The Midwestern Renaissance

Bonnie Jo Campbell

We are the middle of the country. We are the heart of the country, the lungs and spleen and reproductive organs of the country, and our profound influence is everywhere, though we keep quiet about our influence because we are afraid someone will notice that we are full of shit when it comes to this great influence we’re supposed to have. We don’t even brag, except when we are drinking, which we do a lot. You know that when you go to New York or L.A., most of the most interesting and helpful people will turn out to be Ohio or some other Midwestern state.

We are a land of many lakes, really big lakes, small lakes, even smaller lakes. Ten million, four hundred sixteen thousand and seven lakes to be exact. And don’t even get me started on the ponds.

We are a land of many farms, and in those farms are many fields, and writing is one of those fields. Probably a disproportionate number of your favorite writers are Midwesterners or from Ontario (we consider Ontario the Midwest of Canada.) Kurt Vonnegut is from the Midwest, as is F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ring Lardner. For certain, most of the nation’s reading gets done in the Midwest. Every Midwestern woman worth her salt is in a book group or has been in a book group or is looking for a good book group right now, one in which the other women don’t care how much wine she drinks. Take my mother. She reads a book a day, and especially loves books in which men are killed or in which menopausal women steal bulldozers and drive them over men’s cars.

Most men in the Midwest are unemployed or addicted to methamphetamine and so can’t pay their cable bills, and so their tv screens have turned to fuzz and snow, so what the hell else are they going to do besides read?

We Midwesterners go about sheepishly, humbly, shuffling along in our winter parkas that cover our giant asses, but we have nothing to apologize for. Our writers are just as grotesque as the southern writers, and although our snakes are mostly not poisonous, they do often slide from the swamps and come up into our houses through spaces around the plumbing. IF you just drive down the road, you’ll see we have the wide spaces of the great American west, and we even have rattle snakes here, the Massassauga rattler, to be exact, who lives in the swamp. And just around the corner from the swamp, we’ve got restaurants in Ann Arbor and Chicago that are just as crowded as overpriced as any on the east coast, where they seem to publish all the books. We make delicious food here that comforts you, and we know how to melt cheese. My old fashioned homemade fudge is the answer to many of your problems. We are nice, we are sometimes passive aggressive, but we only punch and kick you at the bar, and that is only because you are asking for it. We are wholesome, even our sluts are wholesome. The woman who made my wedding cake was a slut. And she frosted the whole cake with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. We are humble. We are wise. We are wide and growing wider.

We are the Midwest. Writing is a discipline that requires us to sit on our asses for long periods of time without television. Writing requires humility. We are very well suited.


Bonnie Jo Campbell is the author of the bestselling novel Once Upon a River (July 2011, W.W. Norton) and a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow. She was a 2009 National Book Award finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for her collection of stories, American Salvage. Campbell is also author of the novel Q Road and the story collection Women & Other Animals.  She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan with her husband and two donkeys. You can learn more about her at