Friday, September 22, 2006

Baum vs. Capote: The Pickard Mashup

My mother and other writers read and lectured at UMKC's Pierson Auditorium last night. Mom read in support of her new book Delta Pearls, a collection of short stories. Nancy Pickard headlined and talked about the legacy of Kansas literature. She summed it up by comparing two seminal titles set in Kansas, The Wizard of Oz and In Cold Blood. She pointed out both books were about ordinary people, who lived ordinary lives, until a violent, unexpected event changed everything.

Pickard noticed that out-of-state visitors in particular expressed a measure of uneasiness during visits to her Flint Hills property. What was it about Kansas, and as the author pointed out, the Kansas landscape in particular, that made this theme reappear?

There's no place to hide when the unexpected happens: the act of God, the act of violence. Safety seems far away, even in the Flint Hills of Kansas. It's extra unexpected and then you're extra screwed when it does happen.

I'm glad I stayed for Pickard's speech. I thought I might skip out early when I arrived. It was my first time at Pierson Auditorium and I imagined a theatre style venue with rows of seats and a stage with podium. It turned out to be flat, empty space with banquet style seating, not conducive to late arrivals and early departures. I stayed to be polite and I learned something about Kansas literature that I never considered. One doesn't have to travel to Twin Peaks to sense dread and evil lurking outside the window, and for a writer working in Kansas, that's good.

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