Cover image for An American mosaic : prose and poetry by everyday folk
An American mosaic : prose and poetry by everyday folk
Wolf, Robert, 1944-
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xvi, 328 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Reading Level:
1110 Lexile.
Added Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS508.W73 A83 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



From Walt Whitman's catalog of America to Thomas Hart Benton's American epics painted on walls across the country to Studs Terkel's documentaries, much artistic and literary labor has stemmed from the urge to figure out what makes this country tick. Any attempt at so large a canvas as thisdisparate country will be fragmented and incomplete, but like Benton's 1932 mural "American Today", American Mosaic is composed of pieces that taken together provide a vivid look at vanishing scenes of American life. Here, Robert Wolf offers a collective autobiography of the American heartland written for the most part by everyday men and women without literary ambition. Focusing on the second half of the twentieth century, this collection of essays, short stories, poems, and memoirs--woven together with Wolf'sintroductory notes--is the culmination of nine years of Free River Press writing workshops conducted by Wolf for the purpose of documenting contemporary American life. The volume includes work from homeless men and women from Tennessee, small farmers in rural Iowa, residents of Midwestern small towns, the Mississippi Delta, and river communities on the Mississippi. These first-person, eyewitness accounts offer glimpses of daily life: the farmers' strugglesagainst large corporations; poetic meditations on life in the streets, on the road, and in prison; tall tales of river town saloons; and the social rituals of cooking, town hall and party phone lines across America's small towns. Among many narratives, American Mosaic gives us the ruminations of ahomeless woman over a martini in El Gilbert's poem "Drunk," descriptions of hearty, communal meals during the July harvest in Clara Leppert's piece "Meals for Threshers," a picture of the goings-on in a West Helena, Arkansas juke joint with Chris Crawford's essay "Lucky Lacey," and the reminiscencesof a former Mississippi River towboat captain in Jack Libby's "The Midnight Watch Change." Together, these diverse stories comprise panels of a literary mural of America. American Mosaic is a compelling testament to regional and local American voices and folkways which are fast disappearing through the relentless push towards a global economy and culture.

Author Notes

Robert Wolf is Executive Director of the Free River Press. He is a writer and teacher who has lived and worked in many regions of the country. A former columnist for the Chicago Tribune, in the 1970s Wolf taught in public and private schools and colleges, and now runs private seminars and workshops.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Wolf helped found the nonprofit Free River Press to publish the writings of homeless men and women. He helped nonwriters overcome their inhibitions about writing by conducting "orally oriented" workshops. These proved to be so successful he widened the circle to include other groups in need of a forum, such as farm families and citizens of small towns. The resulting poems and personal narratives are authentic, involving, and enlightening. They do, indeed, create a mosaic, and it captures the frustration and determination of people whose lives are constricted by harsh economic realities. Homeless men and women write about their lives both before and after they ended up on the streets, and rural life is revealed in all its surprising diversity, demands, satisfactions, and traumas. Wolf characterizes rural America and the terrain of the homeless as a Third World country and believes that the only way things will improve is if the stories of its people are heard. Like Walt Whitman and Studs Terkel, Wolf hears America singing, and he wants us all to listen. --Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

In 1990, after founding Free River Press, Wolf began a program of writing workshops in Nashville for homeless men and women with the intent of publishing their writing. This led to workshops for farm families and other groups in the region that were eventually featured on CBS Sunday Morning and National Public Radio's All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Taken from these workshops and beyond, the short stories, poems, and memoirs collected here are as diverse as daily life, offering an abundance of literary Americana focusing primarily on the latter part of the 20th century. Thomas Hart Benton's mural "America Today" (1932) served as a major influence on the book's structure; separate sections depict the homeless, the Midwest, the Mississippi River, and the Delta, with each section including a commentary by the editor. The order follows the chronology in which the works were developed. This is an oral history triumph, featuring the voices of the real folk who fight each day to survive their personal struggles. Highly recommended.√ĄCynde Bloom Lahey, New Canaan Lib., CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Wayne LeonhardKarl SmithsonJim MinceRichard SandryRichard SandryClara LeppertFrancis ColeBarb MitchellBarb LeppertDan ByrnesBob LeppertEsther WelshEsther WelshGreg WelshRichard SandryDavid MitchellBruce CarlsonBill WelshGreg WelshLinda Nash and Michael NashDon Klauke and Mary KlaukeKhaki NelsonDoris MartinLaverne SwensonMike FinneganLois AmundsonJennifer OlufsenJerry KellyDelores MartinHannah ChesmoreLisa SchmidtPatrick KippMarie CalihanMarietta MoershelBarbara HoehnleLawrence RettigLawrence RettigDianne RathjeMary Ann FelsGaycia NeubauerRay MoserEmily HoppeCaptain Jack LibbeyMary Kathleen JulianRobert TeffLyle ErnstKen JonesMarjorie WhiteChris CrawfordMurray Hudson
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
General Introductionp. 1
Poetry and Prose by the Homeless
Introductionp. 11
Well Seasoned
100% Texan
Winter Boy
I'm Sorry But
Temporary Relief
Exempt from Death
Wouldn't You Know It
I. Poems Written in Prison
Frightened by Sounds of Night
The Night is Cool ...
I've Dreamed Many Dreams that Never Came True
Sometimes You Hurt Me Terribly
You've Awakened Ideas, Thoughts
Sad, Ashamed
II. Poem Written After Prison
You Ask Just What You Can Do for Me
Dressed in Doubt
The Shadow
Church House Blues
The Way up Is Down
Thru a Poor Man's Eyes
What Really Happened to Us
Here I Sit across the Street
Traveling Fever
Lord, Take my Weakness
I Watched a Rose
When My Life Is Gone
Female Guard
I Hate
The Right Roadp. 47
I Am a Manp. 55
The Beginning of the Endp. 64
Commentary: Can We Find Our Way Home?p. 69
Rural America: the Midwest
Introductionp. 81
Farm Stories
Introductionp. 87
Memoriesp. 89
Threshingp. 92
Meals for Threshersp. 93
The Tornadop. 94
Apronsp. 96
The Coming of Machineryp. 98
The Silop. 99
Farmingp. 101
Getting Startedp. 105
Choicesp. 107
Forced Auctionsp. 110
Storm Cloudsp. 111
Diaryp. 112
Soilp. 117
The Day the Welsh Family Farm Turned Aroundp. 119
The Way Backp. 123
Do You Know Who Grows Your Food?p. 127
Vertical Integration in Agriculturep. 131
Commentary: Daniel In the Lion's Den, an Interview with Father Norman Whitep. 137
The Jeffersonian Idealp. 143
Small Towns
Introductionp. 153
Saturday Nights in Clermontp. 155
Brick City Ice Creamp. 158
Saturday Nightsp. 159
Burkhard Riegelp. 160
Party Linep. 161
Moving from the City to Clermont in 1992p. 163
A Changing Neighborhoodp. 165
The Flood of 1990p. 167
$4.65p. 171
College Choicesp. 173
Where Do You Want to Be?p. 175
Commentary: Small Town Economicsp. 179
Communal Life
Introduction: Lawrence Rettigp. 189
Communal Kitchensp. 192
Vignettes of a High Amana Childhoodp. 195
Easterp. 201
Stardom for Omap. 203
Carrie's Hairp. 205
Linap. 206
My Wedding: October 23, 1948p. 209
Just Plain Goodnessp. 214
Fields and Buildingsp. 218
The Prairie Skiffp. 220
Commentary: The Amanasp. 227
The River And The Delta
Introductionp. 231
The River
The Midnight Watch Changep. 237
Mississippi Towboat Ridesp. 243
Commercial Fishingp. 246
River Townsp. 252
My Mississippi Mistressp. 257
The Delta
Carthage, Boomtownp. 263
Lucky Laceyp. 272
Selections from Dirt and Dutyp. 285
Commentary: Delta Historyp. 305
Afterwordp. 313
Developing Regional Rural Economies
Provincial Hope