Mari Sandoz found that writing was extremely hard work, but believed anyone with literary power, or the ability to read, could also write well enough to have work published, an audience was told Thursday night at the opening session of the Mari Sandoz Heritage Society’s annual conference at Chadron State College.
The program was given by Dr. Ron Hull, senior advisor to Nebraska Educational Telecommunications and professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. With Hull’s encouragement, Sandoz discussed her work for ETV programs several times in the 1950s and ‘60s. They formed a strong friendship, and he visited her several times in her apartment at Greenwich Village in New York City and also in the hospital just before her death in 1966.
Clips of the ETV programs were interspersed with Hull’s comments during the program, which was the second installment of the Pilster Great Plains Lecture Series.
Hull said besides being an extraordinary hard worker who “wasted precious little time,” she was scrupulously honest and didn’t soften anything that she wrote, even when she knew some of those reading the material would be offended.
Her book, “Capital City,” published in 1939, was banned in Lincoln because it told of some of the questionable activities that had taken place there.
Hull called her book, “Old Jules,” the story of her father, “the definitive homesteading story in Nebraska.” He said she revised the book 14 times before it won a $10,000 prize from Atlantic Press in 1935 and was finally accepted for publication. She then wrote 22 more books, most of them histories of the High Plains.
She once told Hull that the books “are my children.”
Although it is commonly believed that “Old Jules” was her first book, Hull said she confided to him that in 1931, she wrote a book on a psychological study she had conducted. It was accepted for publication, but when the publisher, who had kept it at least six months, finally returned the copy for some minor changes, she reread it and burned it in her backyard because she thought it was so bad.
Hull said Sandoz took notes on everything she saw and observed, including people, plants, animals, the land and unusual dialog. She had two large shopping bags hanging from door knobs in her New York apartment, he said. One was marked “People” and the other “Places and Things.” They were filled with the note cards, and she sorted through them to obtain descriptions that she added to her stories.
“That way everything was authentic,” Hull noted.
Because of her meticulous research and the fact that she often rewrote them several times, it usually took her about three years to complete a book, Hull said. Before she finished one book, she would start one or two more so her work would keep flowing.
During his last visit with her in the hospital, Hull said Sandoz told him the realization that she was dying didn’t bother her as much as the fact that she had several more books planned that would never be written.
The Sandoz Conference continued Friday at Chadron State.
—Con Marshall, CSC Information Services