Explore Driftless area with new eyes



Curt Meine, co-editor of the anthology "The Driftless Reader" from the University of Wisconsin Press, has weighed in on an important local controversy. As residents of this geologically unique region try to fine-tune their identities, debating over whether to call themselves "drifters" or "driftsters," the biologist and historian has registered his opinion. "It's challenging to come up with a name for [residents,] but Keefe [Keeley, the book's co-editor] said, 'because all rivers tend to meander, we should be called meanderthals,'" declaired Meine.

Winonans will have an opportunity to put forth their own suggestions during a reading and accompanying open mic event at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse on Wednesday, February 7. Meine expects to have copies of "The Driftless Reader" on hand at the event. The book, published in early December, has already sold out its entire first-print run, but a second edition should be available at the event. Partially inspired by similar regional anthologies, Meine and Keeley decided that instead of focusing on writers who were simply born or raised in the area, they would curate a selection of stories, poems, articles, essays and historical documents about the region by an international array of writers. "Since it's such a diverse book, the people interested in biology will also get some poetry; if they're interested in geology, they get some native history," he explained. "Readers get an understanding of the place, to be stretched as readers as we were stretched as editors."

Part of Meine's inspiration came from his own bookshelves. He had collected so many volumes with interesting information about the Driftless area, a region avoided by the last ice age which encompasses Southeast Minnesota as well as parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, that an anthology made sense. And considering the entire print run sold out in under two months, that was a good decision.

"We made tough choices. We had a word limit we set for ourselves," said Meine. "But there is so much more; that was the real point of including an extensive list of additional reading. If people want more, they know where to go." Some items that Meine really hoped to include didn't make the cut. "I'm really partial to some of the old geologists who helped us to understand what the region is about. A couple of friends, I had to say to them, 'We couldn't include you in this, but you're in good company. We had to take John Steinbeck out, too,'" Meine said, referring to "Travels with Charley," Steinbeck's book about his trip around the United States, including Minnesota and Wisconsin.

An important part of the project for Meine and Keeley was to include a diverse array of voices. Native people have been in the region for more than 13,000 years. Cambodians and Norwegians, Germans and Bohemians, Guatemalans and Irish, Hmong refugees and migrant laborers from Mexico, communities of freed slaves in Wisconsin and valleys full of "scoundrels and miscreants…" it's the wide array of populations and demographics that Meine and Keeley wanted to celebrate. The book contains a song in favor of Wisconsin statehood from 1848; the record of a French Jesuit missionary exploring the region in 1673; the travel record of a log raft pilot from 1930, excerpts from Rick Harsch's, novel "The Driftless Zone"; and Clifford D. Simak's eerie science fiction masterpiece, "The Way Station," about an alien travel stop along the Iowa bluffs.

Curt Meine will read and host the open mic at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse at 162 West Second Street on February 2 at 7 p.m.


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