An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk

An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk

An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk

An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk

Synopsis

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 this disparate 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's introductory 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' struggles against 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 a homeless 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 reminiscences of 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.

Excerpt

American Mosaic is a record of American life focusing primarily on the second half of the twentieth century. It is a collection of stories and essays written for the most part by men and women without literary ambition, and developed in Free River Press writing workshops. The idea for the book came from my desire to get people from all regions of the country and as many occupations as possible to document their lives and work in an ongoing series of books. American Mosaic is a miniature version of what I hope to accomplish over the next twenty-five years.

The press was created in 1990 in Nashville, Tennessee as a non- profit corporation whose purpose was to publish the work of homeless men and women. The corporation in turn was an outgrowth of a writing workshop held at MATTHEW 25, a short-term residence facility for homeless men in downtown Nashville. The workshop began almost accidentally. I had been hired by the Nashville Metro Board of Education to teach G.E.D. subjects to the men at MATTHEW 25. Most of MATTHEW 25's then-current population, as I had been . . .

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