Lonesome Dreamer: The Life of John G. Neihardt

Lonesome Dreamer: The Life of John G. Neihardt

Lonesome Dreamer: The Life of John G. Neihardt

Lonesome Dreamer: The Life of John G. Neihardt


The life of Flaming Rainbow, Nebraska's first poet laureate.

American poet and writer John G. Neihardt (1881-1973) possessed an inquiring and spiritual mind. Both talents came to the fore in Black Elk Speaks, the story of the Lakota holy man Black Elk, for which he is best remembered. Over the course of thirty years, he also wrote the five-volume, epic poem, A Cycle of the West, which told the story of the settling of the American West.

Despite Neihardt's widespread name recognition, the success of Black Elk Speaks, and a list of critically claimed books and poems, Lonesome Dreamer is the first biography of Neihardt in nearly forty years. Timothy G. Anderson describes Neihardt's life from his humble beginnings in Illinois, to being named poet laureate of Nebraska in 1921, to his appearance on the Dick Cavett Show at the age of ninety. Anderson also delves into Neihardt's success as a poet far from the Eastern literary establishment, his resistance to modernist movements in poetry, and his wish to understand and describe the experience ofthe Plains Indians. Offering insight into both his personal and hisliterary life, this biography reaffirms Neihardt's place in Americanliterary history, his successes and failures, and his unbreakable spirit.


Each year on the last Saturday of April the John G. Neihardt Center in Bancroft, Nebraska, hosts its annual spring conference. Some sixty to seventy attendees—among them people old enough to have met John Neihardt, who died in 1973, or at least heard him speak or recite his poetry—spend the day listening to historians and musicians and other writers and artists present a program on Neihardt and the issues he cared about.

Many of the attendees are repeat customers at this outpost of the Nebraska State Historical Society, and they are likely to know more about Neihardt than the average person. They are likely to know, first of all, that Neihardt moved to Bancroft in 1900, living there for two decades, and that he spent the last part of his long life teaching at the University of Missouri. They know the book for which he is best known, an astold- to biography of a Lakota holy man titled Black Elk Speaks. Perhaps most important, they are likely to know that he also wrote a great many other books, works of fiction and nonfiction and books of poems, both short and epic.

Most people in the twenty-first century, if they have heard of John Neihardt at all, know of him because of Black Elk Speaks, first published in 1932, then reissued to wide acclaim in the 1960s. For two decades . . .

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