Donald Simmons of South Dakota

By Scanlan, Laura Wolff | Humanities, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

Donald Simmons of South Dakota


Scanlan, Laura Wolff, Humanities


AROUND THE NATION

While following Lewis and Clark's trail along the Missouri River, Donald Simmons canoed, cooked buffalo meat, and traveled the same distance the Great Expedition covered in a three-day period.

"I really enjoy reading the journals of Lewis and Clark and I have spent a lot of time in my canoe, following the path of those explorers and thinking about all the changes that have occurred in South Dakota," says Simmons, who is executive director of the South Dakota Humanities Council. A native Mississippian, he spent most of his childhood on the banks of rivers-the Neuse in North Carolina, the Alabama, and the Mighty Mississippi.

The Missouri River will take center stage this year as the South Dakota council gears up for the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. As a member of the Great Plains Chautauqua, South Dakota will present a new program in the summer of 2003, "From Sea to Shining Sea: American Expansion and Cultural Change 1790-1850." Humanities scholars will conduct five-day residencies in five states. This year's program, moderated by Dolley Madison, features William Clark and his slave York, Sacagawea, Tecumseh, and John Jacob Astor. Members of the speakers bureau will talk about cultural misunderstandings between the explorers and the natives, as recounted in the journals of Lewis and Clark. Issues in ethnography, zoology, botany, economics, and government will be covered, and one program will describe the foods the Corps of Discovery brought with them, hunted, prepared, and ate.

Simmons came to the South Dakota Humanities Council in November 2001 after serving as assistant director for the Mississippi Humanities Council. He says it took some getting used to how sparsely populated South Dakota is-there are 9.9 people per square mile, which can be a challenge to humanities programming. Some residents live two hours or more from a bookstore. As a precursor to the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., last October, authors were dispatched throughout the state in what Simmons calls "circuit-riding author tours."

"When we can send a nationally recognized author to a community of one thousand to fifteen hundred, they draw a really good crowd," he says. …

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