An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk

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9780195132649: An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk
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From Walt Whitman's catalog of America to Thomas Hart Benton's American epics painted on walls across the country to Studs Terkel's documentaries, much artistic and literary labor has stemmed from the urge to figure out what makes this country tick. Any attempt at so large a canvas as this disparate country will be fragmented and incomplete, but like Benton's 1932 mural "American Today", American Mosaic is composed of pieces that taken together provide a vivid look at vanishing scenes of American life.
Here, Robert Wolf offers a collective autobiography of the American heartland written for the most part by everyday men and women without literary ambition. Focusing on the second half of the twentieth century, this collection of essays, short stories, poems, and memoirs--woven together with Wolf's introductory notes--is the culmination of nine years of Free River Press writing workshops conducted by Wolf for the purpose of documenting contemporary American life.
The volume includes work from homeless men and women from Tennessee, small farmers in rural Iowa, residents of Midwestern small towns, the Mississippi Delta, and river communities on the Mississippi. These first-person, eyewitness accounts offer glimpses of daily life: the farmers' struggles against large corporations; poetic meditations on life in the streets, on the road, and in prison; tall tales of river town saloons; and the social rituals of cooking, town hall and party phone lines across America's small towns. Among many narratives, American Mosaic gives us the ruminations of a homeless woman over a martini in El Gilbert's poem "Drunk," descriptions of hearty, communal meals during the July harvest in Clara Leppert's piece "Meals for Threshers," a picture of the goings-on in a West Helena, Arkansas juke joint with Chris Crawford's essay "Lucky Lacey," and the reminiscences of a former Mississippi River towboat captain in Jack Libby's "The Midnight Watch Change."
Together, these diverse stories comprise panels of a literary mural of America. American Mosaic is a compelling testament to regional and local American voices and folkways which are fast disappearing through the relentless push towards a global economy and culture.

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About the Author:


Robert Wolf is Executive Director of the Free River Press. He is a writer and teacher who has lived and worked in many regions of the country. A former columnist for the Chicago Tribune, in the 1970s Wolf taught in public and private schools and colleges, and now runs private seminars and workshops. He lives in Lansing, Iowa.

From Kirkus Reviews:

An appealing collection of simple but diverse writings by seldom-heard American voices. A teacher and a former Chicago Tribune columnist, Wolf has amassed selections culled from nine years of conducting writing workshops with amateurs in various rural communities. Wolf hears America singing by recording poems and essays by the homeless, farmers, commune inhabitants, and residents of small river townsthe most common and least represented element in our urban, urbane culture. What weaves these pieces together is a sense of sadness and nostalgia because a way of life is disappearing. Wolf sees the rapid technological advances of the past few decades as increasingly dehumanizing. Jettisoned in its wake, he theorizes, are the thousands of mentally ill homeless, the newly unemployed and impoverished, the low-tech and depressed small-town dwellers, and the abandoned company ghosts of the manufacturing era. Local education has failed in the misery belt ``because those driving this society are, as a class, anti-intellectual and unimaginative.'' These elegiac themes dominate. The homeless bemoan the lack of decent employment; the farmers recall a bucolic past before pesticides and conglomerateswhen they were ``embraced by the land''; and the children of provincial midwestern towns are eager to leave their homes and dead-end futures. Among the older generation, any machines that dont improve phones or TVs can only bring trouble. One of the anthologys standouts is Mary Ann Fels, who graphically describes her decision to break with some of the formal, decor-related wedding traditions of the Amana Church in Iowa, where the wrong haircut earned one excommunication. The old German Board of Trustees were anxious to host the increasingly rare ceremony, but they asked the couple not to do anything too wild. None of the contributions will be mistaken for literature, yet the writers have much to say that has not been heard and is worth preserving. A vivid, folk-art look into rarely documented American lives. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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