Voices from the Heartland
edited by Carolyn Anne Taylor, Emily Dial-Driver,
Carole Burrage, Sally Emmons-Featherston


University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8061-3858-9.
Reviewed by Joan Shaddox Isom
Posted on 04/23/2008

Anthologies/Collections; Nonfiction: Memoir

As a reader, writer and editor, I've seen countless anthologies. I admit I have a weakness for that literary form. But when I pick up a collection, to be candid, I expect to find four or five pieces from known, professional writers, with the rest of the material simply filler. Not so in Voices from the Heartland. "I'll leaf through this book and find the strong pieces," I recall thinking. Hours later, I found myself completely absorbed in story after story. Why? Because in each of these fascinating pieces, something speaks to me. Even the preface, which many seldom read, struck me with its reminder of Oklahoma's rank, the highest, in incarcerated women. True, some negatives are presented, but oh the rewards if one keeps reading.

Balance is important when putting such a collection together, and the editors are to be congratulated for including both serious and light pieces. Each of the fifty Oklahoma women who contributed to this collection have found a unique way to approach her subject. I've been fortunate enough to have met several of these contributors and hear them read and discuss their work, but I found myself wishing I could just sit down with all these women and trade stories.

Susan Savage's "Moving Day: A letter to Emily and Elizabeth," will strike a chord with most mothers. She vividly portrays wrenching but necessary transitions in a family, as she packs up mementos and prepares to say goodbye to the family residence.

Another window into motherhood comes from Kim Henry's "Revelations," in which she recounts how her seemingly perfect life changed when she found that one of her twin daughters had a fatal disease. Kim asks herself and God some difficult questions. Her struggle to accept, along with her discovery of the healing love of God, friends and strangers, is a moving tribute to the human spirit.

So many of these women ventured into nontraditional jobs and roles. Cindy Simon Rosenthal recounts some of the eye-opening experiences she had before and after she ran for mayor of Norman, Oklahoma, and won. Along the way, she developed her own definition of a feminist: "A feminist believes that as a society we can ill afford not to use all of the talents and energy among us..."

Kalyn Free used lines from a Dr. Seuss poem, "The Lorax," to counter negative comments when she embarked on her political career.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

For some, getting better meant going to prison. A courageous piece by Claudia Lovelace recounts a struggle that takes the reader along for a suspenseful story of a woman overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

As I read, I reminded myself, "These are all Oklahoma women." Voices from the Heartland could have been subtitled Fifty Pieces of Heart, for that is what the reader is receiving. The message, albeit subtle, is that no matter what changes confront us, we are not alone. The spirit of woman, beautifully rendered as universal in this collection, is there to sustain us. The writers, the editors, and the University of Oklahoma Press are to be commended for an outstanding publication.


Editors Carolyn Anne Taylor, Emily Dial-Driver, and Sally Emmons-Featherston are professors at Rogers State University in Oklahoma. Editor Carole Burrage is a former professor there.

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