Erin Willis is the Curator of the Jane Pope Geske Heritage Room of Nebraska Authors, a special collection of Lincoln City Libraries. She received her Masters Degree in Library and Information Science, with an emphasis on Archives and Special Collections, from the University of Missouri, Columbia.
The 1940s was a time of great production for some of the most widely recognized and revered Nebraska authors. The University of Nebraska Press was producing work by established and emerging Nebraska authors at the same time that the Reference Department at Lincoln City Libraries began collecting and preserving books, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia from the same authors.
UNP and LCL have grown and expanded in tandem during the past 75 years with parallel goals of celebrating and promoting authors and their books. Where UNP is concerned with producing and disseminating works of cultural significance and enduring value, the Jane Pope Geske Heritage Room of Nebraska Authors, a special collection of LCL, collects and preserves the individual and collective work of authors from Nebraska.Our missions converge in our commitment to the Nebraska Literary Tradition.
UNP has done much to support the work of Nebraska authors. Each new book published by UNP deepens the impression that no other press in the country is more committed to revealing the experiences of a regional people. Early books produced by UNP established a sound base for our state’s literary and cultural identity. The timeless work of Willa Cather, John Neihardt, Loren Eiseley, Wright Morris, and Mari Sandoz were forerunners to a literary tradition marked by a topophilia for the Great Plains.
Modern efforts by UNP, such as the Flyover Fiction series edited by Ron Hansen, were created with the express purpose of engaging, through plot, character, setting, or theme, what it means to inhabit the Great Plains. Anthologized works by Nebraska writers, The Big Empty: Contemporary Nebraska Nonfiction Writers and A Different Plain: Contemporary Nebraska Fiction Writers, edited by Ladette Randolph, give us a contextualized understanding of modern Nebraska authors in their native setting.
Nebraska provides the rich environment to inspire a literary consciousness. Nebraska State Poet Bill Kloefkorn said, “When you’re out on the plains of Nebraska, there is very little to obscure your vision. And I think that’s why the visions of Nebraskans have been so far reaching in their impact… Today we can see Nebraska reflected in classic works by people who are some of the great writers of the world and we continue to produce great writers.” Our authors bring a sense of Nebraska to the world. The works produced by these Nebraska authors serve to foster a widespread interest in Nebraska books, not just within our own state, but throughout the world.
We have two significant opportunities to celebrate Nebraska authors and their contributions to our literary heritage. On the heels of the 75th Anniversary of UNP this year is the 150th Anniversary of Nebraska Statehood in 2017. The Heritage Room has joined together with the Nebraska Literary Heritage Association, the Nebraska Library Commission, and the Nebraska State Historical Society to celebrate the anniversary with a statewide community reading initiative: Nebraska 150 Books. The purpose is to give Nebraskans a definitive list of titles that represent the state’s literary breadth and culture. It is no surprise that more than a third of the 150 books on the reading list were published by UNP.
All of the books on the Nebraska 150 Books list, as well as a representative selection of books by more than 4000 authors, can be seen in the Jane Pope Geske Heritage Room of Nebraska Authors. The Heritage Room collection is a multifaceted reflection of the history and literary culture of the state. Books are the basis of the Heritage Room collection, but we enhance the experience of reading Nebraska books by providing an environment enhanced with the artifacts and ephemera of authors themselves. We are located on the third floor of Bennett Martin Public Library in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska.