Norris: ‘Writing is Never Easy’

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Author Discussed “Dakota” with Statewide Audiences during 2014 One Book Tenure

By Anna Wempe

Writing 256 pages of non-fiction prose that delves into the South Dakota psyche and culture without reading like a dry sociology textbook is no small feat. In fact, this feat took ten years to accomplish. But anyone who reads Kathleen Norris’s Dakota, the 2014 One Book for South Dakota and North Dakota, could tell you that it was worth the effort.

“Writing is never easy, but you’re driven to do it…I had to be a patient writer because it’s not a fast or an easy subject,” Norris said. “The world isn’t asking you to write a book – you’re doing it because you want to.”

2015 One Book to be Announced Soon

Norris wowed audiences in North Dakota and South Dakota during her 2014 One Book Author Tour this past summer, and provided meaningful knowledge and insight during her panel discussions at the 2014 South Dakota Festival of Books in Sioux Falls. Norris is the 12th in a line of acclaimed One Book authors to pass along valuable insight and spark talking points for South Dakotans, who use the statewide reading program to gather together and share ideas. The 2015 One Book South Dakota will be announced within the next month. Be sure to subscribe to our blog so that you receive the announcement immediately.

Norris’ passion for her subject definitely propelled Dakota forward, and enabled her to connect with the many South Dakotans she met while traveling across the state during the One Book Tour and at the South Dakota Festival of Books in Sioux Falls in September. Her love for the Dakotas and its land comes through both in conversations with her, and in her book. But her real passion lies in the people who make their home here.

“I lived in the big city for 6 years, and I was very interested and attuned to the human presence. So when we moved to Dakota, I was very aware of the nature, naturally, but also the human presence and the differences in it. The ranchers and cattle people scattered throughout the plains, as well as the people living in the small towns.”

Her awareness of and sensitivity to the culture of the Plains people—their peculiarities, prejudices, and strength—gives her a voice and perspective on a part of America that few get to see. She was able to share that particular insight this past year as she visited communities throughout South Dakota to discuss Dakota.

Conversing with South Dakotans

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As the One Book author, Norris conversed with many South Dakotans who have shared similar experiences. She also receives letters from people whose experience of and perspective on the Dakotas differ from her own. “Jim Nelson, for instance, from the Timber Lake Topic, a great newspaper, wrote me an excellent letter. He grew up in Lemmon and agreed with some things and disagreed with others and wished that I had focused on some other topics. I wrote him back and told him that as he had a different experience and focus, he should write his own book because it would be very different from mine and he had great stories from his time writing with the newspaper.”

Norris was pleased to return this year to the state where she met some lifelong friends, such as those who became acquaintances when they stopped to help her with car trouble. She compares South Dakota to a desert culture and how “it’s a feeling that we’re all in the same boat, and we need other people to help us. Now, South Dakota isn’t a desert, it’s actually a very fertile and productive…but it is like the desert in population.”

Norris’ appearance at the 2014 Festival of Books was her first, as she moved to Hawaii before the inception of the Festival in 2003. Her selection as the One Book author enabled her to reconnect with writer friends and acquaintances that she had not seen for quite some time, interact with fans, and visit the state that served as a breeding ground for her greatest works. Norris said she was “just really happy to come back, especially for such an event as this.”

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