Author shares love for Iowa at Prairie Lights


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Zachary Michael Jack has racked up some 219,000 miles on his Toyota Echo commuting back and forth between his home in Jones County, Iowa, and North Central College in Naperville, Ill.

For Jack, these daily journeys are worth being able to live in the place he loves — Iowa.

"I like the thinking and the stops along the way and the world as seen with pavement underneath you," Jack said. "Ever since I was a kid, I have enjoyed the feeling of travel."

The author will read from his newest book, Native Soulmate: A Season in Search of a Love Homegrown, at 5 p.m. Saturday at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

Native Soulmate is a sequel to Jack's work What Cheer, and he described it as a combination of a love story, an adventure story, and an exploration of current issues that concern rural and small-town Iowa and the Midwest.

"One of those issues is the courtship process that folks who choose to live in rural face, particularly young people," Jack said. "The book deals with, and looks at, and explores in a participatory way — not spouting statistics, but [it's] more of a hypothesis."

Iowa is the subject of much of Jack's work. He said he has a long-standing relationship with the state, being a seventh-generation Iowan, and he wants to use writing as a way to learn about Iowa and develop a clear-eyed view of what it is.

"What I find in my writing about Iowa is that I am in that tradition but in a new generation," Jack said. "My answer my be different or pitched in a [different] way, but my problems are the same. I'm not unique, I am [part of] a larger pattern, and a larger patchwork … I find that really comforting."

The concept of place translates to Jack's life as an educator as well. He teaches classes in creative writing and demographics and place at North Central College.

Tom Dean, the University of Iowa senior presidential writer and editor, similarly teaches classes in the Leisure Studies Department on place, and he is a friend of Jack.

"I think a connection to place is very important for people emotionally; it is an emotional commitment that we all have," Dean said. "Not all people admit they have it … but I think for me, and for Zachary, too, Iowa and the Midwest have just been places that we have responded to emotionally, and then we go ahead and make those other commitments — one of which is writing about it."

Dean and Jack met several years ago through Steve Semken, a publisher with Ice Cube Press who has worked with both writers.

Semken described Jack as determined and unswerving, yet adaptive to change. He said Native Soulmate teaches how to live the best way possible in the place where one calls home.

"It's definitely him trying to take what's here [in Iowa] and harvest it," Semken said. "He's spent that growing season looking for love. The homegrown aspect is kind of what this story is about. He's revealing a lot about himself in this book, [and] that, to me, is to be admired."

Another aspect of Jack's writing that Semken finds valuable is that he provides an example of stories worth telling about Iowa. He said it proves to aspiring writers that moving away from "home" is not an necessary part of finding inspiration.

"One of the important things to me, what I am able to realize in my writing life, is a kind of commitment to a place and a set of a concerns that I continue to live and will probably continue to live for the rest of my life," Jack said.

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