Normally, finishing a book in academia means a short quiz or discussion. English professor Scott Olsen likes to do things a little differently. When his non-fiction writing class finished â€œThe Childrenâ€™s Blizzard,â€ they made a Skype call to the home of the bookâ€™s author David Laskin.
â€œI can say a million things about a book and my students will nod their heads and take notes,â€ Olsen explains. â€œBut when I can connect them with the author, it makes it real.â€
At 6:45 a.m. (PST), armed only with a cup of coffee, Laskin met the class and proceeded to host an informal discussion about his research and writing process.
Caitlyn Schuchhardt â€™12, Aberdeen, S.D., says Laskinâ€™s work gave her a different perspective on recent weather, â€œitâ€™s not as bad as 1888,â€ as well as on local history and the lives of those braving the plains where the blizzard took place. It also gave her a rare chance to converse with a celebrated author.
â€œThis interview was successful because it was not just an author speaking to students, but a writer speaking to writers,â€ Schuchhardt says. â€œHaving the opportunity to ask Laskin specific questions about his work, his organizational process â€“ all things that we could only guess at â€“ is wonderful for a group of young writers.â€
After exhausting the allotted time, Laskin asked the class if the story hit home for those who grew up in the Midwest underneath the big sky. The answer was a resounding yes.
The book in question also hits home. Based on an 1888 blizzard widely known as the â€œChildrenâ€™s Blizzard,â€ the book chronicles one of the most defining storms on the prairie.
â€œWe live in a part of the world that has bad winters, so we understand it and respond to it well,â€ Olsen says. â€œIf you say you are from North Dakota or Minnesota to anyone else on the planet, theyâ€™ll shiver in front of you.â€