#115 Dakota by Kathleen NorrisI’ve been reading Dakota by Kathleen Norris. (I’m listening on tape, actually.) Because her grandmother lived in South Dakota and she vacationed there as a child, she isn’t exactly an outsider. However, her education and Eastern upbringing make her somewhat suspect when she and her husband move there in 1974. Much of Dakota appears to be a diary--spiritual thoughts and meditations. Amazing how the printed page helps you figure that out--but a tape gives no visual clues. I find I miss them terribly.
She writes about doing writing workshops--for children, for women. The plains women who want to be writers have a problem because there are no secrets in a small town (sounds familiar, since I grew up in a small Midwestern town). Hard to disguise your characters. The women belong to so many activities--clubs, church groups, extension--they can’t find time to write. People who do write about the plains successfully, have usually moved away. One woman who was successful and got a column in the local paper, found she was completely ignored by her friends. Nor do they want to read novels by plains people who have left--Norris says they want lies (that must have made the locals happy).
Norris seems to spend a lot of time in a Benedictine monastery (don’t know where, but on the plains), but is a member of a struggling Presbyterian church in Lemmon. One tiny church named Hope near Keldron she served as a lay pastor. Texts about Advent are accepted there, she says--in town they are eager to get on to Christmas. Waiting is something they are good at. She is humbled and in awe--and describes little Hope Church as near the top in per capita giving among Presbyterians in South Dakota.
Outsiders (and she is one) are never really accepted, she says. But she understands how homesteading had this influence--the women particularly had only each other to help. Only the toughest survived--and they had a love/hate relationship with the plains--and that has been passed on.
The internet has come into common use since this book was written, and I’m assuming much has changed in the last 10 years, although not the geographic isolation. Some of the towns and churches she mentions now have web sites.