- Lonesome Dreamer: The Life of John G. Neihardt by Timothy G. Anderson
By Timothy G. Anderson. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. ix + 325 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95 cloth.
Beginning with John G. Neihardt's humble birth in a rented farmhouse outside Sharpsburg, [End Page 150] Illinois, on January 8, 1881, Lonesome Dreamer: The Life of John G. Neihardt chronicles Neihardt's journey as a writer and a man. Timothy G. Anderson draws upon excerpts from Neihardt's poems and stories, personal correspondence, articles, and lectures to create a scintillatingly detailed narrative of the events that inspired Neihardt's artistry. In recounting such youthful experiences as witnessing a Kansas prairie fire, being called in a fevered dream to pursue the arts, studying the classics at Wayne Normal College as its youngest student, and later living near the Omaha Indians in Bancroft, Nebraska, this biography illustrates how Neihardt's boyhood shaped his writing.
These formative events served as the inspiration that led to Neihardt's becoming the poet laureate of Nebraska as well as the critically acclaimed author of Black Elk Speaks and A Cycle of the West. For, as Anderson establishes, it was experiences such as these that taught the young Neihardt a lifelong appreciation for the power inherent in prairie landscapes, the importance of the mystical, the legacy of traditional poetics, and an enduring respect for Native American peoples and cultures.
Witnessing the declining days of the western frontier, Neihardt felt compelled to recreate these grand landscapes and people them with legendary characters drawn to epic proportions: Hugh Glass, Jed Smith, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and perhaps most memorably, Black Elk. In this biography, the first one published in nearly forty years, Anderson highlights the complexity of Neihardt's private and public life by portraying his close relationships with his mother, wife, and children and with contemporaries such as George Sterling and Julius T. House, while also exposing Neihardt's sense of loss due to his father's absence and his struggle with Modernist literary critics who discredited his adherence to traditional poetic approaches.
As Anderson suggests by the biography's title, Lonesome Dreamer presents Neihardt as an artist often made lonesome by his idealist notions of art and his criticism of the consumer-driven culture of his time. But he was also a dreamer who went to his death on November 3, 1973, with a continued belief that all is just a beginning, all is a new adventure.
Wayne State College