Arts & Humanities


Prairie Fire Newspaper went on hiatus after the publication of the September 2015 issue. It may return one of these days but until then we will continue to host all of our archived content for your reading pleasure. Many of the articles have held up well over the years. Please contact us if you have any questions, thoughts, or an interest in helping return Prairie Fire to production. We can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you to all our readers, contributors, and supporters - the quality of Prairie Fire was a reflection of how many people it touched (touches).

"Anne & Emmett" Debuts in Midwest at The Haymarket Theatre

By Kwakiutl L. Dreher

Anne Frank. Emmett Till. Two icons from disparate times in American History. One is Jewish; the other is African-American. Anne Frank has carried the face of the Holocaust ever since the publication of her diary in 1947. Emmett Till and his lynching in Money, Miss., laid the cornerstones for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Both came of age through death on distant shores. Anne died in 1945 of typhus in the Bergen-Belson Nazi concentration camp in Germany just three months before her sixteenth birthday. Till was murdered in 1955 by Southern racists, and the police found his body in the Tallahatchie River weighted down with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck. He was 14 years old.

Cowboy Exhibit Opens Sept. 23

By Lynne Ireland

Cowboys are the stuff of myth, legend, pulp fiction, Hollywood and history! This American icon is widely recognized around the world, and Nebraskans’ part in this story is revealed through historic gear, photographs, music and more at the “Nebraska Cowboys: Lives, Legends, and Legacies” exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln, Neb. Some of Nebraska’s best cowboy artifacts, borrowed from museums across the state, have been rounded up for the display.

“Nebraska Cowboys: Lives, Legends, and Legacies” will tell multiple stories: the Vaquero origins of American cowboys; brands and branding; cowboy gear and food; cowboy guns; and Nebraska saddle makers. Visitors can learn about cowboys unintentionally immortalized in penitentiary mug shots or by wooden markers that once stood over their lonely graves; see a rare plastic saddle manufactured in the 1940s by a company based in Lusk, Wyo., and Scottsbluff and be awed by an elaborate prize saddle won by PRCA rodeo champion Scott “Ote” Berry of Gordon.

Balancing Landscapes, a Voice for Earth and All: 'Prairie Schooner' Hosts Barry Lopez-featured Reading

By Jason Hertz

The ability to integrate environmental and humanitarian concerns in a compelling narrative is a rare talent, and the acclaimed nature writer Barry Lopez is one of the few who possess such skill. His fiction and nonfiction writings integrate interior and exterior landscapes by testing our ideas and ways of being, finding a way to connect them with the world we inhabit.

For Lopez, these connections take the form of story. The model Lopez offers in his essay “Landscape and Narrative” comes from the Brooks Range of Alaska. Sitting among a group of men in a remote village, he listened to their hunting stories, especially the ones involving wolverines. One tale in particular related how one of the scrappy “skunk bears” impressed a pursuing hunter, bowling the guy off his snowmobile and then giving him an uncanny look. The unhurt but thoroughly dislodged hunter just watched in amazement as the wolverine walked away. Talking from years of experience, these northerners were able to evoke something transcendent about their contact with the wild. As a writer, Lopez brings us there.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Ted Kooser’s Arrival in Nebraska

By Mary K. Stillwell

In August 1963 Iowa native Ted Kooser, future U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, packed up his belongings and “lumbered westward on balding tires” toward Lincoln, Neb. Several months earlier as he finished a “nightmare” year of teaching high school English, the shy 24-year-old realized he didn’t want to continue teaching. For the summer, he painted signs, working out of the back of his Jeep pickup, lettering the glass windows of storefronts along small-town Main Streets while he weighed his options.

World War II Exhibit Traces the Lives of the “Greatest Generation”

By Tracy Tucker

Even for someone who does not belong to “America’s Greatest Generation,” the past leans close and makes itself felt in the gallery of the Red Cloud Opera House, where “Our Lives, Our Stories” is on display for the first time in Nebraska. As visitors file through, there are exclamations: “Grandma had these glasses!” “Oh my gosh, I worked at a soda fountain just like this!” The exhibit is a monument to the shared experiences of an entire generation, born just before the Great Depression.

On Listening Well in Combat and in Peace

By Sulaiman Murad with Phip Ross

During my four-and-a-half years in the service of the U.S. Army as an interpreter, I met hundreds of different interpreters from diverse communities all over Iraq. I forged close and lasting friendships with many of them. I spent long days and nights sharing stories about our sometimes funny but often difficult situations during our missions with the army. So in the first months after arriving in the United States I decided that those events should be written about for the American people in a book to let them know what was going on with their soldiers outside of their country.

Arboretum of Art Graces Nebraska City

By Jenni Brant

The conversations about tackling a public art project in Nebraska City, Neb., began in 2010 when the town adopted the new branding of “Arbor Day’s Hometown—Where Great Ideas Grow.” With support from the community, a grassroots effort led by volunteer representatives from local arts organizations, the public school board, area tourism and economic development, city government and others launch­ed and steered the project, entitled “An Enchanted Arboretum,” toward realization. Area foundations and organizations, including The Paul, John, Anton & Doris Wirth Foundation; the Karl H. & Wealtha H. Nelson Family Foundation; the Kropp Char­itable Founda­tion, Inc.; the City of Ne­braska City (LB840 Funds); Rotary Club No. 2090 and United Way of Nebraska City, donated generously to build and ensure necessary funding for the project.

Great American Comedy Festival: Six Years and Thriving

By Kandra Hahn

Driving west to Divots event center in Norfolk at 9 p.m., the sun was still lighting up the horizon. It had been a stormy late afternoon with a patchwork of Watches and Warnings—flash floods, thunderstorms and tornadoes—that had now mostly moved east.

It was Friday, June 14, 2013, building toward the end of the sixth Great American Comedy Festival in this north-central Nebraska town. The sky often puts on a spectacular show for the comedians who compete to come here from all over the nation. Away from Omaha and Lincoln, there is a wide horizon and the sky seems prone to show off in June, in colors of gray, green and pink. In return, the comedians put on a spectacular show.

I have lived on these wild plains my whole life, and I have been looking up warily all evening, checking to see if tails are trailing down from the banks of clouds above. At dinner I kept glancing out the window as I read about the “Future Stars” of comedy and those returning after a year of polishing their credentials to host and support the show.

Hastings Symphony Soon to Celebrate 90th Consecutive Season

By Liz Case

In 2016, a mere three years from now, the Hastings Symphony Orchestra will be celebrating its 90th consecutive season of performance in Hastings, Neb. Not many orchestras, large or small, can make this claim; Hastings even boasts one of the oldest continuous orchestras in the United States. So how has this small group lasted so long? In short, dedication. Unlike most orchestras, HSO could afford to continue during the Great Depression because it was largely run by volunteers. Today the roughly 70 members remain involved not for the money but for the experience itself. They largely consider every Thursday rehearsal and Sunday concert worthwhile—even those who drive from Lincoln and Omaha to attend.

America's Original "Info-tainment"

By SheriLynne Hansen

Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people all across the U.S. flocked to travelling events called Chautauqua (she-TAW-kwah).

The concept was based on an 1875 summer enrichment program for adults launched at the Chautauqua Lake resort in New York State. Folks poured in from all over for a week of teachers, ministers, humorists, musicians and other inspiring speakers.

Young Photojournalist of the Plains - of the World

By Amanda Mobley Guenther

When it comes to his photography, Wesaam Al-Badry knows he is walking in the footsteps of giants.

Photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern photojournalism who adopted a documentary approach to image making in place of earlier practices in abstract and social-realist painting. Or Alfred Steiglitz, who set out to prove photography was as artistic a medium as painting and sculpture, then moved away from traditional painterly prints to capture contemporary life with his most famous image, “The Steerage.” Or Dorothea Lange, who took the social realism of photography even further with one of her most famous images, “Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California.”

"Hacking at Books": A Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities

From left, Rob Shepard, William G. Thomas and Brian Sarnacki share ideas during the forum’s digital poster  presentation. (Matthew Lavin)

By Matthew Lavin

In the wake of President Barack Obama’s electoral rout over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney last fall, the concept of data mining has become conversationally ubiquitous. The 2012 election result, however, is just one example of what might be characterized more broadly as the digital turn in American culture. This turn has included streaming video and smartphones, but it has also involved the collection of sophisticated information and the leveraging of that information in service of various agendas.

In the higher education, a related movement known as digital humanities (DH) has garnered increased attention in recent years. Multiple definitions and characterizations of DH exist, but the most prevalent is the application of computation methods to humanities research.

Such a definition demands specification. What kinds of computational methods? What kinds of applications? What insights are you offering? Why should anyone outside your discipline care about what you’re doing?

A group of digital humanities scholars gathered in Lincoln, Neb., this February to discuss some of these important issues. “Hacking at Books,” a Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities, was the 2013 edition of an annual, thematic exploration of DH issues hosted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. Previously called Nebraska Digital Workshop, it has been held since 2006.

Free Shakespeare

By Bob Hall

Six o’clock, Friday the last week of June, a dented white step van pulls into Irvingdale Park. The road crew, also actors as it turns out, have already arrived and begin unloading the truck. First out is a pile of rubber mats passed on by members of The Lincoln Dog training program who got them as throwaway items from Goodyear. Under the eyes of Stage Manager Michelle Zinke and Tour Coordinator Andy Dillehay, the actors quickly arrange the rubber mats to form the stage, a long alleyway 14 feet wide and 30 feet long.

The Magic of Arts Education: Beyond the Stage at the Lied Center

By Ciara McCormack

The Lied Center for Performing Arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is a state icon for great performance. If you live in Lincoln, you walk by the massive theater day after day. Chances are you’ve been there for a dance recital, a Broadway musical, the symphony, a comedy show or the ballet. But you may not know the Lied has more than stage magic inside its walls; it also boasts a thriving statewide arts education program.

Shoot Me

By Sally Jane Herrin, Ph.D.

Anniversaries may be arbitrary. Memory is not, and I want to mark 25 years last August since novelist Warren Fine (1943–1987) died, and 40 years since the publication of his last book and third adult novel, “Their Family.” Of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), O’Rourkes and the Zoo Bar, Warren is recalled by a generation of Lincoln writers, readers, artists and music lovers. He was my friend and my teacher, and maybe he died too young.

Warren was born in Arkansas and grew up in extreme western Kansas—in the bleak heart of “In Cold Blood” country. He was born while his father was in Europe, serving in World War II. Raised by the women of his family, Warren was not at all sure about the stranger who came home from the war to sleep in his mother’s bed. At some point Fine senior was town cop, and Warren once told me of some childhood standoff with his father, who pulled abreast of Warren in the black and white as he walked furiously away. “Get in the car,” his father said. “What will you do if I don’t?” Warren asked him. “Shoot me?”

Two Bird Poems

As an avid bird-watcher I am often up before the sun to go out scouting the prairies and forests, rivers and wetlands, to see and hear what birds might be about. This first poem is one of my favorites to recite aloud. Go ahead and read it aloud. It was written one morning while listening to a meadowlark’s infectious exuberance for life. The second poem literally dawned on me as the day went from dark night to bright light. I was camping with a friend who was off meditating while I wrote it. When I shared the first draft, he said that this poem embodies the global awareness he has sought in meditation for 30 years. The Galesburg Community Chorale chose this text and then commissioned a composer for a new song. Imagine 84 voices singing the Sun’s Symphony in multipart harmony and refrain!

Prairie Populist: Omaha Artist Tom Bartek

By James Cihlar

Born in 1932 in Omaha, Neb., artist Tom Bartek’s career is the tale of a man and a city, and proof positive that, in fact, you can go home again (with apologies to Thomas Wolfe.)

Three Omaha galleries will celebrate Tom’s 80th birthday in 2012 with simultaneous retrospective exhibitions of his work. After 60 years of productivity, Bartek has provided much for the curators to choose from.


Immigration in Nebraska

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