An Inside Perspective
Jan 26, 2011Normally, finishing a book in academia means a short quiz or discussion. English professor Scott Olsen likes to do things a little differently. When his nonfiction writing class finished “The Children’s Blizzard,” they made a Skype call to the home of the book’s author David Laskin.
“I can say a million things about a book and my students will nod their heads and take notes,” Olsen explains. “But when I can connect them with the author, it makes it real.”
At 6:45 a.m. (PST), armed only with a cup of coffee, Laskin met the class and proceeded to host an informal discussion about his research and writing process.
Caitlyn Schuchhardt ’12, Aberdeen, S.D., says Laskin’s work gave her a different perspective on recent weather, “it’s not as bad as 1888,” as well as on local history and the lives of those braving the plains where the blizzard took place. It also gave her a rare chance to converse with a celebrated author.
“This interview was successful because it was not just an author speaking to students, but a writer speaking to writers,” Schuchhardt says. “Having the opportunity to ask Laskin specific questions about his work, his organizational process – all things that we could only guess at – is wonderful for a group of young writers.”
After exhausting the allotted time, Laskin asked the class if the story hit home for those who grew up in the Midwest underneath the big sky. The answer was a resounding yes.
The book in question also hits home. Based on an 1888 blizzard widely known as the “Children’s Blizzard,” the book chronicles one of the most defining storms on the prairie.
“We live in a part of the world that has bad winters, so we understand it and respond to it well,” Olsen says. “If you say you are from North Dakota or Minnesota to anyone else on the planet, they’ll shiver in front of you.”
Olsen and first-year student Eliza Hartmann were recently interviewed by WDAY for a story about the Blizzard of 1888. Watch the story online.