Winner of the 2022 Sassafras Award
Don House’s new book, a collection of essays and photos, received the inaugural Sassafras Award from the Ozark Society Foundation and was published by the Foundation in January 2023.
About the Book
Don House has an unusual correspondence with his longtime friend Dan: Don sends him letters, which are really essays about life in the Ozarks, and Dan doesn’t respond until his next visit to the Ozarks, sometimes years later. Each book chapter began as a letter to Dan. Each photo is the result of decades of wandering and learning about House’s adopted home in the northwestern part of Arkansas. Together, they form a guide to the nature, the places, and the people of a unique and still unknown region of the United States.
Praise for Letters to Dan
These lyrical and meditative essays possess qualities as rare—and possibly as endangered—as the Ozark-dwelling Wood Frogs the author writes about in “Changes,” one of my favorite pieces here. I’m talking about such virtues as patience, subtlety, brevity, and humility. It’s not often one encounters ‘personal essays’ that spend so little time focusing on the self. Like the lens of the author’s camera, the writing throughout this extraordinary book is trained unwaveringly and lovingly on the hills, rivers, cemeteries, old churches, small-town diners, people, plants, and animals of the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.
Among this book’s many pleasures, for instance, is the moving portrait of Carl—the author’s aging dog, guide and companion—who becomes, by the end of these essays, as vivid a character as the very vivid humans that pass through this memoir.
As I read the manuscript, I began to see that each essay—in its understated, eloquent way—speaks to the wonder and complexity of the natural world and to the interconnectedness of all life. The authenticity and urgency of this message is woven deep into the fibers of the writing. Behind each word lies the authority of a lifetime of observation and insight. Taken together, these essays form a testament to what the author memorably refers to as “my decades of paying attention.” Letters to Dan is a rare and remarkable book.
—Davis McCombs, Director of the University of Arkansas Program in Creative Writing and Translation
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