Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bibliognome Interviews: Wendy Katz, Project Director and Editor of Lost Writers of the Plains

Today I'm happy to interview Wendy Katz, Project Director and Editor of this very interesting project called Lost Writers of the Plains.

What inspired you to start this project?

I was chatting with the novelist Timothy Schaffert (who teaches at the University of Nebraska, as do I –that’s how I know him). He knows the archives at Prairie Schooner better than most, having worked for the journal, and we got to talking about the idea of "Lost Writers." He had found Ervin Krause a couple of years ago and published a collection of Krause’s short stories, and it inspired me to start digging through the
archives of Prairie Schooner.  I had a lot of criteria: I wanted authors whose lives and work were affected by the Plains; I wanted them to come from different parts of the Plains (we got South Dakota, Kansas, Texas, Iowa and some parts in between as well as Nebraska); I wanted their work to represent different styles (a play, poetry, fiction, essay etc); I wanted the authors themselves to represent different types of examples of why some writers are forgotten (so for example, educated white women are Lost Writers in great numbers, because for most of the 20th century, so many women subordinated their careers to husbands and families, but I didn’t want all the authors to represent this concept), and last but most importantly, I wanted writers whose writing (as well as their personal stories) still held interest for today’s readers.

Do you plan to talk about/remember more lost writers in the future?

There are certainly authors who we were not able to include who deserve a shot at being remembered. Prairie Schooner has a regular “from the Archives” feature on their website that highlights some of them. An editor could put together an interesting collection of just the “pulp fiction” writers who published in Prairie Schooner. I’m sure that anyone who did some digging in the archives of other literary journals (there was one called “Hinterland”—people did not apologize for being from out of the way places!) in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas would find a similar situation of writers who from various circumstances never achieved the recognition they deserved. African American women published verse and other writings in The Ivy Leaf Magazine starting in the 1920s; it would be another interesting source of material.
But I personally am not planning any new work on writers in the near future. My next project is on the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898 in Omaha!

What do you think was the most interesting fact discovered about the writers?

I think that like many people I have an unconscious assumption that the past was a less diverse, less complex place than the present. Obviously that’s not true, people in the past are no different than we are, but it’s easy to think that way because our access to the past is filtered and selective. Researching the Lost Writers helps remind me of all that we don’t hear about or think about when we think about the 1920s, 1930s, 1950s—unwed mothers, and the excitement of royalty checks, Cosmopolitan clubs in Nebraska with students from around the world (including ones whose relatives had been killed by bandits), about poets driving around town and hanging out the Friday fish fry, about the unromantic (and romantic) side of small towns—just the general messiness of a past that doesn’t fit our preconceptions.
Perhaps one ‘fact’ that surprised me might be that Darryl Zanuck (born in Wahoo, NE), founder of 20th Century Fox movie studios, was an important connection for so many Nebraskans to the movies.

I love how interactive the website is, what’s your favorite part of it all?

I’m glad you found the features on the website absorbing! I really like being able to have the experts or commentators ‘speak’ to me while I’m reading. It somehow makes the experience more intimate. If you download the ebook (you need to have an iPad, or an Apple computer; the ibook is available for free on iTunes), it’s even more striking—you open the cover of the ebook, and Kwame Dawes, the editor of Prairie Schooner, starts talking to you.

Do you think people will be surprised by the lives of these writers?

I hope they will be surprised by a sense of connection with them and an awareness of how much chance, and events far beyond the individual writer’s control, affects destiny. It’s striking, I think, how much the obstacles and challenges and desires of writers (and readers) today are still the same.

What is the most important thing that you want people to take away from this project?

I hope they may find a new author to read! Not everyone may love all the authors in this project—we deliberately tried to include different styles—but whether it is Krause’s compelling stories of life on the Plains, or Zolley Lerner’s evocation of a loving family blindsided by a child’s independence, or Faye Lewis’ evocation of how hard it was for
women to build communities on the frontier, or—well, I hope people find a good read!

Is there anything else you want people to know?

If anyone has questions or wants to comment on Lost Writers, they are invited to do so. My email is

Good writers live and write everywhere—I think we live in a wonderful moment when the internet, and bloggers, as well as projects like Lost Writers keep old and new writing alive and well.

You can download the book via iBooks,   

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