Get to Know Brooks Blevins, Six Bridges Featured Author
Tell us briefly about your book.
A History of the Ozarks, Volume 3: The Ozarkers is the final book of my trilogy on the history of the Ozarks region of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and a tiny sliver of Kansas. This volume carries the story from the late 19th century to modern times, exploring multiple facets of the region’s history, from tourism and entertainment to mining and the Great Depression.
What motivated you to write it?
I suppose the most literal answer to this question would be because you can’t have a trilogy without a third volume. But, more seriously, this trilogy was in a sense the culmination of 30 years of studying and writing about the place in which my family has deep roots. At a very fundamental level, the work of any writer or scholar is self-exploration, and for me the focus of my exploration has almost always been the place where I grew up.
What kind of research went into your book?
Much of the research that undergirds this book was just old-fashioned archival research: reading through letters, journals, newspapers, government documents, etc. I spent about three years following a very thorough agenda of reading everything I could find that had anything to do with the Ozarks, from forestry journals to early 20th-century novels. It was an exercise in overkill, I reckon, but I felt like I needed to know (or at least know something about) everything in the region’s story.
This book completes your trilogy; you’ve written 11 books, do you have a favorite?
I usually tell people my favorite book is the one I’m working on, regardless of when or what that happens to be. I need to have that kind of passion to see a project to completion. But, if I think of the question in terms of which book did I have the most fun writing, it was Arkansas/Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State. The style of that book best represents my personality and my irreverent take on history and life.
What was your favorite part of writing this book?
Two things come to mind, actually. The first one is my odd (to most people) love for agricultural history. It probably stems from growing up on a farm, but I can really nerd out when writing about wheat harvesting and Guernsey cattle. I had to cut out big chunks of my farming history to get the book down to size. Beyond that, I always prefer writing about specific people and not just about broad developments in history. Anytime I have a chance to flesh out a character in a sort of narrative style, that’s a fun thing.
What do you think would be the most surprising thing for people to learn about the Ozarks and the people who live there?
I expect the most surprising thing about the Ozarks for most people is that the region and its people aren’t really that different from other American places and peoples. Much of the history of the Ozarks—like the history of Appalachia and other regions subject to generations of stereotypes—has to do with presenting what actually happened in the region against the backdrop of what popular assumptions would suggest happened. It’s inherently a revisionist process, even if you’re not directly revising any specific previous work of history.
What are you reading now?
I just finished reading Suzette Haden Elgin’s The Ozark Trilogy, the rare science fiction/fantasy novel that is also a master work in regional dialect. For the most part, though, my reading is research related, which at the present means lots of books on migrant laborers, including the classic Factories in the Field by Carey McWilliams.
What does it mean to you to be promoting your book as a local author?
Though Little Rock is obviously not in the Ozarks, there are many people in the city who vacation in the Ozarks or who have family roots in the region—and everyone has come in contact with the stereotypes. So, it’s nice to share stories with an audience with some familiarity of the topic.
Are you excited to see any other authors at Six Bridges Book Festival? Who/why?
Though I probably won’t see him, I was most excited to see that John Hornor Jacobs is participating this year. We write very different kinds of books, but John and I went to Lyon College together, so I’ve known him for more than thirty years and have enjoyed following his success. I also look forward to meeting Sean Fitzgibbon, whom I’ve known through the grapevine for some time, and to sharing the festival with fellow historians like John A. Kirk and Colin Edward Woodward.
Sponsored by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Check out the full schedule of events at Sixbridgesbookfestival.org