Despite the fact that the winters are pretty cold and we have little else to do besides read and write to pass the time, people might not consider Wisconsin a very literary state. Portland, Oregon and Washington, D.C. made National Geographic’s Ten Ten Literary Cities of the World. And a study done bi-annually by Quartz, a self-dubbed creative and intelligent journalism news outlet, found that only 50% of Wisconsin’s population had reported reading a piece of poetry, fiction and play in the last 12 months, while 15 other states could claim 60% of their population had met those criteria, and one state, New Hampshire, boasted 70%.
But despite these statistics, I have found, and am proud to share with you, the names, works, accolades and wisdom of three amazing writers from our great state. If you are looking for your next read, or a new favorite author to fangirl, then look no further.
Jane Kelley is the middle grade author of The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, and Nature Girl. My second-grade son adores her Clint McCool series.
I met Jane at a state level library conference last spring and we immediately struck up a friendship while chatting after our panel. Since then, Jane has convinced me to join SCBWI, introduced me several other Wisconsin writers, and sat with me at dinner when I knew no-one else at my first state SCBWI conference. She is a wonderful author, and a wonderful friend.
Jane, like me, began writing stories as a child and holds a strong affinity for infusing stories with the importance of persistence and the power of the imagination. I wish there were more people on the planet like Jane. Maybe if we all read her books, her ideas and good character will find a way to our hearts and minds.
Blair Braverman is everything her name suggests… namely BRAVE. This woman is fierce! Training for the Iditarod? Check. Interviewing a real-live-Viking who was about to get kicked out of an entire continent… in a hot tub? Check. Living on a glacier? Check.
In the winter Blair is a dog sledder and outdoor adventurer, but in the summer she turns her attention to documenting those events (while she waits for the temperature to drop and the snow to fall). I don’t normally read non-fiction, but Blair’s personal stories caught my attention. Plus, I love swearing, so how could I not buy (and read) a book called, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube? When I met Blair for the second time, a few weeks ago, at a Great River Writes event, I couldn’t write down her witty quips and writing wisdom fast enough. Truly this woman is a treasure trove of stories, adventure and technical prowess.
Nickolas Butler is the real deal. He’s sold thousands of books, in a handful of countries. He is a product of the highly acclaimed and sought-after Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He’s won all sorts of literary awards and is a really, really big deal, in France. But you know what else? Nick is a REALLY NICE GUY.
The first time I met Nick was at Untitled Town last spring. Even though I had left school the second the clock struck 3, and driven to Green Bay without stopping, I had missed author packet pick up for the weekend of events... by 10 minutes. I knew NOT A SOUL at this conference (except later discovered Jane was there!), but had promised myself that networking and making connections were high on the priority list. I knew of Nick, and knew that he had been scheduled to speak to my writing group in La Crosse earlier in the year. And when I walked into the author social (sans the official credentials and badge that would proclaim to all that I BELONGED) he was the only person I recognized. I got myself a drink, gave myself a pep talk in the bathroom and walked right up to him and introduced myself. His cronies, other successful authors, that stood with him stopped talking, looked at me, the new name-less, credential-less person before them, and then at him. And then… Nick politely made small talk with me for ten minutes before I excused myself to talk to other not-yet-famous writers hanging out by the wall of the dimly lit bar. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to ask me what I had recently, or what I was writing at the moment. He didn’t have to nod his head as I answered and his friends waited for him to return, but he did.
When he spoke to a group of writers in La Crosse earlier this month he didn’t have to tell us that his best work came from desperation. “I had to be hyper-focused. There was so much pressure to produce something – or we were in big trouble financially. While everyone else was partying or having super elitist literary conversations, I was writing.” He could have pretended his talent was a gift bestowed upon him, could have projected that his kind of success was only for a certain kind of writer… but he didn’t. He was honest and real and vulnerable.
And that is why I think you should read his books. Because yeah, he is a really good author, who tells a damn good story (I love the short story: Apples, in Beneath the Bonfire), but also, he is a just a plain, good, midwestern human being.
Have you heard the quote, “When you do what you love, the universe conspires on your behalf?”
I truly believe it. It is through this mindset, open eyes and a pure passion for words that have put me in close contact with so many word nerd rockstars. These three writers are just the tip of the talented Wisconsin writing iceberg. I could tell you about a dozen more! Valerie Biel, Melissa Gorzelanczyk, Miranda Paul, Silvia Acevedo, and Patrick Rothfuss are all products of Wisconsin. And of course, there are the many household name authors from our great state as well! Did you know, Jennifer Chiaverini, Kevin Henkes, Lois Ehlert, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Marguerite Henry and Ellen Raskin all call/called Wisconsin home?
Who here wants to add their name to this growing list of Wisconsin writing talent? I know I do! Inspirational examples are all around us! So, pick up your pen, and get going! You can do this! Just follow those who have paved the way.
Who is your favorite Wisconsin author? Show them some love in the comments below!