My favorite things Iowa

by on February 1, 2016 at 1:03 am in Books, Current Affairs, Film, Music, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

No, I’m not in Iowa, but I’ve never covered it before, and today seems like as good a day as any.  Here goes:

1. Painter: Grant Wood.  Here is an interpretative take on American Gothic.  It’s not by the way man and wife in the picture, but rather Wood’s sister standing next to the local dentist.

2. Novelist: I draw a blank, sorry people…Does it count that Joe Haldeman (The Forever War) was a product of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop?  There must be other examples as well.

3. Hero: Norman Borlaug.

4. Actor: John Wayne is from Iowa, but I can’t call him a favorite.  I guess he is my favorite version of…John Wayne.  If that.  Can one call Johnny Carson an actor?  I never took to him either.

5. Jazz musician: Yes there is one, Bix Beiderbecke.  Art Farmer too, and also Charlie Haden.  Yet how rarely one hears of the “Iowa jazz tradition.”

6. Guitarist: Dick Dale, don’t by the way forget his Lebanese background, which you can hear in his riffs.

7. Movie, set in: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?  Honorable mention to the more obvious Field of Dreams, an OK but not great film in my view.

The bottom line: Who would have thought “jazz musician” would be the strongest category here?  Those Iowans are so busy with their jazz, it is amazing they have time to lobby for their ethanol subsidies.


1 skeptic February 1, 2016 at 1:13 am

Wow, no longer even cloakong disdain for white people, eh?
The Trumpening must have you all butt-hurt.

2 Thiago Ribeiro February 1, 2016 at 9:48 am

Borlaug was white.

3 gab February 1, 2016 at 11:52 am

So was Marion Morrison.

4 Thiago Ribeiro February 1, 2016 at 12:39 pm

And Grant Wood, if Google is to be trusted. There seems to be lots of White folks in Iowa.

5 Thursday February 1, 2016 at 1:23 am

Novelist: Thomas M. Disch

6 Thursday February 1, 2016 at 1:27 am

Marilynne Robinson both teaches in Iowa and has set most of her books there.

There are others who have studied in Iowa, like Flannery O’Connor.

7 Ted Craig February 1, 2016 at 8:42 am

How Mildred A. Wirt, writer of 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew novels?

8 zjg February 1, 2016 at 1:29 am

What about Marilynne Robinson as novelist? She wasn’t born in Iowa, but she lives there and most of her novels are set there. For my money, one of the best American novelists of the past 50 years.

9 fred February 1, 2016 at 5:47 pm

Good choice. Same logic applies to Jane Smiley.

10 carlolspln February 1, 2016 at 1:43 am

Charlie Haden grew up in Taney County, MO.

You can add Addison Farmer to Art [twin brother; bassist] btw, they grew up in Phoenix

Dick Dale-never knew [Lebanese]

11 Em February 1, 2016 at 1:47 am

Political commentator/artist/writer/philosopher: Will Wilkinson.

12 Sam Haysom February 1, 2016 at 2:06 am

What I find so adorable about Tyler is how high-school teacher cum social striver this list is. It’s exactly the kind of list a 21st century Ichabod Crane would make. Truly sophisticated people have long since gotten over pretending to not like John Wayne and would know who Marilynne Robinson is-although they would know that Robinson is slowly drifting out of critical favor and as such downplay their affinity for her. If they were going to play the passive-aggressive “not that I can call him a favorite” card on anyone it would be Grant Wood.

13 dan1111 February 1, 2016 at 4:14 am

Crazy theory: maybe Tyler actually likes the stuff he says he likes and dislikes the stuff he says he dislikes.

14 prior_test February 1, 2016 at 6:38 am

Especially when it fits into whatever narrative is being spun at the moment.

Several months ago, it was fun to see how affronted Prof. Cowen was with the suggestion that he did not have experience with Michelin ranked restaurants, as many loyal readers seemed to have assumed that the persona of someone lauding the tacos found at a gas station was the real Prof. Cowen. Which is not to say that the tacos were not fantastic, by the way, or that Prof. Cowen did not enjoy them thoroughly..

He is a man that contains multitudes, after all. It isn’t as if all that many people willing to write checks for a couple of hundred thousand dollars want to hang out at a gas station eating tacos with the chairman and general director of the Mercatus Center.

What one sees here is a well pruned representation of a persona, as is always the case with people involved in running public policy institutes.

15 dan1111 February 1, 2016 at 7:54 am

Those nefarious Koch brothers are cackling like Snidely Whiplash as we all succumb to their plot to force us to listen to Bix Beiderbecke while eating Chinese food at shady strip malls across the country.

16 Jonathan February 1, 2016 at 9:22 am

As long as there are no beautiful women in the gas station.

17 ww February 2, 2016 at 12:02 am

True fact

18 Larry Siegel February 2, 2016 at 6:53 am

Crazier theory: maybe the stuff Tyler likes is pretty good, and high-school teacher/social strivers are not the worst sort of people.

19 John L. February 1, 2016 at 9:57 am

” (…) Robinson is slowly drifting out of critical favor and as such downplay their affinity for her.”
Oh no Robinson no! No Robinson! Someome do something.

20 jb February 1, 2016 at 2:07 am

My favorite MR post in a while. Loved the Bix link!

21 So Much For Subtlety February 1, 2016 at 2:24 am

Wikipedia actually has a category of “Novels Set in Ohio”. But as far as I can see the only one people should have read is What Katy Did.

Still these lists are a personal thing. Myself, the best writer I can think of from Ohio would be P. J. O’Rourke who was born in Toledo. But I am willing to say most people might prefer Harlan Ellison. Born, like Andre Norton, in Cleveland. How you can compile a list of people from Ohio and miss him – as much as I despise his politics – escapes me. He is vastly better than Joe Haldeman. Or Zane Grey. Not everyone’s cup of tea but hugely influential in his time.

James Thurber was born in Columbus. Not a writer as such.

How about Donald Ogden Stewart, writer of the screen play for The Philadelphia Story for the best Ohio writer who was also Black Listed for being a Communist?

Both Marilyn Manson and Traci Lords are from Ohio. Favorite what? Well Ms. Lords was certainly an *influential* writer of fiction. Favorite porn star from Ohio?

As for film stars shame on you! Lillian Gish is from Ohio.

22 So Much For Subtlety February 1, 2016 at 2:57 am

Damn it. That is my stupidity of the week.

Don’t post late in the day when you’re tired after a tough day.

23 Clc February 1, 2016 at 3:38 am

Ohio is only the second best state most frequently confused with Iowa. The best most frequently confused state is Idaho.

24 dan1111 February 1, 2016 at 4:15 am

My favorite state that is often confused with Nebraska is Iowa.

Oops, I may have gotten that mixed up…

25 Art Deco February 1, 2016 at 8:45 am

They share a 2d tier city (greater Omaha), they each have one 3d tier city (Des Moines for one, Lincoln for the other), they’re both in a steppe biome and have had proportionately large agricultural sectors, and they both have funny aboriginal names. Iowa’s more populous and has a cloud of small cities that Nebraska doesn’t have. You’re also at the end of the world in western Nebraska, which you aren’t any place in Iowa. Still, more similar than any other two states in the union.

26 msgkings February 1, 2016 at 2:01 pm

“More similar than any other two states in the union” – an interesting category, most comparable states. I agree NE and IA are in the running, but what about ND and SD? NC and SC? MS and AL? TN and NC? Are any contenders noncontiguous?

27 dan1111 February 2, 2016 at 5:06 am

There are a lot of contenders for most similar. What about NH and VT? MN and WI? WA and OR?

28 So Much For Subtlety February 1, 2016 at 2:41 am

As for musicians, I have to give a shout out to the hard-to-classify Bootsy Collins along with his brother Catfish Collins. Before they started taking some clearly very serious drugs, they played for James Brown. They recorded “Super Bad”, “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine”, “Soul Power”, “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing”, “The Grunt” and “Give It Up or Turn it Loose” among others.

Both born in Cincinnati.

Bobby Womack and The Isley Brothers are from Ohio. I would imagine everyone has heard Womack’s music even if they don’t know the name.

Chrissie Hynde had to go to Britain to make it big. Born in Akron.

29 Thor February 1, 2016 at 8:19 pm

Willard Van Orman Quine was also born in Akron.

30 jim jones February 1, 2016 at 3:52 am

6. You can buy a Microtonal Guitar if you want authentic Lebanese riffs:

31 Alan Davies February 1, 2016 at 4:28 am

Pulitzer winner Jane Smiley’s 100 Years trilogy is set in Iowa. The three novels follow American history from 1920 to 2020

32 Charles Krohn February 1, 2016 at 5:40 am

Punk rock album: “Witness” by Modern Life Is War. Absolutely perfect, still as hair raising now as it was when it was released over 10 years ago.

33 Hoosier February 1, 2016 at 6:10 am

Didn’t realize Johnny Carson was born in Iowa. Doesn’t Nebraska claim him as their own as well?

34 Thelonious_Nick February 1, 2016 at 11:44 am

From Wikipedia: Carson was born on October 23, 1925 in Corning, Iowa, to Homer Lloyd “Kit” Carson (1899-1983), a power company manager, and Ruth (Hook) Carson (1901-1985), who was of Irish descent.[4] He grew up in the nearby towns of Avoca, Clarinda, and Red Oak in southwest Iowa before moving to Norfolk, Nebraska, at the age of eight.

The Johnny Carson Museum in Norfolk is a reasonably fun way to spend an hour or two, should you ever find yourself there.

35 msgkings February 1, 2016 at 2:02 pm

That museum probably ranks as the most fun way to spend an hour or two in Norfolk.

36 Al Varden February 1, 2016 at 6:25 am

If the IU writer’s workshop counts, you’ve got dozens of possible options for authors

37 Tim Paxton February 1, 2016 at 6:50 am


That’d be U of I, dunkwad

38 Illinois Guy February 1, 2016 at 1:18 pm

That would be “the other U of I”, small fry.

39 Ted Craig February 1, 2016 at 7:03 am

“Who would have thought “jazz musician” would be the strongest category here?”

According to Wikipedia, there is a stronger category:

“Five Nobel Prize winners hail from Iowa: Norman Borlaug, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize; Thomas Cech, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Alan J. Heeger, also a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry; John Mott, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize; and Stanley B. Prusiner, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Other notable scientists who worked or were born in Iowa include astronomer and space pioneer James A. Van Allen, ecologist Aldo Leopold, computer pioneer John Vincent Atanasoff, inventor and plant scientist George Washington Carver, geochemist Clair Cameron Patterson, and Intel founder Robert Noyce.”

Lazy, Tyler. Super lazy. You’d give a student a D for this level of work.

40 Ted Craig February 1, 2016 at 7:06 am

Also, Iowa was the birthplace of two Supermen: George Reeves and Brandon Routh.

41 msgkings February 1, 2016 at 2:06 pm

And one super captain, James T. Kirk

42 Axa February 1, 2016 at 7:08 am

It seems Tyler in consistent on that thing of rising the status of scientists. Norman Borlaug is not a scientist, it’s a hero.

43 Thelonious_Nick February 1, 2016 at 11:47 am

Considering the number of lives saved by Borlaug, seems reasonable in this case. I sometimes read about people comparing Hitler with Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot to see who has the best claim to the most significant butcher of the 20th century. Might be an interesting exercise to do the same with Norman Borlaug and Alexander Fleming.

44 Micke February 3, 2016 at 11:40 am

I thought Borlaug won such a competition hands down. No?

Also, Hitler vs Stalin vs Mao vs Pol Pot: one of them isn’t like the others. If we count numbers he’s behind by tens of millions. if we count share of population, he’s ahead by a lot. Either way, not really comparable.

45 Axa February 1, 2016 at 7:07 am

Elijah Wood? Famous for Lord of the Rings, but I really enjoyed an slasher movie he made with SNL cast. It was funny and I discovered the guys who composed the music for the film (Kreng). he makes great ambient music.

46 Kirk Jeffrey February 1, 2016 at 7:24 am

The novelist/historian Wallace Stegner was born in Iowa, though he is mostly known for his writings about the American West.

47 Kirk Jeffrey February 1, 2016 at 7:39 am

Also, there’s there was James Norman Hall, who teamed with Charles Nordhoff to write that trilogy on Captain Bligh and the mutiny on HMS Bounty. In his autobiography (My Island Home, 1952), Hall describes sneaking out of his home as a kid and jumping freight trains in the middle of the night with other boys. They would ride two or three towns down the line, jump off, wander down deserted streets in a town just like their own, then catch another freight to get home in time for school. This would have been around 1900. Later, as a student at Grinnell College, Hall took a job as a busboy at a local restaurant frequented by traveling salesmen. He would clear tables and then scrape uneaten food off the plates so that it could be re-used for the next customer’s meal. Political candidates and their staffs are the traveling salesmen of 2016, I wonder if they’ve stopped for dinner at that restaurant . . .

48 chuck martel February 1, 2016 at 7:54 am

Robert Noyce, one of the founders of semi-conductor giant Intel, grew up in Grinnell, IA and went to college there.

49 middyfeek February 1, 2016 at 8:12 am

Don’t know what category you might put him in but you can’t talk about Iowa without mentioning Meredith Wilson (if only for the term “neck bowed hawkeyes”).

50 Ak Mike February 1, 2016 at 5:23 pm

And speaking of Willson (and of traveling salesmen), it may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for movies set in Iowa I’m partial to the Music Man. Another musical set in Iowa is the original State Fair, Rogers & Hammerstein.

51 Art Deco February 1, 2016 at 8:36 am

Does it count that Joe Haldeman (The Forever War) was a product of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop?

So was Flannery O’Connor, but you’d never identify her with anyplace but Georgia. Isn’t that the chap who tried to blackmail David Letterman?

John Wayne is from Iowa, but I can’t call him a favorite. I guess he is my favorite version of…John Wayne. If that. Can one call Johnny Carson an actor? I never took to him either.

Carson grew up in Nebraska, for the most part. The towns he lived in in Iowa are more proximate to Omaha than any city in Iowa.

52 PD Shaw February 1, 2016 at 8:43 am

Hero: James T. Kirk will be born in Riverside, Iowa in 2233.

53 John L. February 1, 2016 at 10:32 am


54 Regular guy February 1, 2016 at 9:16 am

Des Moines has a nice botanical garden.

55 middle-west February 1, 2016 at 9:19 am

Two additional Iowa facts:
Head of the world bank, Jim Yong Kim, is from Iowa
Also, I hear that the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines

56 jdbosshog February 1, 2016 at 9:59 am

Favorite (not Jazz) musician: Glenn Miller, born in Clarinda, Iowa.

57 Bliksem February 1, 2016 at 10:12 am

If faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop count, I’d go with Robert Penn Warren. “All the King’s Men” was a great book.

58 Psmith February 1, 2016 at 10:29 am

Whoa, I didn’t know he was an Iowa Writers’ Workshop guy. Yes, “All the King’s Men” is amazing.

I am a huge fan of Thom Jones’ short stories, too, but they’re not everyone’s cup of tea.

Also: John Berryman, T. C. Boyle, Raymond Carver.

59 Bliksem February 1, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Have you read A.J. Liebling’s “The Earl of Louisiana”, Mike Royko’s “Boss”, and Robert Caro’s “The power broker”? If you liked “All the King’s Men”, I’m pretty sure you’d enjoy those books too.

60 Psmith February 1, 2016 at 6:04 pm

yes, and it was great. “Between Meals” and his boxing stories were pretty killer too, if you haven’t read them.
no, but I’m gonna check it out now.
yes, and it is one of my favorite books. I read the last few chapters while flying into JFK and crossing the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, in a triumph for what Anne Fadiman called you-are-there reading.

61 Bliksem February 1, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Yes, Liebling’s boxing stories were splendid. I always got the impression that he had as much fun writing them as I had reading them.
I hope you enjoy Royko. Took me a few pages to get into his prose style, but once I got in, I thought he did an excellent job of making both mayor Daley and Chicago come alive. (Speaking of mayors of Chicago: have you seen the tv series “Boss”, starring Kelsey Grammer? Worth watching.)
Caro is in a class of his own.

62 me February 1, 2016 at 11:14 am

RE 7: No love for The Straight Story?

63 Dzhaughn February 1, 2016 at 2:44 pm


64 o. nate February 1, 2016 at 11:22 am

Author – Bill Bryson
Showmen – William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Ringling Brothers
Singer/Musician – Julee Cruise, Arthur Russell

Also, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer was invented at Iowa State, often credited as first digital electronic computer.

65 Michael February 1, 2016 at 12:03 pm

For novelist, would Neal Stephenson count?

66 Brian Donohue February 1, 2016 at 1:25 pm

I don’t see why not. Tsk tsk Tyler.

67 Agra Brum February 1, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Not born in Iowa – Maryland – but did grow up there.
i say it counts!

68 James February 1, 2016 at 12:08 pm

I miss these postings.

69 Jeff Rensch February 1, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Fictionist… perhaps Hamlin Garland. A son of the middle border still has impact.

70 Aaron February 1, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Can we claim Kurt Vonnegut for writers? He wasn’t born in Iowa but taught at the Writers Workshop and I believe he wrote Slaughterhouse Five while living in Iowa City.

71 Ralph Winstanley February 1, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Novelist: Marilynne Robinson.

72 Pshrnk February 1, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Neal Stephenson grew up primarily in Ames.

73 Vivian Darkbloom February 1, 2016 at 1:49 pm

Dvorak wrote one of his most famous works (String Quartet in F) while in Spillville, Iowa in 1893. He had relatives in this little town of about 350.

74 ad*m February 1, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Wow. I second Ted Craig above, and this sure downgraded my estimation of prof Cowen.

– Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving (book set in Iowa), Philip Roth (book set in Iowa), Ethan Canin (lives in Iowa), Nathan Englander
– Actors: Ashton Kutcher, Gene Wilder
– Composers
Dvorak (New World Symphony, Rusalka)

On the other hand, I may prefer it staying exclusive and exotic.

75 Vivian Darkbloom February 1, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Add playwright David Rabe, born, raised and educated in Dubuque.

76 Sean R February 1, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Before going to Hollywood, from 1932 to 1937, Ronald Reagan was a radio personality in Iowa.

77 Tim February 1, 2016 at 6:31 pm

You’re honoring the wrong Dick Dale. The one from Iowa was a sax player on the Lawrence Welk show; the King of the Surf Guitar is from Massachusetts and Southern California.

78 andy weintraub February 1, 2016 at 8:59 pm

Meredith Wilson, who wrote MUSIC MAN, which was set in Iowa, was from Iowa.

79 ww February 1, 2016 at 11:49 pm

#6 Lebanese influence of Dick Dale. Comment of the day. Wins the internet! One can totally hear the middle east influence on Miserlou. Awesome!

80 Larry February 2, 2016 at 12:59 am

Carson was no actor, but he was the ultimate host. Like a great point guard, he made everyone around him better.

81 Rachmananon February 2, 2016 at 7:45 pm

Best classical-music satirist/ comedian (and also real composer) is surely Peter Schickele, a.k.a. “P.D.Q Bach” – he was raised in Ames (his dad taught agricultural economics there).

82 Rachmananon February 4, 2016 at 8:44 pm

One other thing: Iris DeMent has lived in Iowa since 2002, so I think the state can claim her and that’s no small thing! Also: one of the few David Lynch movies I’ve liked was “The Straight Story,” which is set in Iowa.

83 Thursday February 26, 2016 at 5:51 am

The poet Amy Clampitt was born and raised in Iowa.

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