cover image Great Plains Literature

Great Plains Literature

Linda Ray Pratt. Bison, $14.95 trade paper (174p) ISBN 978-0-8032-9070-9

Pratt (Matthew Arnold Revisited), a professor emeritus of English at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, provides a well-informed, if overly brief, introduction to the literature of the Great Plains, an area she defines with some precision: “Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri are not the Great Plains; the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas are.” Her survey includes discussions of writers well-known (Willa Cather, John Steinbeck) and less so (Zitkala Ša, Mari Sandoz), and touches on the dispossession of Native Americans (John G. Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks), the Tulsa race riot of 1921 (Rilla Askew’s Fire in Beulah), and class relations and political corruption (Sandoz’s Capital City), among other subjects. Pratt values historical accuracy; she cautions that Cather must be read carefully to “see in her novels of the West what was once there that is lost, as well as what was never there at all,” while Lois Phillips Hudson’s Bones or Plenty is praised for its unflinching realism, and even Ole Rölvaag’s Peder Victorious is forgiven for its “tedious” account of schism within the Lutheran church (“it is an important part of the story of settlement and assimilation”). Pratt finishes with a discussion of contemporary Plains writers, including novelist Louise Erdrich and poet Ted Kooser. Pratt’s study is a worthwhile introduction to a body of literature perhaps not as well-known as it should be. (Mar.)