Faith A. Colburn’s overall themes are extended families, communities, and the places where they live. She wants to know how those structures work and how they work together. That question resonates through her various publications.
The Reluctant Canary Sings
Bobbi Bowen lives in Cleveland. It’s 1937 in the second dip of a double-dip depression. When she leaves the apartment, she passes the Holy Rosary soup kitchen, with its straggle of shuffling men and women in their bedraggled coats. Most days she hums the new swing tunes—Cream Puff or Sing, Sing, Sing— because it seems every time she turns the radio on, she learns the Butcher of Kingsbury Run has left another dismembered body lying around town. At home, she ducks her parents’ fights—sometimes ducking a flying plate or saucer. So when the bank cuts her mother’s hours, she’s got one chance to keep a roof over her family’s heads—to turn her voice, her most private pleasure, into a public commodity. At the end of her sophomore year, she forever gives up her dream of art school to spend her nights singing in nightclubs. Even though she’s able to make enough to support her family, security remains an illusion she can’t seem to capture no matter how hard she tries. Will her father’s betrayal destroy her?
A mash-up of Ted Kooser’s Local Wonders, Roger Welch’s Shingling the Fog and a lifetime of environmental journalism, Prairie Landscapes represents the ramblings of one mind prowling around on the Great Plains. With its focus on families and landed communities, it brings you face to face with the prairie and its creatures.
Those creatures include a little black cocker spaniel with a white necktie who befriended a runt pig–and a bunch of piglets that love cantaloupes. The landscapes stretch from the tall-grass prairies of eastern Nebraska to the grass-frozen sand sea called the Sandhills, and they cross the moving border between tall- and mid-grass prairie. In a section on family you’ll find a description of a family like a prairie, and a rumination on the nature of time in a globalized society. You’ll find naturalists and their thoughts on wilderness and farmers and their attitudes on farming.
Prairie Landscapes comprises 133 short essays, averaging about 500 words, from prose poetry on hoarfrost to the strange things animals do. There’s a bit of new science, a little weird science, and a touch of folklore.
By the time Dad picked up the turtle, my mother had deserted him and Margo, carrying his second child in her belly, had asked him to take her back to Tennessee. Right then, it was just my father and the turtle trying to make sense of alien worlds.
The turtle in the bathtub displayed my father’s world view–a symptom of the chasm between his and my mother’s. Only when my mom settled into the little cottage at the base of a tall hill in a howling prairie wilderness, where she “died a thousand deaths of loneliness” did she realize she might not make it there.
The book consists of eighteen family stories with an introduction and a conclusion. A dramatis personae at the beginning lists the “characters” and their relationships, but I urge my readers not to pay too much attention to all the names. They’ll make sense when you get to them.
Reviews: Charles Peek in the Nebraska Center for the Book newsletter, Fall issue page e,
Linda Hasselstrom, author Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains,
Dr. Robert Lusher, author In John Updike: A Study of the Short Fiction
From Picas to Bytes
The ways in which families support their communities drew my attention for my second book, From Picas to Bytes: Four Generations of Seacreast Newspaper Service to Nebraska. The newspaper family I followed in this book owned the Lincoln Journal for 100 years. The Seacrests had a great influence on Nebraska’s almost unique open meetings and open records law. Their advocacy for open courts also gave the public more access than most states to the working of the justice system. The family worked tirelessly in support of press freedoms because, without information how is the public to know how to vote. Early adoption of new technologies helped keep a mid-sized daily newspaper in business long after most of their peers turned off the presses and closed their doors.
A newspaper is a big business in a mid-sized community and Seacrest donation of time and money to community projects made a lot of difference in the viability of that community.
If you want to know how a newspaper can help a community thrive, here’s how it is done.
Reviews: Gil Savery, long-time editor The Lincoln Journal;
The Lincoln Journal-Star – E. Wayne Boles
Another type of community Colburn experienced first-hand, exists on the road. That community consists of truck drivers–those rootless women and men who take the goods we all take for granted from one end of this country to the other. Life on the road leaves a person tired and feeling unloved and unwanted. It breeds a certain weirdness.
Colburn drove a truck from coast to coast for a year. She had to admit, by the end of the year, she was exhausted and she doesn’t know how people do it year after year. Her short story—a Kindle Single—is about a woman who drives a truck.
“This was a joy to write,” Colburn said, “because I got to think for months about Nebraska wildlife and the community of men (mostly men) who worked for more than 100 years to make sure it survived.” From the expeditionary force that poled their keelboats up the Missouri to establish Fort Atkinson, hunting bear and wild turkey and elk along the Missouri Basin, to Omaha World Herald sports writer, Sandy Griswold, hunting whooping cranes in the Central Platte Valley with General George Crook, to Mel Steen, working to establish a cropland set-aside program to allow for wildlife habitat and increased soil fertility, she got to know men who were passionate about Nebraska’s wild creatures.
Published by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in 1979, the book, actually a special issue of NEBRASKAland magazine, is no longer in print.