Midwest Made

Creators with a connection to the Midwest

I grew up on a farm that has been in my family for more than 140 years; our Midwestern land is important to me. As the writer here at rustmedia, words also mean deeply to me; I love to read, listen to and think about others’ perspectives as I write about my own.

Here, I share a few of my favorite writers, thinkers and musicians who have a connection to the Midwest and who have shaped my thinking and living. In no particular order:

1. “The Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude,” by Ross Gay

This book of poems is made up of beautiful odes to what some might dismiss as common experiences in life, but what Gay elevates and regards as beautiful and worthy of praise. The opening poem “to the fig tree on 9th and christian” is one of my favorites. Gay is originally from Ohio and is a professor at Indiana University.

2. Anything by Wendell Berry

Born on his family’s farm in Kentucky, Berry lived in California, Europe and New York before returning to Kentucky and becoming a full-time farmer. His poems, essays and novels propose a return to the land and a way of life that respects it, arguing local life and economies are based on farming small and sustainably. He uses horses to farm and writes about traditional values as the bedrock of well-functioning, healthy societies.

3. Josh Garrels’ Music

Approaching Christianity and spirituality in an achingly human way, Garrels’ music asks the hard questions and probes the depths of what it means to be a seeker. Originally from Indiana, Garrels and his family now live in Portland, Oregon. His Midwestern influences can be heard especially in his early albums “Over Oceans,” “Jacaranda” and “Lost Animals.” “Love and War and the Sea in Between” is, in my opinion, his best work; “Home” is also beautiful.

4. “The House on Mango Street,” by Sandra Cisneros

This novella, told in a series of vignettes, is about a girl coming of age in an immigrant neighborhood of Chicago and the people who also live on her street. The language Cisneros uses in this short little gem sings and leaves me marveling at its beauty. Cisneros was born in Chicago and wrote this book while attending The Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

5. “I Have Been Thinking About Snow,” by Anders Monson

Born in Michigan and an alumnus of Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and Iowa State University, Monson’s work imagines and pushes the boundaries of what an essay can be. Not only is the form of his writing delightful, but the thought conveyed through it means something and matters.

6. On Being with Krista Tippett

This podcast and website explore issues of being human with open-mindedness, deep thinking and genuine desire to understand others’ perspectives. Through interviews and essays with some of the greatest spiritual teachers and thinkers of our day, these projects plumb the depths of mystery and find comfort there. The On Being Project is located on Dakota land in Minnesota.

7. “Hills Like White Elephants,” by Ernest Hemingway

I love this powerful short story because of the way Hemingway uses dialogue to so accurately convey the meaning of the things we really mean but don’t say in conversations. Hemingway was born and raised in Illinois and worked briefly for “The Kansas City Star” before enlisting as an ambulance driver in World War I.

8. Zach Winters’ Music

Before moving to Southern Mexico for a year to write and produce his latest album, “Love is a Garden,” Winters and his family lived on the Great Plains in Oklahoma, where he grew up. Contemplative in nature, Winters’ music delights in the simple joys of life and meditates on probing questions about being human and relating to a God of deep love. Get ready to enter in.

9. “Notes from No Man’s Land,” by Eula Biss

This collection of essays is not one you read for comfort; it challenges biases about race — specifically whiteness — and asks questions that have consequences. Biss wrote this book while attending The Iowa Writer’s Workshop; she now teaches at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

10. “Letter to My Daughter,” by Maya Angelou

This book is written in short letters, a collection of the things Angelou would have said to her daughter had she had one. Instead, Angelou shares the wisdom she gathered throughout her life with readers in a straightforward way. This is a letter from a woman who knows who she is and feels no need to pretend otherwise. Angelou was born in St. Louis and spent some of her childhood years there.

I hope you find good food for both the mind and the soul through these thinkers’ work and that through it, you also find a way to contribute yourself and your experiences to this incredible place we call the Midwest.