Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Jean Shepherd: A Hammond, Indiana Story

Kathryn Page Camp
Like Jean Shepherd, my husband grew up in Hammond, Indiana. So one of our family traditions is to watch A Christmas Story on Christmas day.
After moving away from Northwest Indiana, Shepherd became a radio and television personality. He is best known for co-writing and narrating A Christmas Story, which was filmed in Cleveland. But it and many of Shepherd’s beloved short stories are set in his hometown. He changed the name to protect the guilty, but Hammond by any other name is still Hammond. 
Humorist Jean Shepherd was born on July 21, 1921. His biographies give conflicting information on the actual place of his birth, with some listing south Chicago and others saying he was born in Hammond. But it is clear that he grew up in Hammond, graduated from Hammond High School in 1939, and worked in the steel mills for a time. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II and spent most of his career in New York City, with earlier stints in Cleveland and Philadelphia. He eventually retired to Florida and died there on October 16, 1999.
But although Shepherd spent his career outside of Indiana, he couldn’t get Hammond out of his blood. As mentioned above, many of his short stories are set there, as is the movie A Christmas Story.
Hammond can’t get Jean Shepherd out of its blood, either. The picture at the head of this post shows the Jean Shepherd Community Center. Hammond also recognizes its hometown hero during holiday events, such as a tribute held downtown and an annual display of scenes from A Christmas Story at the Indiana Welcome Center.
If you haven’t read any of Jean Shepherd’s books, I recommend starting with In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.
You just might get hooked.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Stream Line Series to Celebrate Indiana's Bicentennial on March 9th

Janine Harrison
How is Indiana developed as a place in writing—physically, socially, politically, and culturally?  What is its regional dialect?  How is Northwest Indiana, in particular, portrayed?  Who are “Region Rats”?  What is its history, and in such changing times, where is the state—the Region—going?  What can be said about its literary community, past, present, and future?  In celebration of Indiana’s 200th anniversary, Stream Line Literary Reading Series will be exploring these questions and more.
Please join us for an Indiana-themed poetry and prose open mic and roundtable discussion on Wednesday, March 9th, from 7 to 9 PM, at Paul Henry’s Art Gallery.  During the first part of the evening, interested open mic participants will have an opportunity to read poetry and either short prose or long prose excerpts in which Indiana is featured.  After a potluck intermission, readers and listeners will settle into a roundtable discussion, rooted in the open mic readings, about Indiana, and specifically the complex character that is Northwest Indiana, heroic yet flawed.  The evening will also include Indiana trivia and more.
The eclectic and inspired space, Paul Henry’s Art Gallery, is located at 416 Sibley Street in Hammond, Indiana.  Admission is $5.00 or $3.00 with a potluck contribution at the door. 
Stream Line Series is entering into its second year.  In 2015, the program, hosted by the Indiana Writers’ Consortium and sponsored by Purdue University Calumet’s Department of English and Philosophy, held events ranging from poetry readings and a slam; to children, YA, and speculative genres; to drama and an oral storytelling slam.  Stream Line will host 2016 events on the second Wednesdays of March, April, May, August, September, and October, always at Paul Henry’s Art Gallery, beginning at 7 PM.  If you are interested in presenting, making a theme suggestion, or simply have a question, please email
Hope to see you on March 9th for this bicentennial literary bash! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Jessamyn West: Indiana Writer at Heart

Joyce B. Hicks
Though she grew up in California, Indiana considers Jessamyn West (1902-1984) an Indiana writer. She was born in Vernon, Indiana and some of her short stories and her most well-known book, The Friendly Persuasion, are based on the life of Southern Indiana Quakers. Though she may not have experienced these times herself, they were clearly conveyed to her, during bed rest for tuberculosis, by her mother and by a grandmother who was devoted to books. Her parents practiced the Quaker faith in California, and Jessamyn attended Whittier College as an undergraduate. The values of charity and kindness, as well a sly Quaker humor, bred the interest in people that comes through clearly in her stories.
In an interesting interview with the Paris Review (1977)Jessamyn West commented she didn’t think she was a very good plotter. For evidence she recalled that, while in Hollywood working with director William Wyler on the film Friendly Persuasion (starring Gary Cooper and nominated for an Academy Award, 1956), he said to her, “’We’ve got to get one more ‘will he? won’t he?’ into this.’” She went on to say, “I think this is what a reader wants” (Paris Review). However, her wide praise as a storyteller, as well as the popularity of the film in its time and the enduring popularity of the book (1945) contradict this self-criticism.
When asked in the 1977 interview whether she agreed that contemporary fiction was in trouble, she concurred saying, “So many novelists no longer seem to care what happens to other human beings,” a description at odds with her own sensibilities. She observed that the modern novel was “a metaphysical composition” (Paris Review). Indeed, it may be her genuine interest in familiar people in familiar dilemmas that makes some of her stories saccharine today, though she is clearly interested in questions we could term metaphysical.
IWC members should be happy to claim West for Indiana and feel a kinship with her efforts. Though filling notebooks with story plots as a child, West was not published until her late thirties, starting with small magazines in 1939 and moving to literary fiction in magazines like the New Yorker. She published collections and many novels, among these the very popular Cress Delahanty (1955), which today might be called YA.
Though thrilled with Cress as a teen, I began my reading of West again with The Friendly Persuasion. It took a chapter or two before I was caught up in the life of a Quaker family in a small Indiana town and in the evolution of their faith over their lifetime. From the Civil War to their old age, the stories record the lives of Eliza Birdwell, a Quaker minister, and her husband Jess in Vernon, Indiana, West’s birthplace.
Whether riding with their sons as they break Quaker tradition to join the local defense against Morgan’s Raiders or following the ruminations of father Jess, I was awed by West’s skill of getting to the heart of our experiences, often through analogy. For example, at eighty Jess befriends a foster child. His wife says his pleasure stems from seeing himself in the boy at that age, but he disagrees. He accounts for his interest this way: “It was meeting a human being at first hand, not as was the case with most grown-ups, second hand, if at all: not meeting a person assembled, put together so’s to present to the inspecting eye the very object for which it was searching” (The Friendly Persuasion, 209). Speaking with adults he says is like “peering through the chinks and knotholes” to see inside the “makeshift building” (209).
I’d like to come back to West’s comments about plot, a frequent topic of advice for writers. Her prescription is simple. When asked where she began with a story or novel, she said, “I think of a character in a situation. The character must be involved. I mean, he can’t just stand there. . . So, the two, character and situation, go together” (Paris Review). She goes on to say that she has found the novel to be an easier form because of less tight organization. “With the novel you simply live with the people for a considerable length of time and you write as things happen, whereas the short story, like the poem, must be convoluted for a purpose . . . a shaft of light into that particular happening” (Paris Review). What a perfect analogy for what she does so well.
Your library may have to request her books from other branches. I’d suggest beginning with The Friendly Persuasion, the book, not the movie, acclaimed in its time. The Paris Review interview linked here is also good preparation, as is looking at portraits of Jessamyn West on line or on her book jackets. She is a gracious-looking, lovely woman in waved hair and dresses, definitely a writer to claim for Indiana.
West, Jessamyn. The Friendly Persuasion. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company,           1940.
Joyce B. Hicks is a member of Blank Slate Writers and the Indiana Writers’ Consortium. You can find her website at and can contact her at

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Gene Stratton-Porter

Kathryn Page Camp
This year celebrates Indiana’s bicentennial. During January, the Indiana Writers’ Consortium blog will highlight several well-known Indiana writers, starting with Gene Stratton-Porter.

When I was in high school, I discovered The Girl of the Limberlost among the books that my mother had saved from her own high school years. I was always hungry for something new to read, and it didn’t take me long to devour this one.

On the surface, I had little in common with the protagonist, Elnora. She had a dead father and a cold mother. I had two living parents and knew that they loved me. Elnora fought her mother to attend high school, and my parents fought for a good education for each of their children. Elnora lived on the edge of a swamp in Indiana, and I lived in the middle of a small town in Michigan.

And yet, Gene Stratton-Porter found the commonality in our shared emotions and desires. Elnora wanted to fit in, and so did I. Elnora loved reading and music, and so did I. But mostly, Elnora wanted her mother’s love. Although I had that, I could imagine what life would be like without it, and I ached for her. I also rejoiced at those times when there was a glimmer of hope, such as when her mother packed a sumptuous lunch and Elnora exclaimed, “Sure as you’re born she loves me; only she hasn’t found it out yet!”

I won’t give away any more of the story because I would rather you read it yourself. Instead, I’ll tell you something about the author.

Gene Stratton-Porter was born on August 17, 1863 in Wabash County, Indiana. She did not finish high school, but she loved to read and was an ardent naturalist. Although she is best known for her novels, she wrote many books about nature and was also a wildlife photographer.

Gene married Charles Porter, a pharmacist, in 1886, and they had a daughter a year later. Charles owned pharmacies in Geneva and Fort Wayne, Indiana, so they built a home in Geneva near the Limberlost Swamp. When developers ruined the swamp, the family moved north and purchased the land to create their own wildlife refuge on Sylvan Lake in Noble County, Indiana. It is now the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site and is open to the public. I visited it many years ago with my daughter and husband when my son was attending Camp Lutherhaven near Fort Wayne.

Unfortunately for all of us, Gene Stratton-Porter moved to California for her health and to found her own movie studio. She had only been there a few years when she was in an automobile accident that took her life. She died on December 6, 1924 at the age of 61.

Even though she spent the last few years of her life in California, Gene Stratton-Porter was a quintessential Indiana author. If you haven’t read her yet, you should. To paraphrase Elnora, “Sure as you’re born you’ll love her; only you haven’t found it out yet!”


The picture of Gene Stratton-Porter at the head of this post is in the public domain because of its age.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at