Friday, June 18, 2021

The #Midwessay: Holly Anne Burns, My Midwessay

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]     

My Midwessay

Holly Anne Burns


Although I’ve lived in seven states, on both coasts, spent 8 years in NYC, and I also carry an Australian passport, I am a Midwesterner. However, I haven’t always so warmly embraced being Midwestern.
     I was born here, in Wisconsin. I went to college here. My mom’s side of the family is all Midwestern.
After college, I was eager to move away. I had always wanted to live in NYC and so I made my way out there, by way of Michigan, Illinois and then Washington, DC.
     I met my husband on the NYC subway. He is not from the Midwest, foreign-born and raised. He was working at the United Nations at the time and mentioned me to a German colleague who happened to be dating a girl from Chicago. When the German learned I was Midwestern he told my future husband Midwesterners are warm and genuine and great cooks. I am not a great cook, but his girlfriend was.
     The Midwest has also been called flyover country. I prefer to pretend it’s called that because of the beauty of the land from above when flying over on a cloudless day. Land patterns of farms and crops, towns and cities, lakes, and rivers. From above or on ground, one of my favorite parts of the land is the rolling hills of Wisconsin. I love driving over them on bike or car on country roads, admiring the rocks leftover by glaciers, reminding me the Midwest has been around far longer than all of us. That catch-your-breath feeling like you are small and something else is so much bigger.
     Having biked 500 miles through the Midwest I can tell you breathing the fresh, clean air is a gift. I once rode my bike from the Twin Cities to Chicago, a five-day ride. Five days of sun and rain, hay rolls (not stacks) casting shadows (Monet would have died and gone to heaven), farm silos along the horizon, cows dotting the landscape, road construction, freshly paved asphalt (okay so maybe the air wasn’t feeling so fresh then…). Local ice cream and cheese and camping in your backyard or a State forest. From the barns of all shapes and colors, to random rock formations, if this is humdrum rural America, I’ll take it.
     The Midwest takes all kinds and lets them get away from it all. The slowed pace of life. Catch your breath. Back country, wildflowers, home-grown vegetable gardens. Log cabins and wood fires, winter cross-country skiing, summer lake swims. When I moved back to Wisconsin after more than 13 years away, I let out a sigh of relief. I felt like I had been holding my breath while living and working in NYC. I LOVE NYC. That fast-paced city taught me to embrace who I am: A Midwesterner.


Creativity has always played an important role in the life of Holly Anne Burns, from making art to writing stories. In her life and in her work, being empathetic is important to Holly. She appreciates global perspectives. She celebrates diversity. And, she's a fan of the quirky. She roots for the underdog. These themes carry over into Holly's work. She hopes to create bridges between people. She celebrates mundane, universal moments and she's inspired often. Additionally, Holly uses subtle humor and social commentary to engage people into action, thought, conversation, and/or to question their own sets of biases.
On a personal note, Holly lives in Madison, WI, with her husband and their two wild and crazy kids. During the day, she's a design leader working in product development. In addition to making art and writing, Holly loves to travel, bicycle, snack, read, and eat "fancy" chocolate.

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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