Robert Leonard, $19.99, paper, 132p, Isbn 9781948509084
A deep dive into the Midwest experience through thought-provoking poems, recollections, essays, and vivid stories. Pondering nature and neighbors, bars and commutes—Bob Leonard’s perspectives on these quiet aspects of life open up new ways of seeing everyday life. These little nods of Leonard’s are at once tiny, but also everything. This is a book to provoke appreciation in the things we take for granted, and spark evenings spent reminiscing with friends and family about what it means to live in the Midwest, or anywhere one calls home.
High Praise for Deep Midwest already:
“This is my kind of book — fun, provocative and easy to read. Bob Leonard blends prose and poetry with a ring of authenticity true to the ear of a community journalist to give us a portrait of small-town life in Rural America, and its abiding wonders.”–Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the book, Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper
“Deep Midwest is an unexpectedly delightful collection of poems, reminiscences and whimsical reflections from native Iowan Robert Leonard. If that leads you to expect homespun tales with homely moralisms, be prepared to be surprised. Leonard’s last line almost always takes an unexpected turn, and what he gleans from his lifelong experiences is both modern and timeless. Though this could be a quick read, you’ll find yourself stopping to meditate on many an unexpected twist in Leonard’s storytelling and interpretations. Imagine that millennials had a device in place of their phones, which instead of allowing them to capture an image or video of every instant of their lives, could capture how they felt and what they learned in the key moments of their lives. While that would be a technological marvel, it is exactly the skill that this eminently sharp observer of human foibles is able to deliver through his writing. If you’re able to stop reading this compelling set of introspective jewels before you reach the end, you’re far more disciplined than I can conceive!”–Ricardo J. Salvador, Director and Senior Scientist, Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
“Robert Leonard is a pseudonym for a guy I know named Dr. Bob. Dr. Bob is a suspendered radio reporter of a certain age who is curious to a fault. He hears and sees stuff the rest of us miss. And thank goodness he’s taken the time to write some of it down. Loved the book.”–Harry Smith, NBC News
“You don’t have to have a PhD in anthropology to understand rural Iowa, but it helps. Reading Deep Midwest helps, too, and there is a lot for readers to understand. From the small-town bar owner who stops fights dead in their tracks by firing up his chainsaw, to the presidential candidate who has no idea what the locals mean by “the low price of corn and beans,” to the luckless widow and mother of four small children whose husband commits suicide, these poems and stories about the Iowa countryside will tug at the reader’s heart, sometimes plucking at its strings, sometimes tearing it in two, but most often causing it to soar—through stories about courage and even humor. And then there is love, the love of a father for his wife and children, or the love of an elderly couple—she with cancer and he with a heart condition—encouraging each other along on their daily walk inside Des Moines’ Merle Hay indoor shopping mall. Dr. Robert Leonard has been many things in his life: an Iowa radio personality, a cab driver, a playwright, a university professor, a carpenter, a roofer, a champion heavyweight wrestler, and a journalist whose work has been in the New York Times and Kansas City Star. ‘Dr. Bob,’ as he is called in Marion County, Iowa, has interviewed over 8,000 people along the way, and has a deep understanding of life in the rural Midwest, deepened even more by his doctorate in anthropology. His perspective on people, places and events is not only influenced by education and experience but also tempered by love: love for a place and love for its people regardless of generation, political stance, or social status. As Dr. Leonard advises us all, ‘Look for love, and when you find it, hold its warm and tender hand in your own, gently.’”– James Blasingame, Professor, Department of English, Arizona State University
“With wit and a straight-forward passion, Robert Leonard writes of the tough and tender daily lives of the Midwestern working class. He captures the voices and vicissitudes of the barbers and bartenders, farmers and butchers, factory and maintenance workers who are trying to survive and find their balance within their families and communities in today’s rural landscape. A poetry of the people, Deep Midwest rips off the fancy wrapping paper and gives you a glimpse a reality you may know, but never see captured elsewhere in literature.”–Mary Swander, Former Iowa poet laureate, author, Farmscape
“Robert Leonard portrays life in Iowa vividly, with warmth and candor. Whether he describes rain filling the creek or a possum walking downhill or creatively likens people to trees, I see it. As he expresses his appreciation for his wife, children and the “road graders” out during blizzards, I feel it. As he ponders the thoughts of people who have crossed an old covered bridge, the thoughts of a red ant and the names of old farm equipment, I wonder, too. “Deep Midwest” is a wonderful way to see, feel, and think about Iowa and the Midwest.” ~Rachelle Chase, author, Lost Buxton
“I loved reading Robert Leonard’s Deep Midwest: Midwestern Explorations. His observations about everyday moments feel authentic and relatable—no matter where you live. His attention to detail so clearly stems from his work as an anthropologist and a reporter. I felt like I was right there with Bob: laying on the ice to check the depth of a frozen lake, bellied up to a dive bar in a small town, or even maneuvering my way through a political rally trying to grab a few moments with the next presidential hopeful. It is a book I intend to share with many.”–Lisa Carponelli, MSJ, associate professor at Simpson College
“Bob Leonard’s DEEP MIDWEST was not what I expected. I’ve known him for many years as one of Iowa’s best journalists. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times and other national publications. He’s been interviewed on national news programs, and his education and experience are always on display. He is an Iowa gem. Based on that journalism, I knew I would enjoy the “writing” in DEEP MIDWEST. But this book is not journalism. It is a collection of some of the most brilliant and insightful poetry and creative prose I have read in years. My first reaction was that Bob was channeling William Carlos Williams. In some poems, deceptive simplicity led to profound insight. In others, the precise facts of everyday life were merely the prelude to a comic or tragic conclusion. I soon knew that DEEP MIDWEST is the work of a man who loves his family, his town, and life in Iowa. His revelations are both personal and universal at the same time. How did I know I was in the presence of a gifted writer? Sitting next to my wife in bed, after I read a stunning line or passage, I would turn to her and say, ‘You need to read this.’ I was eager to watch her face as she experienced what I just felt, always pleased when her response was a whispered, ‘Wow!’” Larry Baker, author, A Good Man and The Flamingo Rising
“Bob Leonard brings a father’s heart and an anthropologist’s eye to rural Iowa in Deep Midwest. Bob’s sketches of small-town bars, solitary rambles, and family life in the country carry echoes of Ted Kooser and Linda Hasselstrom, and his social commentary recalls Jack London’s working-class themes. By turns intimate, lyrical, and satiric, Deep Midwest is difficult to classify but easy to love and sure to reshape a reader’s assumptions about the Midwest.” — Joshua Doležal, author, Down from the Mountaintop: From Belief to Belonging
“From the momentary to the momentous, Robert Leonard holds a mirror up to the Midwest and casts a true reflection for all to see–from the Romantic to the real and the prosaic to the provocative. Here national politics occupies the mind, but so does re-roofing the shed. The farmer, the single mom, the meth addict, the dead soldier, the political pundit, and the bar stool philosopher are all here—shoulder to shoulder—sharing the open spaces of the prairie and sharing their stories.”–Dometa Brothers, author, Cold Songs
Robert Leonard graduated from Johnston High School in 1972, and received his BA in history from the University of Northern Iowa in 1977 and his MA in Anthropology from the University of Washington, Seattle in 1983. He received his PhD in anthropology from the UW in 1986. He worked in historic preservation for the Zuni Tribe in New Mexico in the mid 1980’s until accepting a position teaching in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico in 1987 where he taught until 2005 when he and his family decided to return home to Iowa.
He has also conducted field research in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. He and his family have lived in Marion County since 2005. He is the author of dozens of scientific books, papers, and newspaper articles, as well as an unusual ethnography (short stories and poetry) of the taxi cab industry in Albuquerque titled Yellow Cab (University of New Mexico Press 2006). A play based on the book opened on May 30, 2008 at the Adobe Theater in Albuquerque and played for 12 sold out performances. Another version of the play was performed at Central College and the Des Moines Social Club in 2012.
He continues to be an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Kansas City Star, and in the past has written for Salon and The Hill.