Spanning decades and cultures, author collects Iowa’s history

BY ERIC ANDERSEN | JUNE 26, 2009 7:21 AM

Having the opportunity to travel to New York, Mexico, and Ireland as a writer-in-residence may seem exciting, but author and native Iowan Zachary Jack left all those places behind for his one true home.

“Each place was kind of out of the way,” he said. “Even as diverse as they were, in every place I found again what I like about Iowa, only reflected in a different culture.”

His fascination with Iowa gave him the idea to put together a detailed anthology of the state’s finest historical moments. Iowa: The Definitive Collection — from which Jack will read today at 7 p.m. at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. — features pieces written by various Iowan authors from 1831 to 2007.

The 500-page collection of excerpts, essays, and short stories took two years for him to compile. Jack said he started working on the book because he desired to know more about the Hawkeye State.

“Besides a fifth-grade unit on Iowa history that just came and went, I didn’t have any units or courses specifically dedicated to Iowa history or authors,” he said. “It occurred to me that I needed to make my own book and kind of self-study. Thirty-five years is long enough to go without knowing about your own state’s history.”

He wanted Iowa: The Definitive Collection to be celebratory of the state and its history, but he also sought for it to be as objective as possible. He decided to include a number of different historical perspectives, ranging from Native American to rural Iowan, in the book.

“I wanted the whole state to be represented, top to bottom, east to west,” Jack said. “I didn’t just want it to be cheerleading. I wanted it to be investigative in almost a journalistic sense.”

The author hopes that readers from all different walks of life will pick up the book and learn more about Iowa’s past. He selected stories that he thought historians and casual audiences alike would find interesting.

“I wanted it to be something that a person could keep on her or his end table or coffee table and just dip into a little story of Iowa or a history or an article or essay,” he said. “I tried to keep each one short.”

Although Jack spends much of his time writing, it is not the only passion close to his heart. He also teaches creative-writing classes at North Central College, in Naperville, Ill., though he still has a house in Jones County, Iowa, when he feels the need to return home.

He said he will read passages from the collection at Prairie Lights but also hopes to get in some discussion about Iowa history.

“I’d love to have people turn out who have their own favorite moments in Iowa literature history to share,” Jack said.

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