Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Schoonering Across the Prairie

A Blog of Sorts

Kwame Dawes and Marianne Kunkel are embarking on a goodwill tour across Nebraska, from public library to public library to connect people with the journal and to celebrate the value of the literary arts in the states. Along the way, they are blogging about their journey. This is Kwame’s first blog entry after a visit to Fremont, Nebraska.

Fremont, NE
Pop. 27,000

The tour begins with the familiar. Whatever notions of frontier adventure I might have lurking in my subconscious don't have purchase. To get from Lincoln to Fremont one must drive through Omaha. And Omaha sprawls wide enough to make Fremont feel like a suburb of the larger city. But it is not. Fremont folks I am told wont hear if it. They like to make their own ordinances, and they no doubt speak with clarity and good sense about their ordinance against illegal immigrants that makes Arizona seem like an older sister. Even people who rent to undocumented visitors will face prosecution. Fremont.
 
The thing is that our tour is not so much about these curiosities. It's not funny. Our tour is a good will tour to tell Nebraska to be proud of its homegrown journal. Twelve cities right across the state. And we start with Fremont.
 
The Keene Memorial public library was a lively square box of delightful color, lots of natural light and much activity for a Saturday afternoon. We strolled in with our boxes, tried to catch the eyes of the front desk lady, but she was too busy. We headed towards one of the three glass entrances in the building and followed a sign that said 'Auditorium'. There was coffee percolating in the room. It was a medium sized room with chairs lined up in four ambitious rows.
 
The library's director, Janet Davenport was expecting us, which was good. But the turnout was low. I say this, of course, not because I expected more people, but because saying six people were there does sound low.
 
Here is a confession: despite doing readings for decades, I still only expect friends and family and the organizers to attend my readings.  I am always certain that I can trace every other audience member directly to a relative or close friend. I must be wrong about this, but when I arrive at a town like Fremont, Nebraska, I only expect the organizer, and in this case since we offered ourselves, I was not entirely sure the host would be there.
 
So six was good. A former director of the library, a woman who once studied in Birmingham, Alabama in the seventies and drove a flashy Pinto with a bright stripe across its sides, was one; a member of the library board, a minister who dabbles in poetry was another; and one curious member of the public: a gentleman who described himself as a letters to the editor writer was the other. I invented the other two. One, a twenty-year-old Hispanic student who came for the coffee and cookies, and the other the ten-year-old grandchild of our letter writer who wandered into the room and wandered out before the poetry.
 
Still it was an attentive audience and the intimacy made it a pleasant afternoon of readings and discussions about Prairie Schooner.  Marianne Kunkel writes poems of wry insight and refreshing honesty and engagement with the world. The small audience really enjoyed her poems, chuckling at the humor and humming in agreement at the insights.
 
This is a start.  We even had the Fremont library promise to resubscribe to Prairie Schooner.  If nothing else came out of this visit, this makes the trip worth it.  And the cookies were lovely, and the coffee, surprisingly delicious.
 
We drove back to Lincoln in the gathering dusk.  It's all good, as they say, it's all good.