Schoonering Through Nebraska

Fifth and Sixth Stops: Stimulating Stromaha (Stromsburg and Omaha)

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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 Marianne’s fifth blog entry after her visit to Omaha and Stromsburg, Nebraska.

Saturday marked the halfway point of our library tour. Feeling a little drained by the long drives, by living out of a suitcase, and by desperately searching for cafes with free wifi in each city we stop in, I needed a pick-me-up. Lucky for me, the best kind was available. My husband, Dave, joined me, Kwame, and Lorna for two library visits that day in Stromsburg Public Library and Omaha’s Charles B. Washington Branch Library.


One thing I love most about Dave is his genuine kindness. He has a knack for talking with others that seems generous and easy, whereas my social grace is often a work-in-progress. So it didn’t surprise me when, at the close of our Stromsburg reading, I discovered Dave chatting with a friendly woman about the shops in downtown Stromsburg. Five hours later, after our Omaha reading, Dave was deep in conversation with a man living in Omaha but originally from Mobile, Alabama, where Dave’s parents live. Moon pies, beaches, no snow in sight…the two eagerly reminisced about things down south they longed for. All around me, Dave’s behavior reminded me, are people willing to converse about the simplest or most meaningful topics. And this can be invigorating.


Honestly, the many creative writing conferences I’ve attended have taught me to approach conversations with writers and readers with trepidation; frequently the unspoken question at these events is, “How can talking with you further my writing career?” Sometimes I pass this test and I’m deemed worth talking to. Sometimes I don’t. I’m guilty of working the system in this way as well.


What was most encouraging about our trips to Stromsburg and Omaha was the handful of truly terrific people I met, pick-me-ups comparable even to Dave. A woman in Stromsburg spoke lovingly about her grandmother-in-law’s unpublished journals and I admired her advocacy not of her writing but a family member’s. Pam in Omaha gave me a boost when, one poem into my reading, she complimented my work; later she shyly shared with me details about her ambitious leadership of a local women’s writing group. Young Deja in Omaha took me seriously when I asked her what she liked to write about and answered “seasons,” so together we looked at Alicia Ostriker’s woman/tulip/dog poems in the Prairie Schooner Fall 2012 issue.


The enthusiasm of the day’s facilitating librarians, Diana Johnson in Stromsburg and Anna Wilcoxon in Omaha, was rejuvenating as well. I’m inspired by these energetic, forward-thinking women who are exhausting their available resources to keep their libraries lively and relevant without looking the least bit exhausted!