When I was a kid and people asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never really knew how to answer. It was the 1960’s and in spite of the Women’s Liberation Movement that was just starting to make the news, I thought that my options were: nurse, teacher, or secretary. My mom thought that I should become a lawyer, but I just couldn’t quite see myself in that role either. (Maybe she suggested it because I had plenty of practice arguing with her when I was a teenager!)
I’ve enjoyed creative writing ever since grade school, but never had any formal training. Of course, for better or worse, I wrote anyway. As James Baldwin once said, “If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you.” Finally when I was in my forties I went to a writing retreat and have never been the same since. I decided to take my writing more seriously and dedicate time to reading and writing every day. I began to submit my work for publication and a flow of rejections started coming in regularly! Once in a great while I would be elated to actually have my work accepted.
Of course, most writers have a “day job” and I started working part-time when my kids started school. I’ve had a number of positions, mainly secretarial but also a brief stint as a police dispatcher. When a position opened up in Briggs Library on the South Dakota State University campus I realized that it might be a good fit for me. I’ve been working here ever since, finally ending up in the Archives.
SDSU Archives and Special Collections contains material related to the University as well as South Dakota’s history and life. I can honestly say that I now have my dream job. I have the pleasure of delving into many interesting collections, including the papers of distinguished poets and writers such as Kathleen Norris, David Allan Evans, Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and Audrae Visser. A few years ago we were honored to also acquire the records of the South Dakota State Poetry Society. This collection dovetails nicely with the papers of Evans and Visser because they both served as South Dakota’s Poet Laureate. Audrae Visser was also editor of Pasque Petals, the SDSPS literary journal. Soon after receiving issues of Pasque Petals from SDSPS that date back to 1926, we digitized and made them available to view on the Digital Library of South Dakota.
Many of you have probably read poetry by Kathleen Norris and Dave Evans, but you might not know that Sneve and Cook-Lynn have also written verse. Audrae Visser was a prolific poet and has published ten books, sometimes illustrating them herself. She was a student of SDSU English Professor Dr. Charles Woodard and communicated with him for many years. He donated her work and correspondence to the Archives after her death.
Working with these documents has given me insight into different working styles, processes, and a glimpse into what motivates these poets as writers. Sometimes the ideas that I encounter in their papers inspire my own writing. An excerpt from Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris served as a writing prompt for a blog post that I wrote titled, “How is Writing Like Burning Baskets?” Organizing the papers and researching the writers in order to write a biographical note and description of the material gives me an intimate glance into their lives that I would probably not experience unless I made a concerted effort to study them for a paper or writing project. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to preserve and care for their collections so that their work and their lives will not be lost to history.
Photo by Carolina Prysyazhnyuk, sourced under a creative commons license via Flickr. Post by Ruby Wilson.