A “Harvest Lecture” this week is part of the 7th annual state writers’ celebration called “Voices of the Prairie.” Event coordinator Steven Semken with “Humanities Iowa” says the Harvest Lecture began in 1998 with the goal of tying spirituality to our Midwestern environment. Every year writers have contributed works with a chosen theme that reflects some aspect of the state.

Themes used in the past have included weather, topsoil, and landscape architecture, or “landscape painting.” Semken says this year the works are about the rivers — but none really just talk about “the flow of the water in the river.” This year’s theme is “Rivers East, Rivers West — Iowa’s Natural Borders” and the focus is on the major waterways that form the borders of the state.

“It started with like, celebrating the stories of where we live,” according to Semken, who says “harvesting” was an easy theme in the state of Iowa, so they’ve been harvesting stories written about Iowa’s folklore, culture, and the history of the rivers. He says it’s not just an environmental celebration.

Semken says this year’s theme was his choice. He was riding across the state on RAGBRAI one summer and passed a sign that said “You’re now crossing the Missouri – Mississippi watershed.” He’d always thought of the big divide as being the Continental Divide in Colorado and that moment drove home the image that “these two big rivers” are such a large part of Iowa’s story.

Featured Iowa writers for this celebration are Lisa Knopp, John Price, and David Hamilton — writers who’ve all studied the flow and life of rivers in the Midwest. Semken says it’s not like many author readings, in which they just tell what they’ve written about. Each author will read some excerpts from what they wrote and then they’ll explain what they wrote and talk about the “river of their choice,” according to Semken. But then, he says, the end of their reading is “really the beginning of the event” as it fosters discussion about the topic.

At the first event in Keokuk, Semken says people who came to the Harvest Lecture asked questions about the authors, but also told about their memories and views of the rivers and Iowa history. The events are free and open to anybody interested in the topics and readings. Semken says they’ve drawn a diverse and thoughtful audience. They’ve been environmentalists, historians, writers. “I wouldn’t say it’s a spiritual crowd at all, but definitely people are interested in tying a sense of place…and how we treat our natural environment,” he says.

The next lecture is this Saturday in Council Bluffs at the Union Pacific Museum. Learn more about the “Harvest Lecture” by surfing to “Standing by Words.”

Related web sites:
Harvest Lecture 2006