Two dozen fans of literature and live music braved near-blizzard conditions and four-degree weather to welcome North Dakota’s own Debra Marquart to the High Plains Cultural Center in Killdeer last Saturday.
By Jennifer Strange
For the DC Herald
“An Evening of Song and Words with Debra Marquart” was presented by the Dunn County Writers and co-sponsored by the North Dakota Humanities Council.
The award-winning author and celebrated singer/songwriter presented two sets of original, lyric-driven songs. Marquart’s clear, resonate voice and accompanying guitar filled the new cultural center’s elegant lobby, which had been arranged for the evening with a stage, tables, chairs and a social area for wine, punch and appetizers.
Between musical sets, Marquart read poems from her upcoming collection, “Small Buried Things,” and excerpts from her 2006 memoir, “The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere.”
Her tales of life on a ranch near Napoleon were filled with humor (farm girls dating town boys), sorrow (realizing she would have to move away to blossom artistically), wisdom (learning the value of checks and balances from her father) and wonder (North Dakota’s ever-present horizon).
“I wanted to share some impressions of the amazing landscape, people and history of my home state, which is pretty much the site of most of my published work,” said Marquart, a professor of English and director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University.
“Hopefully, everyone heard something that sounds familiar, something that reminds them of a story they heard way back—perhaps from a parent or an uncle or a friend from high school,” she said. “Hopefully, the pieces I read helped our audience see (again, anew) the beauty of the place where they live.”
Bill Flaget, president of the Dunn County Historical Society, was thrilled by the evening—from the social hour with its spread of homemade appetizers donated by the Dunn County Writers to Marquart’s generous and personal performance.
“That was just excellent,” said Flaget, who drove from Halliday to be part of the HPCC’s first cultural arts event. “And I look forward to getting Debra Marquart’s books and albums.”
Other audience members came from as far away as Bismarck, Hazen, Dickinson, Dunn Center and Manning.
Marquart is the first humanities scholar and literary personality to perform at the newly-opened HPCC. Director Ken Roshau couldn’t be happier.
“Many thanks to our North Dakota native for making the trip to Killdeer, and to the Dunn County Writers for putting this together,” he said. “This type of event is something we wanted for the long range and it’s really exciting to have it happening so quickly. It’s what the cultural center is all about.”
Roshau’s enthusiasm for the literary arts isn’t just good for business, it’s imperative for a well-rounded community, said Brenna Gerhardt, executive director of the NDHC.
“Stories are really the oldest art form and, without them, you have no history or cultural memory,” Gerhardt said. “Whenever I turn on the television or the radio, I hear a story about our state. I’m tired of listening to other people tell stories about us. It’s time for us to tell our own stories.
Artists like Debra Marquart and groups like the Dunn County Writers make this possible.
The work they are doing is invaluable to our sense of place.”So are venues like the High Plains Cultural Center, said Gerhardt.“People want to live in places with rich cultural experiences available to them,” she said. “The center is going to attract more educational and cultural opportunities to the region and that, in turn, will help attract more talent to the work force and families to the community.”
Marquart’s performance kicked off the second round of the NDHC’s “Our People. Our Places. Our Stories.” writing workshops. The workshops are taking place in several western North Dakota communities through February.
Fans new and old are already clamoring for Marquart to reprise her performance. She said she’d be honored to play again at the High Plains Cultural Center.
“I’m just happy thinking about all the events that are going to happen here over the years,” said Marquart. “And all the friendships, bonds, kinships and memories that will develop because members of the community had the vision to create such a space.”
To learn more about this event, the writing workshops and Dunn County Writers, contact DCW director Jennifer Strange: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit: www.debramarquart.com, www.highplainsculturalcenter.org, www.ndhumanities.org.