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Successful Midwesterners

February 14, 2003 |

Dear Mr. Keillor,

This spring I will be finishing my PhD at a big university on the coast and moving to a small town in the midwest to be an English professor. I am thrilled beyond measure with the town and the people in my future department. But what do I need to know to become a successful midwesterner? Don't people normally move in the opposite direction?


Rachel, you're a woman of convictions and you chart your own course and so, naturally, you've found your way to our nation's interior, a land of independent people. The fact that you're thrilled about moving to a small town shows just how independent you are: this is not a fashionable move on your part, as you know. A college town is different from other small towns, of course, and I'm no authority in any case, but I'll advise you to be brave and to venture boldly and also to prepare to be misunderstood, as you would if you moved to any foreign country. You'll meet disappointment, of course, and, since this is academia you're in, you may find many defeated souls who wish you to share in their defeat, which of course you must decline to do. Any small town is in need of fresh and energetic people, and this town needs you, and it will appreciate you, but it probably won't say so, and probably people will say small mean things about you that will get back to you and make you weep, but persevere. Go to church if you possibly can. Just choose one and go. And throw yourself into some community projects, as time permits, so you can meet the doers and shakers of the town. But we're private people in the Midwest and take time to get to know and value privacy. The beauty of this small town will be that it gives a young woman plenty of room to stretch out in her imagination and to get over the PhD millrace and figure out the next phase of her life.

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