A public book launch with readings from the new book “The Haunting of  Potter’s Field” and a gallery exhibition of the book’s illustrations will be held at 7 p.m., October 8, 2021, at the Winona History Center, 160 Johnson Street in Winona.

In the late 1800s, streams of people were moving across the country in search of better lives. Chasing their dreams or fleeing their failures, they left their previous lives behind along with their families, their friends and all they had known. Some succeeded, but many did not. They never returned home.

Often their families never learned what became of them; that they were lying in a potter’s field, the burial place of the poor and the unclaimed. Now, thanks to Minnesota author and playwright Margaret Shaw Johnson, some of their stories are revealed in the new book, “The Haunting of Potter’s Field,” which has been compared to Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology.”

Johnson served as a Minnesota trial court judge for 21 years. She is acutely aware that fate can undo any of us, that we cannot conclude that poverty and hardship arise from moral failings and that the story of the development of our country cannot be complete without considering those who failed as well as those who prospered.

Who are the people in America’s potter’s fields and how did they end up where they did? Many of them left very few or no records behind them, but sometimes they were written about in the local newspapers, and those 19th century news stories may be the only record that they ever existed.

Using the accounts from one representative town in Minnesota, the author retells a series of their stories in verse. The book is richly illustrated by Minnesota artist Jared Tuttle. While the veracity of the individual stories cannot be confirmed, together they give us a poignant picture of a time in America when people’s dreams collided with their own limitations, with circumstances they could not have imagined and with obstacles they simply could not overcome.

“The Haunting of Potter’s Field” has received rave reviews. Ken McCullough, author of “Broken Gates,” “Dark Star” and “Left Hand,” said, “... Margaret Shaw Johnson focuses on the community’s forsaken and tells us their stories with insight and compassion. Jared Tuttle’s drawings add an edgy gothic element to the text. One is transported to that time and place and the writing is such that one can’t help but read the book aloud.”

Learn more about the book at ravenspointpress.com.