Iowa: A Literary Landscape


Iowa's primeval fields and surviving prairies hold secrets of past conquests and failures, lives of loss and joy. Numerous short stories and novels capture the spirit of the state's people and describe facets of Midwestern life. Iowa history and its legacy are vividly detailed in the works of Bess Streeter Aldrich, Hamlin Garland, Herbert Quick, Ruth Suckow, Paul Corey, and Alice French. John Irving, Donald Harstad, Jane Smiley, Robert Waller, and other contemporary authors explore Iowa as a setting, rich with experience. Just as well-tended land yields new life, well-crafted novels bring enjoyment and learning with each succeeding generation. 

The Research Begins 

The project began with a simple question -- what Iowa fiction does our library own?  It blossomed into seven months of exploration, unveiling the amazing variety and history of Iowa's fiction landscape. After locating items at Mount Mercy College's Busse Library, the search expanded to the catalogs of the regent's universities, area colleges, and the state's major public libraries. Traditional research followed, using the Short Story Index, Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, and the Fiction Index, all in an effort to gather author names, titles, and citations.

As a list of novels developed, searching was done in the library's electronic periodical indexes, mainly in WorldCat, an OCLC database. Here, the most rewarding results appeared -- locating master's theses and dissertations on literature set in Iowa and Iowa's literary magazine heritage. Bibliographic citations from these publications proved to be invaluable and were pursued eagerly. Copies of these major periodicals (The Palimpsest, The Midland, The Midland Monthly, and Iowa college literary magazines) offered primary works from fiction writers of the 1880s-1930s.National magazines for women (Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping ) incorporated fiction from well-known authors and were a prime source for locating short stories by major Iowa authors and those with an Iowa setting.

The challenge for any fiction search is that subject headings are rarely part of a library catalog entry. Verifying each title as fiction set in Iowa might involve one or many steps, depending on the item's popularity, author recognition, library holdings, and any literary criticism of the work. The online resources of the Iowa Author Collection at the University of Iowa's Main Library feature the publication, Books at Iowa. This periodical is available online and is an ideal resource for anyone seeking publication or biographical information for Iowa-based fiction. The collection's requirement is that an author be born in the state or live in Iowa for twenty years; for this project, any fiction based in Iowa (regardless of the author's background) was included. Readers will find several differences in these listings, when compared to the Iowa Author Collection holdings.

The first phase of research created a list of major authors and works associated or set in Iowa. Basic publication data for all titles was collected and organized. Citations for short stories were mainly drawn from the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature and would be verified later.

The Second Research Phase

As the list of titles grew, an editorial decision was made to note publication histories of the works, highlighting major editions associated with the titles. Notes would be added for any awards, pseudonyms, or alternative titles. Cross references would be given for authors, if needed. An appendix for locating poetry about Iowa was added, as was a full bibliography of all sources used for the project.

The detailed research work began with diligent periodical searches, locating works for the list or verifying citations. Web-based research produced more titles, some with little documentation.  Inquiries to listservs associated with the State Library showed a good deal of interest in the project, especially from public and school libraries.

In total, more than twenty unique books and manuscripts were interlibrary loaned for the project; of particular note is a 1961 undergraduate thesis by Jane Early, a student at Coe College in Cedar Rapids entitled Iowa Authors: A Bibliography of Published Works, 1917-1940. Ms. Early saw her project as a continuation to the bibliography by the State Historical Society, Iowa Authors and Their Works: A Contribution Toward a Bibliography (1918), authored by Ms. Alice Marple, the state archivist. Each of these publications presents an exhaustive view of Iowa authors and publishing, with Early's work highlighting more Iowa-based, fiction titles.

The state's rich history in literary magazine publishing is easily seen in two well-known periodicals, The Midland, directed by John T. Frederick from 1915-1933, and The Midland Monthly, edited by Johnson Brigham from 1894-1899.These magazines featured leading regionalists, emerging poets, and significant cultural criticism. A detailed study of Frederick's magazine is titled A Study of the Midland Magazine, 1915-1933, and is a doctoral dissertation by Milton Reigelman. Frank Luther Mott, an associate of Frederick, has also written extensively on Iowa's literary heritage.

A vast range of children's fiction set in Iowa can be located through a well-organized, annotated bibliography -- Iowa and Some Iowans: A Bibliography for Schools and Libraries, edited by Betty Jo Buckingham. The project is now in its fourth edition and is an extensive list of nonfiction and fiction for school libraries. Other locators for Iowa-based children's fiction include an article by Myra Cao ("Some Children's Books by Iowa Authors") published in Books at Iowa (1968) and listings from the University of Iowa Curriculum Laboratory and various AEA agencies.

With the list of novels growing, setting notes (locations) for the novels were added, if the information could be determined. For most, county names were added for finding ease.  Short story anthologies were searched for possible inclusions; several collections associated with the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa and the Best American Short Stories series fit this profile. Small press publications and magazines yielded more short story citations needing verification.

The Final Research and Production Phase

As the final bibliography took shape, visits to five academic libraries completed the check of short story citations. Once those details were verified, city and county historical societies were contacted for any remaining titles, that is, Iowa-based fiction that has never been cataloged.  The project's final steps involved editing and publication.

For ease of use, four indexes were added to the project: (1) listing by region; (2) listing by county; (3) listing by city or town; and (4) authors list, with all works noted.  Accounting for all recent additions, of particular note is the breakdown of use as a setting:

Top Three Regions

  • Southeastern (58 titles)
  • Central (31 titles)
  • Northeastern (27 titles)

Top Three Counties

  • Johnson (41 titles)
  • Polk (18 titles)
  • Black Hawk (11 titles)

Top Five Cities

  • Iowa City (37 titles)
  • Des Moines (12 titles)
  • Waterloo (8 titles)
  • Sioux City (7 titles)
  • Spillville and Ames (4 titles)

Readers seeking fiction with an Iowa setting have several paths open to them, most at their nearest public or academic library. In the past, librarians and students compiled partial listings of such fiction; our research indicates that this publication is the most extensive list. Our document relies greatly on past efforts. This publication is by no means exhaustive; researchers and readers will inevitably locate works not noted here. It is our hope that this bibliography will be a catalyst for future research and for discovering the art of Iowa-based fiction.

Kristy Raine, March 2002

Iowa Literary Landscape

Editor's Forward



Recent Project Additions

Adult Books A-F

Adult Books G-H

Adult Books I-R

Adult Books S-Z

Short Stories & Novellas

Children's Books

Young Adult Books

All Authors

All Titles

Iowa Towns

Iowa Counties

Iowa Regions


Appendix: Landscape Literature

Appendix: Poetry Sources

Appendix: Feature Films

Appendix: Electronic Works

Appendix: Audio Works

Appendix: Non-English Editions

Appendix: Iowa Folklore


©Busse Library, Kristy Raine, Linda L. Scarth, Marilyn Murphy
Contact: Busse Library, Mount Mercy University, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52402
telephone: 319-368-6465
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last updated 23 June 2016