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Dean speaks on relationship between writing and natural world

Writer Thomas Dean presents 'Life and Ideas of Paul Gruchow on January 29th - Cait De Mott Grady
Writer Thomas Dean presents 'Life and Ideas of Paul Gruchow on January 29th - Cait De Mott Grady
On Thursday, Jan 29, University of Iowa writer Thomas Dean, special assistant to the President of the University of Iowa, came to present “Giving Voice to a Quiet Place: Paul Gruchow, Prairie Prophet” in an event sponsored by the Center for Prairie Studies. Dean edited The Grace of Grass and Water: Writing in Honor of Paul Gruchow, an anthology of memorial essays about Paul Gruchow. Gruchow’s works include The Necessity of Empty Places, Journal of a Prairie Year, and Grassroots: The Universe of Home. Thomas discussed the importance of Gruchow’s work in relation to place, community, and the natural world.

What would you say is the essential message of Gruchow’s work?
I think the essential message is to care deeply, be connected to, know, and understand our natural environment and community. Also, be concerned not only about the beautiful things but be concerned about the negative things and take responsibility for the ways that we are actually destroying the natural world as well as our own communities.

How did you find Paul Gruchow and how did he come to be an influence on your work?
I had never heard of Gruchow until I had my first teaching job. One semester I was assigned to teach contemporary literature, which could mean anything, so I took a thematic approach. I was really starting to develop my interest in nature and midwestern writing.
I happened upon an anthology of midwestern rural writing, and there was an essay by Gruchow in there. It was one of the winter essays of Journal of a Prairie Year. As I discovered his work, I just became more and more interested. He was a tremendous oral reader. He was one of the best readers I’ve ever heard. He was doing a reading at a rural writers festival and I just became enthralled by him in person.

How do you see community as part of place and part of a writer’s perspective of the world?
I think that a lot of times people may see those as different or separate. You’re a nature writer or you’re a writer who’s interested in the social aspect of things. But I think they’re very much interrelated and I think those are the type of connections that Paul Gruchow is trying to make.
On the one hand, part of it is showing the ways in which living with the natural world, in the natural world, and taking care of the natural world is something that is important to the ways that we interact as a community. I also think there’s a metaphoric way you can look at community in the natural world. But, in a lot of ways, the interrelationships that form a good community and the positive and interactive relationships are ecological. We now know, certainly in the last 30, 40 years as the environmental movement took off, that we need to be concerned about ecosystems and biodiversity [along with] the interactions and interrelationships.
Animals, plants, streams, and everything else don’t work and operate in isolation but are a part of a greater whole. And that’s how communities work, too. We aren’t just individualistic atoms moving off in our own independent directions. When we forget our interrelationships, that’s when the community falls apart just as when we sever the relationships in the natural world, that’s how ecosystems fall apart.

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