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Ozark Ozark cover

I’ve been thinking about Ozark anthologies lately, and have been re-reading a couple. Ozark, Ozark, edited by Miller Williams, came out in 1981. I have a vague recollection of being an intern at the University of Missouri Press when this book was in production, but I don’t believe I worked on any of it, except perhaps for helping to proofread the Acknowledgements page or something equally forgettable. That’s too bad, because I would like to be able to claim some small amount of credit for this very memorable anthology.

Williams employed a sort-of chronological approach in this anthology, organizing by author birthdate starting in 1869 and ending in 1949. Like all structures, this approach both confines and provides framing; there’s no Schoolcraft or Turnbo, but the early- to mid-part of the century is well represented. Vance Randolph is in there, along with Ward Dorrance and Donald Harington. But I’m more taken by the less-familiar names in the collection, authors I hadn’t known before: Don West, Jack Butler. Some people I’ve known personally are welcome inhJabitants of these pages: Speer Morgan, Eugene Warren (who writes as Eugene Doty nowadays), Jim Bogan, Paul Johnson, Walter Bargen. An occasional ringer fills out the pages as well, like Langston Hughes, who yes was born in Joplin, making him an Ozarker by birth, but who high-tailed it for Mexico, Europe, and New York as quick as he got the chance.

I particularly like the inclusion of some accomplished newspaper columnists in the anthology. The newspaper column is a demanding craft, with strict word counts and unforgiving deadlines, and it’s easy to become a hack at it. Even the best columnists occasionally write a bad one, but the good ones somehow manage to find grace or insight in the everyday rhythms of life. The Jean Bell Mosely/Thomza Zimmerman alternating column, “From Dawn to Dusk,” which appeared in Cape Girardeau newspapers and was syndicated regionally for 21 years, was such a column. So too were the columns of Jim Hamilton, the longtime editor of the Buffalo Reflex, who later collected some of his best ones in a book entitled River of Used to Be, which is one of the prizes on my shelf. We don’t have selections from either of those in this anthology, but we do have columns from Leonard Hall and Roy Reed, and a short magazine piece from Harry Minetree.

The anthology is a reflection of its time, overwhelmingly male and white, and that’s a weakness. I also spotted a few errors in the introduction and notes, but despite those difficulties, Ozark Ozark: A Hillside Reader is still a pleasure to dip into. It’s out of print, as far as I can tell, but used copies can be found for not too outrageous a price.