Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food
Writer Peggy Wolff looks at the arc of Midwestern food through the lens of the most reputable writers from the Midwest; featuring works by authors who write about our region’s food through memoirs or personal essays that, collectively, give a voice to the region. Kalamazoo’s award-winning writer Bonnie Jo Campbell joins Wolff for this discussion.
“Many years ago, working on a story for the Chicago Tribune, I noticed that a farm stall at the market near Northwestern University was selling out of their greens by 8 a.m. Farming is tough in any case, but these farmers were growing organic heirloom Italian vegetables in clay soil. Puntarelle, Treviso, cavolo nero, arugula—not exactly the regional foods that come to mind when you think of the Midwest.
The wheels in my head began to spin. Clearly, there was a change in our food landscape and I was looking at its nerve center. Beyond Illinois, a fast-growing regional food movement had taken root: Dairyland Wisconsin Cheddar had entered a new era; Hmong farmers had settled in the upper Midwest; the new-butchering trend of purchasing sustainably raised whole animals was popping up all over the place. The Midwest was clearly not the epicenter of average, a moniker we had been wearing for a long time.
About the same time, I noticed a seemingly bottomless appetite for books on the subject of food. Not conventional cookbooks, the ones with recipes and photos. The publishing world had moved on to the literature of food —to autobiographies of chefs, confessions of food critics, memoirs of restaurant owners. Instead of meal plans, these books had themes.
And so, Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food began to take shape. It became my labor of love: to look at the arc of Midwestern food through the lens of the most reputable writers from the Midwest. Authors who could write about our region’s food through memoirs or personal essays that would, collectively, give a voice to the region.” —Peggy Wolff
Bonnie Jo Campbell
Bonnie Jo Campbell grew up on a small Michigan farm with her mother and four siblings in a house her grandfather Herlihy built in the shape of an H. She learned to castrate small pigs, milk Jersey cows, and, when she was snowed in with chocolate, butter, and vanilla, to make remarkable chocolate candy. When she left home for the University of Chicago to study philosophy, her mother rented out her room. She has since hitchhiked across the U.S. and Canada, scaled the Swiss alps on her bicycle, and traveled with the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus selling snow cones. As president of Goulash Tours Inc., she has organized and led adventure tours in Russia and the Baltics, and all the way south to Romania and Bulgaria.
Her collection Women and Other Animals details the lives of extraordinary females in rural and small town Michigan, and it won the AWP prize for short fiction; her story "The Smallest Man in the World" has been awarded a Pushcart Prize. Her novel Q Road investigates the lives of a rural community where development pressures are bringing unwelcome change in the character of the land. Her critically-acclaimed short fiction collection American Salvage, which consists of fourteen lush and rowdy stories of folks who are struggling to make sense of the twenty-first century, was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award in Fiction.
For decades, Campbell has put together a personal newsletter - The Letter Parade - and she currently practices Koburyu kobudo weapons training. She has received her M.A. in mathematics and her M.F.A. in writing from Western Michigan University. She now lives with her husband and other animals outside Kalamazoo, and she teaches writing in the low residency program at Pacific University.