'Nomadland' Author, Award-winning Historian among Notable Non-Fiction Authors for 2021 Festival of Books

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 South Dakota Festival of Books is switching from an in-person format to an all-virtual format. Visit sdbookfestival.com for more information.

Book Inspired Oscar-winning Movie

When her immersive non-fiction book Nomadland became a screenplay and a silver screen feature, journalist Jessica Bruder enjoyed an exponential increase in sales and word of mouth thanks to Hollywood. When the movie won Best Picture at the 2021 Academy Awards, she ascended to a much-coveted authorial status, joining the likes of John Steinbeck, J.R.R. Tolkien and Cormac McCarthy.

For a book festival, hosting an author of that status is a rare coup.

"We are honored to host an author whose book inspired an Oscar-winning movie," said Festival of Books Director Jennifer Widman. "It's especially exciting that the movie was filmed partly in western South Dakota and featured a lead actress, Frances McDormand, who is one of the most recognized and admired figures in Hollywood today."

Bruder, one of several critically acclaimed non-fiction writers featured at the 2021 South Dakota Festival of Books, will discuss her immersive portrait of retirement-age Americans forced out of their homes and into RVs, vans and cars. The film adaptation of the book won three Oscars: Best Director (Chloé Zhao), Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Picture.

"In addition to Nomadland, Jessica Bruder has published two other books and built a strong reputation immersive journalism," said Widman. "We love to feature authors who might be best known for one work but who bring many other experiences with them, allowing Festival audiences to encounter ideas they hadn't even thought to seek out."

When she decided to immerse herself in the lives of Linda May and Charlene Swankie, Bruder never dreamed readers and moviegoers would watch Frances McDormand bring Nomadland to life. In fact, when she first decided to camp for a few weeks with a group of modern nomads, she wasn't even dreaming of a book – just a magazine profile. However, the story soon took on a life of its own, and Bruder ultimately traveled in an RV for 15,000 miles over three years to gather material for the book.

"They felt incredibly validated by the experience," Bruder said in an interview with her alma mater and employer, the Columbia School of Journalism, after watching on television as the two women rubbed shoulders with movie stars at the Academy Awards. "I was delighted to see them up there...I followed these women for three years, and none of us expected this would be part of their journey."

Many Experts Included in Non-Fiction Lineup

It is this kind of research and commitment that brings awards and honors to non-fiction authors, whose requisite skills include not only a talent for narrative flair but also a deep commitment to portraying actual events with extreme precision.

Many such experts are among the non-fiction authors joining Bruder, including Allyson Hobbs, an award-winning academic and author. When not writing for The New Yorker or working on her next book, Hobbs is an Associate Professor of American History, Director of African and African American Studies, and Kleinheinz Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education at Stanford University.

Her award-winning first book, A Chosen Exile, examines the phenomenon of racial passing in the United States. A Chosen Exile won the Organization of American Historians' Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for best first book in American history, the Lawrence Levine Prize for best book in American cultural history and was selected as a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice — among other honors.

"In this era of continuing struggles for racial equality, it is vital to examine formative trends of the past," Widman said. "We can learn a lot from Hobbs' examination of folks who chose to 'pass' as white just to receive equal treatment."

Also featured in the non-fiction track are first-time presenter Glenn Aparicio Parry and several Festival favorites, including former One Book South Dakota Author Kent Nerburn and South Dakotans Jim Reese, Jon Lauck, Mary Woster Haug, Nancy Koupal and Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve is one of several acclaimed authors featured at the 2021 South Dakota Festival of Books in the non-fiction track.

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve is one of several acclaimed authors featured at the 2021 South Dakota Festival of Books in the non-fiction track.

Other Authors in the Non-Fiction Track

  • Ann Bausum writes about history for readers of all ages from her home in southern Wisconsin. Her books frequently explore issues of social justice and the influence of propaganda on historical events. Her latest title, Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair, applies this lens to Nazi Germany.  In 2017, the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C., honored the body of Bausum’s work with its venerable Nonfiction Award.

  • Mary Woster Haug is the author of Out of Loneliness: Murder and Memoir and Daughters of the Grasslands. She has been published in several anthologies and journals, as well as editing a collection of her brothers’ columns entitled The Woster Brothers’ Brand: Episodes of a Shared Inheritance. Haug has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is a recipient of the Spirit of Dakota award. She currently lives in Minneapolis.
  • Nancy Tystad Koupal recently retired as founding director of the South Dakota Historical Society Press and now serves as director and editor in chief of the Pioneer Girl Project. She worked with renowned Wilder scholars to compile the anthology Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder and is lead editor of Wilder’s Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts. Koupal’s other publications include Our Landlady, an annotated collection of L. Frank Baum’s satirical newspaper columns.

  • Jon K. Lauck is the author of several books, including The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History and From Warm Center to Ragged Edge: The Erosion of Midwestern Regionalism, 1920-1965. He earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Iowa and his law degree from the University of Minnesota. Lauck currently serves as adjunct professor of history and political science at the University of South Dakota and as Editor-in-Chief of Middle West Review.

  • Lisa Napoli has worked in print, radio, TV, and online journalism at the New York TimesMarketplace, MSNBC, and KCRW. Her latest book, Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie, relates the history of NPR’s “Founding Mothers.” Napoli has published three previous books, Radio Shangri-LaRay & Joan, and Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of 24-Hour News. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she now lives in Los Angeles.

  • Kent Nerburn has written 16 books, including the 2019 One Book South Dakota, Neither Wolf nor Dog. He has appeared on C-SPAN, The History Channel, and PBS, where his work was featured in the documentary Sculpting in Wood and Words. Nerburn believes that Native peoples, as the elder cultures on this land, have much to teach us all, and that we must learn from them to develop an authentic American spirituality and a true understanding of this land.

  • Glenn Aparicio Parry is the author of the Nautilus Award-winning book, Original Thinking: A Radical Revisioning of Time, Humanity, and Nature, and an educator, ecopsychologist, and political philosopher whose passion is to reform thinking and society into a coherent, cohesive whole. The founder and past president of the SEED Institute, Parry is currently the director of a grassroots think tank, the Circle for Original Thinking. His latest book is Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again.

  • Jim Reese is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Great Plains Writers’ Tour at Mount Marty University in Yankton, South Dakota. He has spoken at venues from the Library of Congress to San Quentin Prison. Reese’s awards include a First Place Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award and a Distinguished Public Service Award in recognition of his contributions to the Education Department at Federal Prison Camp Yankton. His fourth poetry collection, Dancing Room Only, is coming this year.

  • Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, has published 27 books for all ages, as well as short stories, articles, and poems. A retired K-12 and college educator, she received the National Humanities Medal in 2000 and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from South Dakota State University in 2008. Sneve’s recent work includes a reissue of her children’s classic, The Christmas Coat, and a biography of her brother, Too Strong to Be Broken.

  • Katherine Wiltenburg Todrys is a lawyer specializing in health and human rights research and advocacy. A former researcher with Human Rights Watch, she has reported on health conditions in African prisons, access to HIV treatment for migrants, and police abuses against sex workers in New York City. Her first book, Black Snake, considers the health impacts of fracking in the Bakken and tells the story of four Indigenous leaders in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Learn More

Event schedules for authors in the non-fiction track will be announced as the Festival draws nearer. To stay current on Festival events, please subscribe to our e-newsletter at the link below.