You grew up in Fort Dodge and have lived in Iowa your entire life. You’re now nationally known as a writer of place, in particular the Midwest. How do you define the Midwest and what makes it unique?
The great thing about places is that, like people, they resist definition. This is certainly the case with the Midwest. If you ask a group of people to define the borders of the Midwest, my guess is you’ll get a very wide range of answers. Some might paint a broad geographical swath running from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains all the way to, perhaps, Pittsburgh. Others might zero in on the mostly rural center of the country, excluding major metropolitan areas like Chicago and Detroit. Others will focus on more abstract concepts like “the heartland” and conjure up images of “the simple life.” The Midwest, like all places, is anything but simple and its resistance to easy definition is part of what makes it interesting to me as a writer and resident.
When you look closely at the natural environment, however, unique features do emerge. For me the Midwest or any other region should ultimately be defined by its native ecosystems, one of which—the one I happen to live in and write about—is the tallgrass prairie. Unfortunately, most of that prairie has been lost (less than one percent remains in my home state of Iowa), which has created significant challenges for those of us trying to anchor our identities to the natural environment. Much of my writing has focused on my personal journey to recover a sense of place and identity rooted in that environment.
An excerpt from Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships:
Now in my fortieth year, I live in western Iowa in a house near the Missouri River, just a few hours from Fort Dodge, where my parents still reside, where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried. Esther, too, is at rest in the Boone cemetery. I've never lived anywhere but Iowa. This has become the unexpected, defining journey of my life: to come home without ever having left. When others ask why I've stayed put, I reply with what must seem the ordinary details of life: a job, a family, a history. I often mention the place itself: the wildlife and natural areas I've learned to love, the human communities I've called home, the flawed yet promising terrain that's become as familiar as my own flesh. All of these answers are true, but none, by themselves, ever feels complete. Only together, in relation, do they begin to mean anything. What word is there for this? Mosaic? Ecology? Kinship—the familial embrace of nature, body, and spirit.
John Price is the author of Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships