Archive for the ‘Personal Essay’ Category


Making it Relevant: Engaging Emerson

July 17, 2009

“Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar

Whether I like it or not, the classics have no value just because we consider them classics. Sure, they deal with timeless questions that we’re still asking today, but why not just ask what people today are thinking? Ralph Waldo Emerson was a man who was fed up with the dogma of the time. People in his day just read the classics, considered them authoritative, and derided everything else.

Well, Emerson thought that was totally lame. He thought people shouldn’t be so obsessed with the classics that they forgot to come up with their own answers to the great questions. So he took a break from hanging out in nature to deliver a totally awesome speech called The American Scholar.

In this profound challenge to the intellectual establishment of our country, Emerson reminded us that the real answers to our greatest questions lie within our own experience. It does no good, he held, to idealize the experience of others for its own sake. We must rely on our own intuition and our own minds to make meaning and find the answers we need.

Emerson wasn’t telling us not to read or to study the classical texts, but to be wary of the kind of thinking that stunts our minds when we they should continue to grow. The American Scholar has stood the test of time because it rouses us out of complacency and encourages us to take a good, hard look at the food we’ve been nourishing our minds on.

All the same, it looks like the joke’s on you, Ralph. You’ve become a classic! You spent all that time urging people to get over the old tomes, and now you are one. Looks like you were so wise and well-respected, people just had to preserve you instead of looking boldly into the future.

This weekly series (by Joshua Eskew, a senior at Marian College studying English and communication, and an intern with the Indiana Humanities Council) will help expose the relevance of studying the classics.


Valuing the Liberal Arts – Another Viewpoint

July 7, 2009

The recent panic over the declining stock value of the humanities and liberal arts on university campuses might lead some to sell their holdings prematurely. In my personal opinion, however, the portfolio does have a future even if it may require a bit of rebalancing.

The question has usually been phrased in the following form: Can we, or should we, convince young college students to major in English, history, philosophy, art history, or related fields, given today’s job market?

There are arguments in favor of doing just that, such as those recently presented in this column by interns Christian Hines and Josh Eskew. Let’s consider, though, a few other markets for the humanities in higher education:

1) Non-majors. As a college student, I took a course called Chemistry for Non-Majors because my university felt I needed to know some science despite being an English major. Universities should not abandon the ideal vision of the educated person, even if that person is headed for a career in business, engineering, or sportscasting. Someday that graduate may be called on to know about Renaissance free markets, Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions, or the origin of the marathon.

2) Education majors. Students who are preparing to teach humanities subjects in K-12 classrooms are not always required to take many, or any, college courses in those departments. This issue can be controversial, so I will simply point it out.

3) Older students. The leading edge of the wave of baby boomers is comprised of people born in 1946, who are turning 63 this year. Early retirement is being accelerated by layoffs due to the economic crisis. Thus there are a lot of people who came of age in the ’60s, still wonder what it all meant, and have time to go back to school and find out. Preparing students for “the rest of their lives” may soon take on a whole new meaning.

Will any of these strategies fill upper division courses and senior seminars? Given some creative retooling, perhaps they might.


What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Any Best Books of Indiana?

June 24, 2009

The Best Books of Indiana Competition had a record-tying 62 entries in 2009. Are you reading any of them?

If so, share your thoughts.


Norbert Krapf: A Statement on Words and a Poem on Localism

April 8, 2009

For National Poetry Month, Norbert Krapf, Indiana Poet Laureate, has supplied this post to Hoosierati:

As part of an e-mail interview for National Poetry Month with Rosa Salter of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, I was asked, as Indiana Poet Laureate, to answer ten questions. The last one produced what I think are the best results: “Where do the words come from?”

Here is my answer: “The words come from the people you descend from, those who made you and brought you up and taught you to read and write and talk and communicate and how to live and conduct yourself. The words come from the culture you live in, they come from the books you read and the songs you listen to, but if you learn how to listen to the deepest part of yourself, that’s where the most important words that are yours come from, in your unique combinations and rhythms, in what is your verbal DNA! And words come from beyond and through you, if you learn how to put yourself in the right place and develop a keen pair of ears, good eyes, and an open heart.”

In summarizing my experience of almost forty years of writing and publishing poems and prose, such as the memoir The Ripest Moments: A Southern Indiana Childhood (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008), I was drawing on my principle of “localism.” In a sense, “localism” is another word for “regionalism.” I am fierce about this, that we must live locally even as we think internationally, that we must dig down into the place where we live, find the universal by going through the particulars of our daily life. There is more than enough darkness and light to explore anywhere.

In the end, all places are one. Even Shakespeare was “a local writer” in Stratford-upon-Avon. As I say in the memoir, a sense of place and time travels well. We benefit from exploring our place, our past, our heritage, a process that illuminates our present and future.This principle of localism involves engaging with our artists, sculptors, photographers, writers, musicians, dancers, actors, filmmakers, our farmers and food-suppliers, independent booksellers, and arts and humanities organizations, which in turn encourage and challenge us to explore our identity, the multiple layers of our sometimes mysterious humanity. We cannot live fully and be healthy and balanced without committing ourselves to this process.

Where did I get this principle of localism?

I could say books I read, writers whose work I love, such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, William Stafford, Wendell Berry, James Alexander Thom, Etheridge Knight, Mari Evans, Scott Russell Sanders, Susan Neville and Jared Carter. That would be true, but perhaps the most important influence was my mother, a farm girl who never had a chance to go to college but loved the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley and Tennyson, as she told me late in her life. Bloodroot: Indiana Poems (IU Press, 2008), 175 poems written 1971-2007, includes the following poem, in the concluding section of new work that bears the same title:

The Local News

When the mid-day meal was about over,
we children knew it was time to hush.
She grew taut as a high-intensity wire
ready to spark. The local news was about
to come on WITZ AM, our local station.
Who died and where and when would he
be laid out? Who was admitted to the hospital,
and for what? Who was arrested for drunk
driving? Who got hauled into court for what?
Whose baby was born and how much did
it weigh? The national and international
economies might dip or bounce,
regimes might rise and collapse,
Joseph Stalin might be laid out
in his famous coffin on the front page,
planes may be shot down over Korea,
but the bigger picture, the greater story,
was always and forever the local news,
the news at noon. When the local news
was over, she would relax and say,
“Okay, you kids can talk again now,”
and she moved on with her chores.

© 2008 Norbert Krapf

[For more information and a photo gallery documenting Norbert Krapf’s many appearances as IPL, go to


Technology, History, Politics

September 4, 2008

Last Friday Mills over at edwired ran a nice post that blends technology, politics, history, and personal narrative wherein, among other things he asks: 

These days, the pressure to be able to hit “send” first is so great that the new deadline is five seconds ago, not before the press has to start running or before the 11:00 newscast. What does this immediacy do to the quality of reporting? What does it mean for the way the public interacts with that information? Does the first take become the take? These are all questions historians of politics will be asking themselves in the coming decades.


Latest Sycamore Review is Out

August 26, 2008

I’ve been way behind on my blog reading (as you might have noticed if you saw the date of the WYA link from yesterday). But this is information worth passing along even if it’s a couple of months old.

The newest Sycamore Review is (ahem…has been) out. Unlike a lot of university literary mags the Sycamore Review is not only produced at Purdue U. but it features content from students there (I could be wrong but I think student content is all MFAs and PhD candidates). At the time that this issue was being put together Michael Chabon was set to deliver what turned out to be a marvelously engaging talk at the university. As a result Chabon was interviewed for the issue and Friend of Hoosierati, Nancee Reeves,1 wrote a review of Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road.

1. Nancee is resistant to all attempts to get her to start posting again on her own blog, Fickle Foe, but many of the personal essays she’s posted about her teeny tiny hometown are worth re-reading.


A Blog and a Library Collection that You May Care About

August 25, 2008

Thanks to Worth Your Attention (one of my favorite local blogs, and not just because they have impeccable advice on food worth seeking out) I found Child of the Fort–a pretty neat blog written by Kristina Frazier-Henry. On it she shares a mix of her personal history in Fort Wayne, archival photos of the Fort’s past, notes on historical men and women of note, and current public policy. The reason WYA linked to the blog, and the reason I clicked over, is because Kritstina linked over to this: an awesome collection of old Indiana photos at the Allen County Public Library site.


‘Tis the Season

June 11, 2008

J.K. Rowling’s commencement address to Harvard: It’s pretty great.


We’re all Geeks Now

June 6, 2008

I’m not sure when it happened but comic books are all the rage. Or, as a friend pointed out to me yesterday, not comic books per se, but comic book-related items. Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer for his graphic novel Maus in 1992 which could be perceived as the beginning of this trend, but I don’t think so. Personally I think it was Michael Chabon winning the Pulitzer in 2001 for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. While the early 90s had the Batman movies starring Michael Keaton, since 2000 we’ve had a new re-imagining of Batman, we’ve had Superman, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and the Spider-Man movies. And we’ve had, Sin City, Daredevil, Elektra, and of course most recently Iron Man. I’m almost certainly forgetting some.

Umberto Eco’s 2005 The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana heavily features four-color newsprints (real for fake I’m not sure, since I haven’t read it) as integral memories of the protagonist. And, of course, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won this year’s Pulitzer (see recommended reading link in sidebar).

I had the immense pleasure of getting to hear Michael Chabon speak at Purdue University a few months ago. Chabon’s piece was themed around the nature of the adult world and the power it has to confine or expand the realm of a child’s imagination.

While he spoke largely of his own memories as a child, his intent was clearly to use those memories to inform the practice of raising his children. The coda to the piece was a bit on the Clock of the Long Now and how a child’s imagination can be hindered by our pessimistic view of the future–a fate he feels he escaped by living in a more optimistic age but that his children are struggling with right now.

Chabon, for those unfamiliar with his work is a long-time fan and defender of “genre fiction:” detective stories, science fiction, fantasy and the like. More than that, many of his own novels are examples of those styles. Even the book hardest to peg to a specific genre, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, is still a paean to the power of superhero comic books–possibly the most genre-y of genres.

Chabon’s most recent book Maps and Legends, from whence much of his lecture was pulled, is reviewed, along with David Hajdu’s Ten-Cent Plague in the latest Times Literary Supplement. Maps and Legends, a collection of non-fiction essays by Chabon is primarily concerned with the constant tug of war between high and low brow art forms (which seems fitting given Chabon’s own bounding between “literature” and “genre” pieces, although he would deny that there’s a separation between the two). Hajdu’s book documents the dramatic lashing out against comic books that took place in the 1950s. The review author, Michael Saler, uses the common thread between the two books to expound on the nature of the culture wars in general and comes to the conclusion that we are in the midsts of some sort of truce between the two opposing sides.


The Joy of the Notebook

June 3, 2008

[via The American Scene]

randsinrepose runs down the pros and cons of notebooks–tons and tons of notebooks. This the first entry I’ve ever read on Rands so I have no idea whether or not I should recommend this blog to anyone, but I love this entry for its content, style, subject and its character–and so I have very high hopes.

This entry was posted by: Jim