OMAHA - Mark Twain called it a place of “loneliness and peace,” Walt Whitman called it one of the “greatest natural shows” in the United States and Charles Dickens said it was “not a scene to be forgotten."
That place, of course, is the Midwest’s tallgrass prairie, which once stretched from the border of Canada down through Oklahoma and is the focus of a new book by University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) English professor John Price.
Price’s book, “The Tallgrass Prairie Reader,” chronicles one of early North America’s most defining features through memoirs, nature essays and other nonfiction ranging from the early 18th century through today. The book was recently published by the University of Iowa Press in Iowa City.
“This is a unique collection that covers a range of views about the tallgrass prairie, which is truly the natural legacy of the Midwest,” Price explained. “Whether it be across time or across place, everyone had an opinion about the importance of this once-thriving wilderness.”
Price will read from his new book at West Monona High School on Friday, May 30, beginning at 6:45 p.m. as part of the 2014 Loess Hills Prairie Seminar hosted in Onawa, Iowa. The two-day seminar is free and open to the public with more information available at the website of the Northwest Area Education Agency, which organizes the event each year. He will also be reading from the book the following week at the Willa Cather Spring Conference in Red Cloud, held Thursday, June 5, through Saturday, June 7.
Price explained that so little of the tallgrass prairie exists today, less than 2-3 percent of its original coverage area, because it was largely destroyed in the mid to late 19th century to make way for farmland. Omaha’s Allwine Prairie, 14810 State St., is one of the few tallgrass prairie preserves in the United States.
Prior to its current status, Price said that some areas of the tallgrass prairie wilderness included grasses that could stretch eight to 10 feet tall across hundreds of miles, causing travelers to get lost if they did not stick close to rivers and tree lines.
Additionally, the prairie supported its own unique ecosystem. As one author included in the collection puts it, “it is not just a landscape of the name of an area on a map, but a dynamic alliance of living plants, animals, birds, insects, reptiles and microorganisms, all depending on each other.”
Another author, UNO professor Lisa Knopp, explains that Nebraska and national history may look quite different today had the father of Arbor Day, Nebraska’s J. Sterling Morton, been as supportive of tallgrass as he was of trees.
“In his efforts to fill the emptiness that he projected onto the land with what did not belong there, he squandered his time, energy, intelligence and prosperity,” Knopp argued. “If Morton had not had such contrary designs on the land, he might have experienced the freedom and discipline that comes from living in and with nature.”
In addition to the likes of Whitman, Dickens and Twain, some of the other 42 authors included in the book are Washington Irving, George Catlin, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth B. Custer, John Muir, Hamlin Garland, Zitkala-Ša, Meridel Le Sueur, Aldo Leopold, John Madson, William Least Heat-Moon, Louise Erdrich, Mary Swander, Lance M. Foster, Lisa Knopp, Steven I. Apfelbaum, and Elizabeth Dodd.
In addition to “The Tallgrass Prairie Reader,” Price is the author of several other nonfiction books including “Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships,” “Not Just Any Land: A Personal and Literary Journey into the American Grasslands,” and “Daddy Long Legs: The Natural Education of a Father.” Price is also the director of UNO’s creative nonfiction writing program within the Department of English.
More information about “The Tallgrass Prairie Reader” can be found at the University of Iowa Press website.
For questions or media inquiries, please contact Charley Reed, UNO media relations coordinator, at 402.554.2129 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.