Schoonering Through Nebraska

A Blog of Sorts

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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 Kwame’s fifth blog entry after his visit to Stromsburg, Nebraska.

Stromsburg, NE
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One of the good fortunes of reading at a library with a book club is that they will, if convinced, en mass to the reading, and they have already become a single organism with the instinct of humor or empathy as a well-shaped and practiced collective. This is what met us at the Stromsburg public library on the north eastern plains of Nebraska. As a result we had a great turnout and a lively and engaging audience.

This next leg of our run included Dave, Marianne’s husband. He and Marianne shared the driving while Lorna and I relaxed in the back seat of their Forrester. Next time we will seek some sponsorship from Subaru in exchange for generous product placement spots throughout our blogs.

Apart from the pleasure of discovering people who have deeply intriguing questions to ask about writing, about the journal, and about the inspiration for poetry, occasionally one can discover small tidbits of a town’s history that can be quite fascinating on these tours. The Swedish-American town Stromsburg had its own gift.

Kathy Nelson, one of the ten or so people who gathered in the small but comfortable meeting room to the side of the library, handed me a card that identifies her in large print as “George Flippin Historian.” It may well be a conversation starter but my sense, on meeting her, was that this was more than a passion for her. George Flippin, for a long time a part of the only black family in Stromsburg, a nineteenth-century Cornhusker football star, a trailblazing medical doctor, and the son of a former slave and Union soldier who saw action in the colored infantry of the Civil War, is someone she wants to write about. She knows virtually everything that can be known about him, and she told us so much in the short time we spent together in the library at Stromsburg. I assured her, with complete sincerity, that she is doing research on a genuinely fascinating and immensely publishable subject. And as she maneuvered her motored seat through the library, I told her that I could not wait to see the book.

It turns out that University of Nebraska-Lincoln has honored Flippin in various ways on campus, including a monument at the football stadium and in at least one other building.

The librarian, Diana Johnson, said she had found in the vaults a set of Prairie Schooners dating over a decade between the eighties and nineties. She mentioned that she found a few familiar names featured in a 1993 issue that she browsed, including our own Timothy Schaffert. The women nodded with recognition. Tim, for those who might not know, is something of a fiction celebrity across Nebraska.

This gave us the in to encourage the librarian who has oversight of a brightly lit and well-designed medium-sized space to renew its subscription to Prairie Schooner. That kind of interest is what has made our tour so worthwhile.

On the far side of a park square in the middle of town, an old-fashioned marquee announced the reading in bold, sizable letters. Very nice. And in that same park we could not ignore a small vendor’s kiosk advertising popcorn for 10 cents a bag. We bought three small bags of the freshly popped corn and munched as we drove out of Stromsburg.

A town, no matter how small, can be known for any number of things. Stromsburg could do worse than being the hometown of George Flippin and his historian, Kathy Nelson.