At Home on the Range
Hasselstrom Draws Inspiration from Nature
By Haley Wilson
Vast expanses of trees splay across rolling hills and sweeping summits. A herd of bison graze on stretches of grass and swish their tails. A blustery wind sends plains of knee-length grasses dancing at their roots. A full moon settles over a burbling river, interrupted only by the thudding trample of nearby antelope. Postcard-worthy scenery like this has inspired many of the authors attending this year’s Festival of Books hosted in Deadwood. Presenter Linda Hasselstrom is a prime example of this notion. Without a doubt, nature begets inspiration.
A Hermosa native, Hasselstrom understands the key role nature plays in the writing process. Dedicated to championing other writers, she often hosts writer’s retreats at her ranch in western South Dakota. With an extensive background in creative nonfiction, Linda has co-edited three collections of writing by western women. Like her, many of these women (as well as attendees of her retreats) find solace in communing with the great outdoors, listening to the silence away from the hectic routine of city life, and finding their own words to fill it.
According to Hasselstrom, this workshop setting resonates with attendees thanks to an “open space with a minimum of malls, asphalt, noisy traffic and subdivisions,” not to mention the clean air and water. Hasselstrom thrives on the challenge of relating to those seeking her guidance on the writing process. The most commonly issued piece of advice? “Just write. Don’t edit mentally, don’t worry about spelling, just sit down every day and write something. You can edit later when you’re tired.”
A Way of Possessing Experience
Hasselstrom began her journey in writing at the age of nine after her mother married her step-father, John Hasselstrom. During her first summer at the ranch while riding horseback, Hasselstrom eyed an animal completely foreign to her. (She reflects now that it was likely an antelope.) Curious, Hasselstrom conducted research as soon as she returned home that night, rifling through her parents’ books and later those at the grade school in Hermosa, as well as jotting down all her own observations about the occurrence. She says, “I behaved like a writer without knowing it…I had begun to be an essayist: concentrating on detail, doing research to expand my knowledge, writing it all down as a way of possessing experience.”
Continuing to document her experiences, both in childhood and adulthood, Hasselstrom has published several nonfiction works. Written before the tragic loss of her husband, Hasselstrom’s first book and personal favorite, Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains, was taken from her journals. “It’s such an open and honest book,” Hasselstrom says, “with a minimum of editing and manipulation.”
Readers can expect similarities between Windbreak and Hasselstrom’s next book, The Wheel of the Year: A Writer’s Workbook, following the same structure of daily journal entries. This time, the point of view will stem from a woman thirty years older.
Clearly an avid writer herself, Hasselstrom relishes the obstacles facing a writer on a daily basis. The greatest of these, she says, is carrying out the task of “placing the posterior in the chair” and writing daily. “At first, the hard part is making oneself sit down and get on with it; we are told so many things we ‘should’ do,” says Hasselstrom.
Polishing the Native Grain
With a mother who believed she should spend more time cleaning the house than writing, and magazines rejecting her early in her career based on gender (woman), occupation (rancher), and place of residence (South Dakota), Hasselstrom is no stranger to the challenges of putting pen to paper. Becoming better known and harboring a schedule replete with appearances and interviews hardly helped when it came to penciling in free time for daily writing. However, Hasselstrom persists in hosting writer’s retreats.
Her favorite thing about leading these retreats? Determining the writer’s goals and then helping him or her to accomplish the task. “I’m always nervous, afraid that perhaps THIS time I won’t have an answer, but so far I’ve always found some way to help every writer that has come.”
This year, Hasselstrom will return to the Festival of Books for a joint reading from Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet with Nebraska state poet, Twyla Hansen. She also will conduct a workshop on her upcoming book, The Wheel of the Year. Her favorite aspect of the Festival is “the hundreds of people who come to listen to South Dakota authors and buy books by them, and about South Dakota.”
South Dakota sculptor Dave Lamphere once described his own artistic work as “polishing the native grain,” a process Hasselstrom knows well. To ensure that other South Dakota natives realize their home state is anything but devoid of culture, Hasselstrom is eager to help this year’s attendees appreciate all that the Festival, and the landscape that inspired its authors, has to offer. “That’s one of my primary tasks: helping people appreciate the art, writing, culture, environment and other assets we have right here.”