Creative Nonfiction in Great Plains Quarterly
The Center is seeking submissions for creative nonfiction pieces for Great Plains Quarterly. We talked with editor Ramón Guerra and Robert James Russell, author of GPQ's first creative nonfiction piece, about the new feature and Russell's article.
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[00:00:01.144]Great Plains Quarterly, a scholarly journal
[00:00:02.340]from the Center for Great Plains Studies,
[00:00:04.170]is now open for submissions of creative nonfiction
[00:00:07.110]for the first time in its 40 plus years.
[00:00:11.018]We talked with the Journal's editor,
[00:00:12.319]Ramon Guerra and Robert James Russell,
[00:00:14.638]the author of GPQ's first ever creative nonfiction piece,
[00:00:18.744]which deals with the role of women in westerns
[00:00:20.220]and reckoning reality versus myth.
[00:00:23.741]Creative nonfiction is,
[00:00:26.424]the definition we use is true stories well told.
[00:00:29.850]It's writing that's inspired by real life events
[00:00:34.350]from people who are motivated to write
[00:00:38.280]in some creative form about the world around them.
[00:00:41.820]And we've added it to our Great Plains Quarterly requests
[00:00:47.880]in that we're looking for writing
[00:00:50.310]that's inspired by the Great Plains,
[00:00:53.354]people who are responding to or communicating
[00:00:55.410]to their surroundings, the culture and the people
[00:00:58.920]of the Great Plains, and they want to publish work
[00:01:03.450]that's more creative and less focused on academic research
[00:01:08.610]and this standard for what typically
[00:01:11.730]goes into an academic journal.
[00:01:14.621]We're very excited to add this.
[00:01:16.710]We have a long 40 plus year tradition
[00:01:21.060]of doing scholarly academic work
[00:01:23.580]that's focused on the variety of issues
[00:01:26.160]around the Great Plains.
[00:01:27.750]Adding in this creative element allows for people
[00:01:31.650]and writers in particular in this region
[00:01:34.530]who have things to say that are very
[00:01:37.980]personally and individually based.
[00:01:41.010]And so we are, as I said,
[00:01:43.960]very excited to have this element added,
[00:01:46.140]and believe that it will attract more readers,
[00:01:49.170]different readers, and, you know,
[00:01:51.810]give our current readers something else to look forward to,
[00:01:56.250]as we continue to publish important
[00:02:00.323]viewpoints on the Great Plains.
[00:02:02.723]Robert James Russell is the author
[00:02:03.570]of the novels "Mesilla" and "Sea of Trees,"
[00:02:05.940]and the chapbook "Don't Ask Me to Spell it Out."
[00:02:09.283]He is a founding editor of the literary journals
[00:02:10.800]Midwestern Gothic and Cheap Pop.
[00:02:13.170]His work is in or forthcoming at Friction, Gulf Coast,
[00:02:16.800]Hobart, New South, and Passages North, among others.
[00:02:20.670]You can find his illustrations and writing
[00:02:24.720]or on Twitter and Instagram @RobHollywood.
[00:02:28.461]My piece, "The Women West of here,"
[00:02:31.020]is a creative nonfiction braided essay
[00:02:33.990]about reckoning women's role in westerns
[00:02:38.640]and popular culture and in media versus reality.
[00:02:43.050]And the genesis of it really started
[00:02:47.850]when I went to a rodeo in northwestern Indiana,
[00:02:53.018]which is an odd thing to think of.
[00:02:56.400]And I grew up going to rodeos in Northern Michigan,
[00:02:58.920]which is even odder, quite frankly.
[00:03:01.320]But it really felt stuck in a problematic time
[00:03:04.560]the way that women were discussed by the rodeo announcer,
[00:03:09.930]the way that women were catcalled by the announcers,
[00:03:14.550]the way it's still a man's man thing.
[00:03:17.070]And it got me thinking about this idea
[00:03:18.930]about how erroneous our view of women in the West,
[00:03:22.590]and quite frankly, a lot of what the West is
[00:03:24.780]super mythologized by pop culture
[00:03:26.400]and not accurate in any way, shape or form.
[00:03:28.680]And I wanted to do something about that.
[00:03:30.360]And I wanted to to do something focusing on the women
[00:03:32.850]because they they really do have a crucial role
[00:03:35.550]in the actual history of the American West
[00:03:39.330]and who they were, and I wanted to, as the title suggests,
[00:03:42.424]reckon that with what we think we know about them.
[00:03:48.330]Place to me is one of the most critical aspects
[00:03:52.410]I think of who we become as humans,
[00:03:53.820]what we're surrounded by, who we see,
[00:03:56.070]the nature that we take part in, or don't take part in.
[00:04:00.180]Michigan, where I'm from, has a lot of lakes,
[00:04:02.400]rivers, lush forests, everywhere.
[00:04:05.338]These are things to me that are very inviting places.
[00:04:07.230]You always wanna jump in a lake, you wade in a creek,
[00:04:10.380]or cricks as I call them, catching crawdads
[00:04:13.197]and stuff like that.
[00:04:14.776]And to me, growing up with that,
[00:04:15.981]it created this sort of natural landscape.
[00:04:17.550]So a lot of my work deals with place.
[00:04:20.760]And there's an old adage that a lot of writers hate,
[00:04:23.010]and it's a cliche, but it's real.
[00:04:25.160]But place often is a character
[00:04:26.250]in writing for very good reason.
[00:04:28.530]It's hard to write a piece devoid of place,
[00:04:33.210]because we are so in our environment all the time, right.
[00:04:36.930]So living in Nebraska, I've never been around
[00:04:38.790]so many tornadoes in my entire life.
[00:04:41.010]It's hard not to think about that and be awed by that,
[00:04:45.090]yes, and scared by that, yes, but like it forces
[00:04:48.480]you to to reckon how we interact
[00:04:51.570]with nature and stuff like that it really marvelous way.
[00:04:53.370]This piece, and a lot of Western pieces,
[00:04:55.363]one of the reasons I like the genre is it's the only genre
[00:05:00.330]I can think of in writing that demands that nature play
[00:05:04.020]a really pivotal role with, you know,
[00:05:08.483]American settlers who are obviously
[00:05:09.600]not the first on these lands, but American settlers
[00:05:11.910]writing stories of going west,
[00:05:13.140]and all these cowboy movies and stuff like that.
[00:05:15.540]There's, in every single one of these stories,
[00:05:17.610]there's something about the cowboy being lost in the desert
[00:05:20.250]or can't find water or against the elements in some way.
[00:05:24.210]And that has always drawn me to that,
[00:05:27.294]because as someone who really finds a lot
[00:05:29.070]of inspiration in place, it's a necessary
[00:05:33.660]part of the genre in a way.
[00:05:35.010]So dealing with this, and this is not a fiction piece
[00:05:38.424]I recognize, but dealing with this and dealing
[00:05:40.984]with what homesteaders and settlers
[00:05:41.817]went through living here, and also native peoples
[00:05:45.240]and all that kind of stuff and how people
[00:05:47.910]took a place in some places, if we're being honest,
[00:05:50.250]that was very hard to live in, and figured out ways
[00:05:52.650]to live there is fascinating to me.
[00:05:55.590]So it's impossible I think to divorce talking
[00:05:58.770]about westerns and talking about place.
[00:06:01.219]So it it's a necessary part of the conversation,
[00:06:03.000]especially with women here and all they did,
[00:06:07.410]they were here just as much if not more
[00:06:09.630]than the men in the stories that were told.
[00:06:12.378]So you have to talk about this.
[00:06:17.560]It's a really magical experience.
[00:06:18.393]You know, there's a lot of different forms and names
[00:06:20.970]of forms of essays like this.
[00:06:22.200]I tend to gravitate towards calling it a braided essay.
[00:06:24.780]I really like it, weaving in and out of personal narrative
[00:06:28.920]with historical narratives and facts.
[00:06:31.320]It's a great way to thread in a bunch of different stuff.
[00:06:34.470]And I'm somebody who likes random ephemera
[00:06:37.830]and facts and little things like that.
[00:06:40.560]And my brain holds onto these things.
[00:06:41.730]So it's a really, it's a great way for me to unload
[00:06:44.850]all the stuff I have in my head
[00:06:46.020]while also telling a story I have.
[00:06:48.570]It also takes something historical and adds
[00:06:51.240]a personal connection to it in a different way.
[00:06:54.330]There is historical fiction.
[00:06:55.740]So I could write about a woman
[00:06:57.300]in the American West for sure.
[00:07:00.600]Or I could talk about my experiences tangentially to that,
[00:07:04.020]while also talking about some related historical elements.
[00:07:06.780]And it blends them together in a really, really
[00:07:09.090]really cool way that not a lot
[00:07:11.720]of other essay writing necessarily can do.
[00:07:17.340]I think what I love about this place and it's funny.
[00:07:20.940]I fell in love with Nebraska really, really quickly.
[00:07:24.540]And it took me a while to to figure out why.
[00:07:28.260]The people here are great, absolutely.
[00:07:30.210]But I love the size of the sky.
[00:07:33.270]It's a really, it makes you feel small.
[00:07:36.061]I like feeling very small in nature.
[00:07:38.970]I like feeling humbled in that way.
[00:07:41.430]And people who don't know Nebraska
[00:07:44.100]are gonna be very quick to call it a very flat place.
[00:07:47.220]Obviously when you go out, especially in western Nebraska,
[00:07:49.110]that is not the case at all.
[00:07:50.760]But there's something about the sky being as big
[00:07:53.280]as it is just just makes me feel very humbled.
[00:07:55.860]It reminds me of how small I am,
[00:07:57.180]and how big the world is outside of me.
[00:08:00.083]I have a love-hate relationship with the wind
[00:08:02.730]and the weather here because it changes so frequently.
[00:08:05.421]But it's a fascinating aspect.
[00:08:07.260]You constantly, you know, back to this idea of place,
[00:08:09.780]I constantly have to be thinking about the weather
[00:08:11.490]in a way I never had to before,
[00:08:13.170]because it changes every single day.
[00:08:14.700]And the weather forecast on a Monday,
[00:08:16.890]it's probably not gonna be the same
[00:08:18.643]weather forecast for the week by Wednesday.
[00:08:20.040]And you're constantly thinking
[00:08:21.270]about this and being a part of it.
[00:08:22.470]So it's living here has forced me to to be a part
[00:08:25.470]of this place and a part of the the weather and nature
[00:08:29.070]and the environment in a way that I haven't
[00:08:31.560]had to in a really long time.
[00:08:33.540]I also think Nebraska's a very overlooked place.
[00:08:36.270]It is extraordinarily beautiful here.
[00:08:38.370]It's very undervalued, I think, by a lot of Americans.
[00:08:43.950]But especially the Sandhills, I mean, the Sandhills
[00:08:45.900]are some of the most incredible scenery
[00:08:47.880]that I've seen in my entire life anywhere in the world.
[00:08:50.850]Driving through western Nebraska,
[00:08:52.230]seeing all the changes in scenery,
[00:08:54.000]all the plant life and animals,
[00:08:55.260]I mean, it's a really, really magical place.
[00:08:58.590]I hope my piece sparks a conversation
[00:09:01.410]about reality versus myth.
[00:09:04.276]There's there's a much larger conversation to be had
[00:09:05.910]about the mythologizing of the American West.
[00:09:07.920]And quite frankly, the heinousness of manifest destiny,
[00:09:13.170]and how we whitewash a lot of historical elements.
[00:09:16.260]And by lot, I mean most historical elements
[00:09:18.920]in this country, quite frankly.
[00:09:20.400]So doing something like this,
[00:09:22.020]the attempt is to draw attention to something
[00:09:24.900]hopefully that people have not thought about before.
[00:09:27.964]And I think women in westerns, whether that be movies,
[00:09:30.150]TV shows, books, other media, comic books, all the things
[00:09:33.180]I sort of talk about in the piece,
[00:09:36.210]the average reader might not
[00:09:38.040]have ever considered this before.
[00:09:39.450]And I hope, with any good piece,
[00:09:41.720]that if nothing else they consider this,
[00:09:43.200]and they change their viewpoint to consider new facts
[00:09:48.270]and new evidence and all that kind
[00:09:49.290]of stuff that I weave into it,
[00:09:50.580]and take something a little more personal away from it.
[00:09:54.120]Find Russell's creative nonfiction piece
[00:09:55.590]and information about submitting your work
[00:09:57.570]to Great Plains Quarterly unl.edu/plains.
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