After devoting much of his life to reading and selling other people’s books, a central Iowa man is launching a book tour promoting his own first venture as an author. Harley McIlrath, of Grinnell, says his book “Possum Trot” is a collection of stories he’s published over the past three decades, reflecting on Iowa’s agricultural heritage and now-vanishing lifestyle.
“The stories aren’t so much about Iowa as they are about people who live in Iowa and their experiences,” McIlrath says. “Mixed with those are some short non-fiction pieces that I’ve written. The short pieces tend to express a feeling of loss for the changing way of life and the family farm having gone away.” He says it’s not sentimental, but an honest look back at the culture that once dominated Iowa’s landscape and has all but disappeared.
“It’s not nostalgic or saccharin,” McIlrath says. “There’s some life lessons learned and the stories can be unfortunate and dark but taken together it combines the feeling of loss with a celebration of what was.” McIlrath earned a B.A. and an M.A. in English from the University of Northern Iowa. For ten years, he ran his own bookstore in Cedar Falls and he’s now assistant manager and book buyer for the Grinnell College Bookstore and the Pioneer Bookshop in Grinnell. He grew up on a central Iowa farm near Newburg, not far from the Jasper/Poweshiek County line.
“I know about getting my hand pecked from trying to get the egg from under the chicken and what an unpleasant feeling it is to stick your hand in a dark coop and hope you come up with an egg and not something else,” McIlrath says. “We also had cattle and I always felt like cattle were the life of the farm so I’m sorry to see the countryside pretty much devoid of cattle anymore.”
McIlrath starts his book tour this weekend with appearances scheduled across the region in the coming weeks, including in: Grinnell, Iowa City, Cedar Falls, Knoxville, Fairfield and Oskaloosa. For details, find “Possum Trot” on Facebook or visit the publisher’s website, www.icecubepress.com.