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"The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you."

-W. Somerset Maugham​

Read North Dakota is a comprehensive resource to find books by North Dakotans,  those about the state and its people, and brief biographical sketches of North Dakota-born authors.

In the cold snowy months of February and March 1994, seven North Dakota-born writers offered observations on “the language of the land" they grew up in and how their writing has been affected by the regional landscapes of the Northern Plains.  This celebration and examination of North Dakota's literary heritage was inspired by a traveling exhibit from the Library of Congress called "The Language of the Land:  Journeys into Literary America," that appeared at the State Historical Society of North Dakota in 1994.  North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains published a special issue of the presentations in Summer 1995. 

 

Here are a few excerpts from the authors who spoke and read from their works.  You will find their books and many, many more throughout this website.

From Kathie Ryckman Anderson, author of Dakota:  The Literary Heritage of the Northern Prairie State (UND Press, 1990):

The land is an important character and theme in North Dakota literature.  Writers focus on the beauty of the land or the unforgiving land; the solace the land provides or the starkness and sameness; the labor required.  Many writers focus on the relationship of the people and the land.  Depending upon one's point of view, the land can be life-giving or life-threatening. The reality of the land is not always beautiful. 

 

From Larry Woiwode, author of novels, poetry, biography, and memoirs; poet laureate of North Dakota:

Our language has been refined further by the mechanical precision of German diction, darkened by the oceanic despair of Scandinavian locutions and rhythms, by the frosty poetry of the Icelands, and the love of the earth and country as mother which Russian best conveys.  But the importance Dakotans ascribe to landscape and the land has a source that few have examined:  the Native American sense of holiness.

 

From David R. Solheim, North Dakota Centennial Poet:

Strictly speaking, land doesn't have a language of its own.  It is the interaction of land and light, sky and wind; of land and water, rainfall and river, that creates the unarticulated language of painting and music—the sound, color, and shape that human beings may experience directly from the land.  In response to that experience, some of us attempt to articulate the human translation which becomes language that speaks of land and sometimes for land, but always through human intercession, the human interpretation of the primal language.

 

From Larry Watson, novelist and poet:

[In the woods of Wisconsin] . . . I didn't have to stand there very long.  Soon I could tell what the language of the land was, and I don't think it's very different here—it is silence, absolute silence.  If you don't believe me, you can drive out to the prairie and listen, and I'm sure you'd hear the same language.  In fact, I think we probably have more than our fair share of silence in this region . . . Maybe our land caught the silence from the people, from our restraint, our skepticism, our pragmatism. 

Louise Erdrich read an essay, “Nests," from her memoir about being a mother, The Blue Jay's Dance (Harper Collins, 1995):

[Upon finding a nest in the yard] . . . It is almost too painful to hold the nest, too rich, as life often is with children.  I saw the bird, quick breathing, small, thrilling like a heart.  I heard its song, high and clear, beating in its throat.  I see that bird along in the nest wove from the hair of my daughters, and I cannot hold the nest because longing seizes me.  Not only do I feel how quickly they are growing from the curved shape of my arms when holding them, but I wanted to sit in the presence of my own mother so badly I feel my heart will crack.

 

From Lois Phillips Hudson, author of both a memoir and novel describing life in southeastern North Dakota:

When I think of the “Language of the Land," I think of how we do so much defining of ourselves long before we've acquired the vocabulary to tell ourselves that is what we are doing.  And when we begin to examine this lifelong process of defining ourselves, we find that we have literally engaged the whole universe. 

 

Richard Critchfield read from his two books dealing with North Dakota--Those Days and Trees, Why Do You Wait?—and his ongoing interest in village life globally:  

"Rural life can have its shortcomings.  Farming has always meant hard physical labor.  But my main point is: farming creates societies that work.  It creates a very durable and basic culture.  And we need to save as many farms and small towns as we can because America's urban culture is at stake."

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