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Author shares love of the heartland with readers

BY ERIC HAWKINSON | DECEMBER 08, 2010 7:10 AM

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Iowa-born author Zachary Jack finds the most inspiration from the place that shaped who he is — the farm. There, he gained lifelong passions for sports, nature, agriculture, and small-town culture.

"Those are the things that growing up in Iowa on a farm taught me to love," he said. "The things you're taught to love and have an understanding for, it's the story you're telling your whole life."

The author will come to Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., tonight to read from one of his works, Homer Croy: Corn Country Travel Writing, Literary Journalism, and Memoir. The event will begin at 7 p.m.; admission is free.

This is not the first time for Jack to read at Prairie Lights. In fact, six years ago at the bookstore, he met his publisher, Steve Semken. Semken released Jack's book about Homer Croy under the publishing company Ice Cube Books. He said Jack is a "very ambitious writer" who has been sending Semken his work since they met.

"He's very talented and prolific, and he can write on anything," Semken said. "He's an emerging voice of Iowa."

Jack, who teaches writing at North Central College in Illinois, finds himself continuously more drawn to stories about the Midwest.

"I write a lot about Iowa. I didn't anticipate doing that when I was younger, because I don't think it had crystallized yet what it would mean to me …" he said. "I find Iowa infinitely fascinating. The deeper you look into it, the more there is to know, to appreciate, to think about and consider."

The life of Homer Croy, a formerly celebrated Midwestern author, captured Jack's interest and resulted in a book that reintroduces Croy's accomplishments to a new generation. Homer Croy: Corn Country is part biography and part literary works produced by Croy that Jack has selected.

In the book, Jack examines how Croy humbly began writing about the country and how it eventually brought him literary fame. He shows the rise and fall of a man, and reveals the importance of staying true to one's roots. Croy was in many ways a pioneer. He became the first journalism student at the United States' first journalism school, the first person to tour the world shooting a motion picture, and the first to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for an anonymous work. A captivating man, whose story has been lost to time, Jack aims to reclaim his spot as a literary icon from the Midwest.

"It will serve as a reminder to [Iowans] and to all of us just how many great writers we have produced and who are writing about their home country, " Jack said.

Jack lives in Jones County, Iowa, near Anamosa — about a two and half hour drive from work at North Central College, he said. Driving home on I-88, he has a lot of time to think and reflect as the seemingly endless cornfields fill the horizon.

"I enjoy having Iowa and Illinois in my life. It starts to change when you get closer to Chicago, but one of the cool things about Homer Croy is he bridged all those cultures," Jack said.


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