Prairie Schooner Library Tour 2012 Travel Blog

First Stop: Familiar/Unfamiliar Fremont

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by Marianne Kunkel 


I have an annoying habit of comparing new music to music I already know. For example, a few months ago when my husband introduced me to the band Tame Impala’s new album, my first response was, “They sound a lot like The Doves!” So I laughed at myself when during my drive into Fremont, Nebraska, the first stop in the journal’s library tour, I remarked to Kwame Dawes, “This looks a lot like Lincoln!”


The two cities have some things in common. Both are within an hour’s drive to Omaha and both were founded in the same year, 1856. Both have centrally located historic downtowns with well-maintained late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century architecture; to get to Fremont’s public library, we passed rows and rows of gorgeous old homes. But Fremont and Lincoln are very different as well.


I didn’t mean to belittle Fremont by comparing it to a city I was familiar with. I like many cities, bands, books, and even people that on first impression resembled something or somebody already in my life. Making comparisons simply helps me make sense of new situations, but it’s a crutch. It’s easy for me to link new experiences to old ones before I’ve studied them carefully.


What did I notice about Fremont for which I had no reference point? Its public library, Keene Memorial Library, is lovely. Sandstone columns decorate its exterior and, inside, its open second floor is striking when peered up at from the first floor (I’m resisting comparing it to Captain von Trapp’s house in the film The Sound of Music). The room in which Kwame and I read poetry and answered questions about the journal was like no library room I’ve been in—a cozy, classroom-size auditorium tucked in the heart of the building.


I worry that by approaching the world as a giant web of similarities, I overlook the unique qualities of people I meet. I’m setting a goal for the rest of this library tour to seek out opportunities to be surprised and speechless; I want to hear from others how they view Nebraska, creative writing, and global issues. The people of Fremont, including the helpful head librarian Janet, were a warm and attentive audience. Afterward, a woman admitted to me that she hadn’t heard of Prairie Schooner for many years. That’s a comment I can’t connect to recent experience!