This month, we continue the celebration of our state's literary heritage with a new post by Barbara Shoup in our Indiana Bicentennial Bookshelf blog series. This series is written by Hoosier authors about their favorite Indiana books and writers.
A cemetery is a good place for young writers to visit because it is about dying, and anything about dying is about living as well. It is useful to wander among the graves of those whose lives are over. To feel grateful that you are still here, living the story of your life and turning it into words. So over the twenty years I taught creative writing at the Broad Ripple High School Center for the Humanities and the Performing Arts in Indianapolis, we took an annual field trip to Crown Hill Cemetery. This was when you could still take kids in your car and kids with cars of their own could drive themselves, so we’d caravan across town, wind our way up to the James Whitcomb Riley grave, the highest point in Indianapolis. I’d spread a red-checked tablecloth on the big marble slab, start up the mix tape on my boom box: “The Not Necessarily Grateful Dead,” songs by performers no longer with us, and we’d eat our picnic lunches. From where we sat, the city we lived in looked like Oz.
To be honest, though, I did not choose JWR’s grave as the site for our excursion to celebrate his poetry. I chose it for irony’s sake. (Really? He’s the Indiana writer with the gargantuan monument?) I’m annoyed that all too often his name is the first one mentioned when the subject of Indiana writers comes up. Okay. He’s part of our history. I get that.
So are a lot of (wonderful) dead Indiana writers.
But in my writing classroom, we studied Indiana writers who were alive. So many talented young people flee the state as soon as they can. I wanted my students to know that literature made of the stuff of their own Indiana lives could be as rich and mysterious as lives led in more exotic places.
Now, as the executive director of the Indiana Writers Center, I try to spread that message around the state—and beyond. We all need to do a better job of celebrating Indiana writers, promoting their work so that theirs are the names that come up when conversation turns to Indiana literature.
Thanks to an Indiana Masterpiece Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, the Writers Center has the opportunity to do just that with an anthology of contemporary Indiana writers to be published early next fall. Many accomplished Indiana writers have already agreed to be part of the project, including, Scott Russell Sanders, Susan Neville, Patricia Henley, Helen Frost, Karen Kovacik, and Michael Martone.
The book will be a “snapshot” of Indiana writers at the time of its 2016 Bicentennial. It will be launched with a series of readings, classroom visits, and writing workshops around the state.
But here’s the best part: the anthology will be appropriate for use in the high school classroom. It will be available online to English and writing teachers, along with curriculum materials designed to meet state standards.
While you’re waiting to read it, check out some of the writers mentioned above, if you aren’t already familiar with them. And here are some more I’m thrilled will be included: Shari Wagner, George Kalamaras, Greg Schwipps, Sarah Layden, Bryan Furuness, and Jim McGarrah.
Barbara Shoup is author of seven novels and co-author of two books about the creative process. Her short fiction, poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in The Writer and in the New York Timestravel section, and her young adult novels, Wish You Were Here and Stranded in Harmony, were selected as American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. Shoup is executive director of the Indiana Writers Center and in 2012 was the regional winner of the Indiana Authors Award. Her novel An American Tune will be released in paperback this August by IU Press.
Our Indiana Bicentennial Bookshelf series will continue every month as we count down to 200th anniversary of the state on December 11, 2016. In February Larry Lockridge will co-blog for us and the Next Indiana Bookshelf about his father Ross Lockridge, Jr.'s novel Raintree County, which is a Bookshelf selection. Larry Lockridge is author of his father's biography Shade of the Raintree, reissued last year by IU Press.