Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The #Midwessay: B.J. Hollars, Mulling Rather Than Musing

It's possible all the writing I've done over the years has been in some way a response, a pushing back against the isolation and loneliness I felt at sixteen, driving an endless loop between home and school and work, speeding through the rolling country 'burbs of southeastern Wisconsin. There, a farm. There, a subdivision. There, a snowy field. Lots of trees. Another farm. Another subdivision. Endless fields. Growing up in this landscape my edges were smoothed; I was shaped. For me, this landscape was so cold, isolating, lonely. Constantly, I seek warmth, body, connection; I seek community, conversation. 

To some degree, all of us here are shaped by the landscape, by the way the highways bend, by the way one watershed tilts towards the lake, another to the river, and by all the cold and snow this winter. And yet, each of us inhabits a landscape uniquely our own, built of our own experience. We are Wisconsin-born, -bred, -rooted, but we live alone in our own version of wherever we are. And Essay Daily, this #Midwessay project, what are these but elaborate feelers, searching, finding, sharing, celebrating a coming-together? I'm not sure I care all that much about what a Wisconsin essay is or isn't. I just want to hear your voice, your thoughts, your stories. The Wisconsin essay is whatever you say. 

                                                                                                                                            Craig Reinbold

We'd love for you to join the conversation. Reach out @craigreinbold // craigreinbold[at]                                                          

Mulling Rather Than Musing

Perhaps I’m playing into the tropes here, but a Midwestern essay, for me, is one that is derived from a place of great humility. It embraces the “attempt” rather than the answer, ponders rather than pontificates, mulls rather than muses.

Or maybe that’s just what I want it to be…

Of course, it’s always dangerous to paint with such a broad stroke, though I do think there’s a deep curiosity in essays born in the Midwestern; a kind of rootedness in the reading experience, an earthiness in the tone.

Which is not to say it’s all cornfields and crows on telephone poles. Rather, Midwestern essays are often about striving, and yearning, and populating the places that are often overlooked. I think of Michael Martone’s The Flatness and Other Landscapes, Michael Perry’s Population: 485, and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.

On the whole, Midwestern essays—like all essays—defy the boxes we build for them. Though they do share a kinship, I think. They try, then try again, then once more after that.

Which is to say: it’s not all cornfields and crows on telephone poles. They serve as proof of a wider world.


B.J. Hollars is the author of several books, including Midwestern Strange: Hunting Monsters, Martians and The Weird in Flyover Country, The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders, Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Civil Rights in Tuscaloosa, and Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence, and the Last Lynching in America. His latest book, Go West Young Man: A Father and Son Rediscover America on the Oregon Trail, is forthcoming in the fall of 2021. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? 

Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond.  These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors

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