat and her mother a lowly peasant, Abbie embodies the two clashing sides of her parents, making her a true American. She identifies with her paternal grandmother, a well-to-do lady who disapproved of her son’s marriage, but on the frontier Abbie will need her maternal family’s grit and courage to survive.
Bess Streeter Aldrich, Nebraska Author
Much like her contemporary Mari Sandoz, Bess Streeter Aldrich examines life on the Great Plains near the turn of the century. But unlike Sandoz’s novels which often focus on the decay of the promise of the West, Aldrich seeks to display the hope and optimism that defined those living on the frontier. She infuses her narratives with romance and adventure, as well-to-do women head West and are confronted with the beauty and danger of the uncharted territories and burgeoning towns.
The Blizzard Voices by Ted Kooser
Nebraska is notorious for its unpredictable and often extreme weather. While today we can anticipate shifts in forecast thanks to technology, those living centuries ago were subject to harsh, fickle nature. One of the worst of these dramatic episodes took place on January 12, 1888 across the Great Plains. Called the “Schoolchildren’s Blizzard,” this sudden snowstorm took the region by surprise, killing 235 people, including many trapped in schoolhouses, caught on farms, or trying to make their way back home in the storm. In his homage to those lost and those who survived, Ted Kooser wrote The Blizzard Voices, a book of poems that read like recounted memories of the event.
Ted Kooser, Nebraska Author
United States Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006, Ted Kooser is known for his simple yet evocative poems distilling the wide-open spaces of the Great Plains into easy to digest scenes while managing to relate the wonder inherent in the everyday. Born in Ames, Iowa in 1939, he began writing in grade school and was a steady patron at the local library. Ted continued his education at Iowa State University studying English and student taught classes. After receiving his Bachelor’s he was offered a graduate readership opportunity from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, moving there with his wife in 1963. Despite winning awards for his poetry, he lost his readership due to a poor GPA.