Jerry Wilson

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About the Author

 

Jerry Wilson was born west of the Cimarron River in Oklahoma, near the homesteads two of his great grandfathers claimed in the 1892 Land Run into Cheyenne Arapaho country. Jerry's family worked a marginal sandy farm in a neighborhood of hard-up blacks and whites. In 1957 he witnessed the great Cimarron River flood that took his grandparents' lives. From those experiences, from his ancestors' stories and from historical research grew his 2016 novel Across the Cimarron.

As a young man he worked as a farmhand, a handyman, a gas station attendant, an oil field flunkey, a carpenter and a preacher, and served two years in the US Army. From those years evolved his book of short stories, Blackjacks and Blue Devils.

He taught three years in public schools, then earned a PhD in American literature from the University of Oklahoma. There he married poet and fellow student, Norma Clark. They moved to South Dakota, where they "homesteaded" a scrap of the Missouri River bluff, built the geo-solar house where they still live, restored native prairie and raised two kids, Walter and Laura. He taught literature and writing at colleges and universities in Oklahoma and South Dakota before stints as a newspaper journalist, as managing editor of South Dakota Magazine and as a county commissioner. His Eco-memoir Waiting for Coyote's Call shares a quarter century of work and learning at nature's knee amongst the bluff's prairies and woods.

Jerry has lived most of his life in three Great Plains states, but always near US Highway 81, the nation's first international road. Twenty years ago curiosity got the best of him; he got into his $600 car and headed south from Winnipeg. He drove 5,000 miles from Canada to the end of the Pan American Highway in Panama, stopping in every city and town along the way and listening to anybody and everybody he met. The socio-historical travel book that emerged he called American Artery: A Pan American Journey.

In semi-retirement he gardens, nurtures prairie, watches his bird and mammal neighbors, and writes when it's too hot or cold to play outside. He is currently shaping over a hundred short essays detailing encounters in the natural world over one calendar year into a book he calls "A Year on Prairie Bluff." He sometimes shares scraps from that work in progress under the tab "The View from Prairie Bluff."

Jerry's books are available at select bookstores and from Amazon.com and other internet vendors. Signed copies of all except American Artery may be purchased on this website, with payment through PayPal. Jerry loves to share his work and to hear what readers think.

 

Jerry Wilson's Books



 



Across the Cimarron

What readers are saying about Across the Cimarron

Like the Cimarron River itself, Jerry Wilson's novel teems with life and beauty and movement. Across the Cimarron bears you along on the currents of Time and Memory, and begs you to ponder one of the most fundamental questions of human existence: "How deep is your claim to the earth?"
--Brad McLelland, author of Bruisers

Across the Cimarron is a fine, fine novel, that deserves a broad readership-of those interested in the history of the American West-and of lovers of powerfully engaging fiction. The narrative voice is generally spare and direct, with moments of great passion and deep feeling. The story is mainly one of hardship and struggle, interspersed with scenes of neighborliness and developing community. What brings the story to life is the beautiful, effective use of historical and geographical detail-and language. Wilson's deep knowledge of the story he is telling is evident on every page.

Like the great novels in the realist tradition whose ranks it deserves to join, Across the Cimarron displays a strong social conscience, especially with regard to the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples on whose ancestral land the Land Run settlers made they lives-and the Black settlers, who almost immediately experienced discrimination and segregation that barred their children from the little log-framed school they had helped build. This is a gripping, compelling work of historical fiction. I loved it, and was sorry to see it end.
--David Gross, Professor Emeritus of English, University of Oklahoma

Good historical fiction requires both knowledge of history and writing ability. Jerry Wilson has both. His knowledge of history comes at least in part from his own family's history in Oklahoma, including memoirs by two of his grandmothers. He grew up in western Oklahoma where he bases this story. As the central character realizes, perhaps the whole region has been "tainted by money and blood. There is little we can do to change the past, but we must acknowledge our debt and repay it as we can." Wilson's novel is acknowledgement and repayment, as well as a good read.
--Davis Joyce, author of Alternative Oklahoma

Across the Cimarron provides an intimate look at what the aftermath of this melding of the disenfranchised may have felt like on the prairie. The author not only researched the impact of the land-grab, he lived in its path, growing up as he did in Oklahoma, a descendant of homesteaders.
--Talli Nauman, Native Sun News

For more about Across the Cimarron and Mongrel Empire Press, please see mongrelempire.org

 





 



Blackjacks and Blue Devils

What readers are saying about Blackjacks and Blue Devils

Jerry Wilson's Blackjacks and Blue Devils is a stunning collection of gritty, realistic fiction. His direct writing style embodies the heartaches his characters suffer, and on occasion work through. Blackjacks and Blue Devils looks unflinchingly at life's triumphs and absurdities, presenting characters and places in all of their unvarnished glory. While the collection is set primarily in Oklahoma, these stories speak to universal verities, and quite possibly Blackjacks and Blue Devils will make you appreciate the human condition anew.
--Hardy Jones, Cybersoleiljournal

Wilson's magic is to so well contrast integrity, intelligence and a Cassandra-like prescience in his ordinary characters on the one hand with unimaginable miseries on the other, so that we are at once plunged into cold realities and yet ennobled. They are the tough, indestructible "blackjacks." The characters in this collection are often severely misguided, but we can still admire them and realize exactly how they got that way, and emerge still glad we are humans, both tough and quietly desperate as many of us are today.

This book truly blazes a trail into the consciousness and mentality of hard-working people and of nasty people as well--the blackjacks and blue devils populate a very slippery slope, conferring this book with depth, suspense, and insight worthy of the best creators of short fiction. Therefore do not call it regional, though all are set in Oklahoma. That bell tolls for us all.
--James Alexander Drummond, Barnes and Noble.com

Steinbeck could have learned from this book. Its stories bring us American history in living color (real people, in white, black, and red), from Oklahoma land runs of 1889-92 down through the Dust Bowl, Viet Nam and the invasion of Iraq. We meet homesteaders, bootleggers, revival preachers, rich oil men and failing farmers, children of slaves working for freedom, a veteran who trades his phantom arm for a farm, a dying WWII vet whose son peddles smart bombs that are killing Iraqi children.
--Carter Revard, Osage poet and scholar

The titles of these fourteen stories could be a poem of the poverty, despair, and hope so vividly shown in these tales of Oklahoma.
--Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, Lakota author, honored with the National Humanities Medal

 





 



Waiting for Coyote's Call

What readers are saying about Waiting for Coyote's Call

Waiting for Coyote's Call is an easy-reading tutorial on South Dakota's natural life. More importantly, it records the love and respect a man can develop for a big stretch of dirt and grass and woods. Not many books delve into that private relationship; seldom if ever has the subject been explored as passionately by a South Dakotan.
--Roger Holtzman, South Dakota Magazine

Jerry Wilson weaves together observations about the natural and human history of the bluffs and his childhood on an Oklahoma farm- about how to live ethically on the land and toward its creatures. In so doing, he fashions an intimate tapestry of the Missouri River bluffs and woodlands that are often underappreciated on the Plains.
--Mark Dixon, PhD, Great Plains Quarterly

Waiting for Coyote's Call is a celebration of home, of the central Plains, family and comfortable memories of familiar things. At every page I found things I had done, felt or seen myself, or heard from others. It must be a kind of syndrome . . . varmint-lovin,' tree-huggin, 'Mother Earth embracin,' Aldo Leopold/H.D. Thoreau readin,' night-sky appreciatin' hippies find ragged piece of savaged land, work at bringing it back to health, fall hopelessly in love with it and live happily ever after. Wilson is a skilled writer, literary and yet wonderfully comfortable.
--Roger Welsch, Nebraska Life magazine

Wilson's theme throughout the book is that we are temporary custodians of the land we occupy; we need to care for it and enhance, not hinder nature's recovery efforts while we are here on earth. Waiting for Coyote's Call is an engrossing memoir to explore on a blustery winter's evening after you stoke the wood- burning stove and settle into your favorite chair. You might just hear the coyote call out on the lonesome bluff.
--Bill Markley, Western Writers of America, Roundup magazine

 





 

Currently Unavailable


American Artery: A Pan American Journey

About American Artery: A Pan American Journey

Only one road connects the nations of North America, and only one book tells the story: American Artery. This is the story of Jerry's 5,000-mile journey down the Pan American Highway, America's first international road--the Pembina Highway south from Winnipeg, Canada; US 81 across North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas; Highway 85 down the length of Mexico; Central America 1 through Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Explore with Jerry the history, cultures and conflicts that span nine nations of North America.

Published in 2000, American Artery: A Pan American Journey, is now out of print. However, used copies are available from Amazon.com.
 



The View from Prairie Bluff

 

Inauguration Day
By Jerry Wilson

For Owen DeJong, upon his inauguration into retirement
Carey's Bar, January 20, 2017

On the Capitol steps the demagogue was crowned
So what's left for us, but our sorrows to drown?
Billionaire crooks will drain the swamp
And into the coffers of Wall Street they'll dump

The money for schools, clean water and air
for health care for all there'll be nothing to spare.
Every Washington henhouse will have its fox
And Wall Street bankers will pile up their stocks.

The system was rigged, the one truth he said,
He lost by three million, but took power instead.
For believing his lies and ignoring his hate
America now faces a fearful fate.

But wait-Perhaps it isn't too late!
Perhaps we can dump the intolerable Trump,
For here in our midst stands a worthy man
Who now has nothing but time on his hands.

So here's to Owen, who has served us well,
He plays like the devil, but he frees us from hell
On this dreary dark day when our souls feel sunk
He lifts spirits high without getting drunk.

 
 

Coyote Dreams and the Gifts of Insomnia
September 22

I have long known insomnia, long stretches of night when thoughts significant or trivial refuse to be suppressed. But in these cool nights of autumn we sleep with the windows open wide. I close my eyes, but my ears remain open to the chorus of crickets, cicadas and frogs, accented by the quavering trill of a screech owl or the eerie hoots of his great horned cousin. I drift from consciousness into a realm shared by many lives on our bluff. I may sleep soundly, dream sweet dreams, awake refreshed.

Midnight awakenings can mean a sleepless hour ahead, especially when I wake to dreams of conflict, images of the spray plane that roared through the morning sky, threats to the water, air and land, hatred and violence around the world. In such lonely hours I struggle with despair, and sleep will not return.

That is not the case when coyotes call. It might begin with a series of shrill yips, or perhaps with what an unfamiliar ear might consider a blood-chilling cry. But whether a lonely voice or the cacophonous song of a pack, I am instantly awake. How, I wonder, could I have slept through a far-off barking dog, the whistle of a freight locomotive in the distant valley, even a truck rumbling up the bluff with a heavy load, yet when the coyote calls I am instantly awake?

Studies of coyote vocalizations suggest that the alpha pair howl most frequently, probably to delineate the boundaries of their territory. The communication from my spirit animal is usually brief, sometimes a few seconds, sometimes an extended conversation that might be answered by another far off pack. Last night it was two mournful wails, a series of maniacal barks, then howls mingled with gargling yips, how many voices I could not tell. Then as suddenly as it began the cacophony died away. I closed my eyes and drifted back to sleep, joy in my heart. Never do I begrudge this rise to consciousness; my spirit is lifted by the knowledge that fellow creatures thrive, that this once “tamed” scrap of earth we inhabit grows ever more diverse and wild.

 
 

September 10, 2016

Following publication of my eco-memoir Waiting for Coyote's Call, I posted weekly observations about new interactions with the natural world of which I am part. With fifty two essays in the bag I ceased regular posts, but my encounters with the birds, mammals and natural phenomena in the woods and prairie I roam continued, so I continued to record sightings, questions and thoughts, which are shaping themselves into a new book I will call "A Year on Prairie Bluff."

I should explain "Prairie Bluff." That is the name my wife Norma and I bestowed on the 150 acres of Missouri River bluff land that we have the good fortune to inhabit-and the responsibility to care for. Like all living creatures, our days to provide care are limited, so we long ago protected this scrap of land from exploitation or inappropriate development through a Perpetual Conservation Easement with Northern Prairies Land Trust. This "kapuka," this island of natural diversity that sprawls half a mile along the northern bluff of the Missouri River, we call Prairie Bluff.

The cottonwoods we planted thirty-five years ago now tower seventy feet above our horizon, their glossy leaves waltzing with the wind. We love these trees and the life they support-like the red-tailed hawk that nested there-but they restrict our summer view, one more lesson from the law of unintended consequences. But other things also limit our summer perspective. In the sweaty days of June to August my eyes are often averted, guiding my hoe between garden plants, mowing the strip of grass that holds wilder lands at bay from our house, searching for invasive weeds that must be rooted out.

Any day now the cottonwood leaves will turn to gold and drift to the soil from which they sprang. In fall my perspective will remain narrow much of the time, gathering last fruits from the garden, raking leaves to compost, cutting and splitting firewood. But when I lift my eyes, our horizon will have extended from a few hundred feet to ten miles or more, to the Nebraska hills that form the Missouri's southern bluff. But in fact, in every season the "view" from Prairie Bluff depends upon perspective. As often as I gaze across the distant horizon, searching for an eagle or a sandhills crane, I crouch on hands and knees to explore the world of insects and seeds, such as the cicada killer wasp injecting her victim with poison so she can carry a creature twice her size to feed her offspring in the burrow she has prepared.

Sometimes the gaze turns inward, seeking answers to questions newly emerged, not only about the natural world, but about our human neighbors, about our history, about the experiences that are best explored through fiction-the kinds of things that found their way into my book of short stories, Blackjacks and Blue Devils and my novel, Across the Cimarron. In coming weeks and months I will share my explorations near and far, thoughts as well as sights, delights with fellow creatures, the progress and challenges of prairie restoration, ruminations by the fireside. But when I lift my eyes to valley and hills and my gaze is interrupted by cardinals, woodpeckers, finches and other feathered friends at the feeder outside my window pane, I will not hurry to return.

At times my musings will extend beyond my visual purview-to our county's struggle between expanded animal feeding operations and protection of clean water and air, to the quest for a renewable energy future, to the greatness of the human spirit and the smallness of mind that animates human conflicts and peoples the fictional stories I create, to thoughts about issues that have yet to claim my attention.

Perhaps most important, so long as my legs can carry me and my senses experience our world, I will explore that world, including the natural world of Prairie Bluff that has now sustained me for half my life. When a new experience presents itself I will engage the questions raised, attempt understanding, and share insights that might emerge. I welcome readers to this site and invite you to join the dialogue. I value your insights, appreciate your responses to my books and to my observations and reflections. Let the conversation begin!

Jerry