Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2008


Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2008, pp. 170-71.


Copyright 2008 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Ladette Randolph and Nina ShevchukMurray have assembled a powerful collection of essays in The Big Empty, so titled because some people might describe Nebraska in that manner. This text counters that perspective. Each essay writer {save one} has published one book of nonfiction, and the expertise of each is apparent. Included are writers who seem like old friends through works-Ted Kooser, Lisa Knopp, Bill Kloefkorn, Roger Welsch, John Janovy Jr., Paul Johnsgard, Joe Starita, Ruth Raymond Thone, Mary Pipher. Other voices are mixed in, and the result is a fluid collection. Topics include Native American issues, J. Sterling Morton's tree-planting efforts, growing up in an Omaha project, Solomon Butcher's photography, the Vietnam War, the process involved in mending fence, the disappearance of the buffalo, organic farming, and the commute between Omaha and Lincoln.

Fine editing skills provide an arrangement of essays in an order where topic flows into related topic without needing demarcation. Perhaps an effective subtitle could be "Everything You Wanted to Know about Nebraska but Didn't Know Whom to Ask." I've lived in this state for thirty-five years, and throughout my read I found myself thinking, "I didn't know that" or "How interesting." I also found myself wishing two things: that this text-or segments of itwill be used in classrooms to further students' knowledge of the history, sociology, and culture of the Plains, specifically Nebraska; and that I could assemble all of these authors in my living room to continue the discussion their essays have invited.