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This booklist for North Dakota comprises history, memoir, fiction, and poetry. The selections are, of course, personal, but most any knowledgeable bibliophile in the state would agree that these are classics worth a reader's attention. A traveler of the Flickertail State who gets interested in its culture can satisfy much of his or her curiosity with these titles.
Drache, Hiram M. The Day of the Bonanza: A History of Bonanza Farming in the Red River Valley of the North. Fargo: Institute for Regional Studies, 1963.
Bonanza farming was a distinctive development and a spectacular feature of agricultural settlement in the Red River Valley of the North. Capitalists in the 1870s and 1880s acquired railroad land grants and established massive wheat farms worked by industrial methods. Hiram Drache is a distinguished historian of agriculture on the northern plains.
Erdrich, Louise. Love Medicine. New York : Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1984, and subsequent editions.
Louise Erdrich is a first-rate novelist with international status. Her first novel, Love Medicine, introduces family and settings developed through other books to follow, including The Beet Queen. Erdrich's roots, as explored in her fiction, are in the culture of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa of North Dakota.
Isern, Thomas D. Dakota Circle: Excursions on the True Plains. Fargo: Institute for Regional Studies, 2000.
Essays in the history, folklife, and culture of the northern plains, drawing on the author's newspaper and radio feature, Plains Folk. Tom Isern is Professor of History and University Distinguished Professor at North Dakota State University.
Lang, Lincoln A. Ranching with Roosevelt. Philadelphia & London: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1926.
Ranching with Roosevelt is a first-hand account of one of the first ranching families to settle in the North Dakota Badlands, framed as a biography of a young Theodore Roosevelt. Lincoln Lang is an unabashed admirer of TR, who was a close friend of his father's, and he provides the grounding of experience for the Roughrider President's conservationist values.
McGrath, Thomas. Letter to an Imaginary Friend. Denver: A. Swallow, 1962, and subsequent editions.
Tom McGrath's sprawling semi-autobiographical epic is among America's greatest long poems. Detailing his own history as representative of a national struggle toward consciousness, McGrath, who hailed from Sheldon, North Dakota, is justly famous for his line, "Dakota is everywhere."
Maxi'diwiac, a.k.a. Buffalo Bird Woman, as told to Gilbert Livingstone Wilson. Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden. Originally published (University of Minnesota) in 1917 as Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians: An Indian Interpretation.
The first life of this book was as a work of anthropology. Recent editions, however, have introduced 21st-century readers not only to the technical details of Hidatsa agriculture in what was to become North Dakota but also to the remarkable woman who told the story--a traditionalist woman's memoir of the first order.
Morlan, Robert Loren. Political Prairie Fire: The Nonpartisan League, 1915-1922. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955, and subsequent editions.
People wonder why North Dakota is so mixed up, politically. It is one of the reddest of red states, and yet it has distinctly socialist institutions such as a state bank and a state mill. To begin to unravel the mystery, begin with this classic work, which tells of a time when Republicans were Socialists.
Raaen, Aagot. Grass of the Earth: Immigrant Life in the Dakota Country. Northfield: Norwegian American Historical Association, 1950, and subsequent editions.
The story of a (somewhat dysfunctional) Norwegian immigrant family, a daughter of which (Aagot) raised herself up through education. One of the best of many pioneer memoirs from the Dakota frontier, Grass of the Earth is set in the Goose River valley of eastern North Dakota.
Rikoon, J. Sanford, Editor. Rachel Calof's Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
Challenging (not to say miserable) conditions are faced by a Jewish bride on a homestead in north-central North Dakota in the 1890s. This is a story that pulls the reader into the narrative of hardship.
Roosevelt, Theodore. Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail. New York: Century, 1888, and subsequent editions.
North Dakotans love Teddy, and they love his virile memoir of ranching and hunting on the plains. Lovers of either history or the outdoors will relish this title.
Woiwode, Larry. What I Think I Did: A Season of Survival in Two Acts. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
The most talented and controversial of all contemporary North Dakota authors, Larry Woiwode dropped out of the New York scene to return to his native Dakota, nurture his faith, and live quietly near Mott, in the southwest part of the state. The memoir, What I Think I Did, goes over the route to this place and recounts the physical and spiritual challenge of a hard winter on the northern plains.
Interested in exploring the literature and culture of the northern plains? A good place to start is the North Dakota State University Institute for Regional Studies.