Sections: Introduction | The Northeast | The South | The Midwest | The West

The dark and mysterious Ohio, and Cincinnati and dawn. Then Indiana fields again, and St. Louis as ever in its great valley clouds of afternoon, the muddy cobbles and the Montana logs, the broken steamboats, the ancient signs, the grass and the ropes by the river. The endless poem. By night Missouri, Kansas fields, Kansas night-towns in the secret wides, crackerbox towns with a sea for the end of every street, dawn in Abilene.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Farmland, Monona County Iowa

Since I hadn't seen the Middle West for a long time many impressions crowded in on me as I drove through Ohio and Michigan and Illinois. . . . I had forgotten how rich and beautiful is the countryside—the deep topsoil, the wealth of great trees, the lake country of Michigan handsome as a well-made woman, and dressed and jeweled. It seemed to me that the earth was generous and outgoing here in the heartland, and perhaps the people took a cue from it.

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Farmland, Monona County Iowa. May 1940. John Vachon, Photographer. FSA-OWI Collection. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (49a)

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Residential street, Elgin, Illinois

A kindly town where everyone went to the High School before his lot in life gave him college or work for his daily bread; and old acquaintance was not forgot. Like most middle-western towns, also, obscure though they may be, it was touched by all the great issues of the world.

Olive Thanet, The Man of the Hour

Residential street, Elgin, Illinois. August 1941. John Vachon, Photographer. FSA-OWI Collection. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (49b)

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A farm between Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio

And full ears grow on the corn, and the stalks bow with the weight of fat kernels, and they become gold. And legumes flower and fall and fill the land with the fragrance of new-mown hay. When harvest time comes the women and children sing with joy, the children romping around the stack of hay.

Feike Feikema, The Golden Bowl

A farm between Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio. September 1943. Esther Bubley, Photographer. FSA-OWI Collection. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (49c)

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Grain elevator and the flour mill district Minneapolis, Minnesota

On a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl [Carol Kennicott] stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky. She saw no Indians now; she saw flour mills and the blinking windows of skyscrapers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

Sinclair Lewis, Main Street

Grain elevator and the flour mill district Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 1939. John Vachon, Photographer FSA-OWI Collection. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (49d)

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Freight train pulling out of one of the yards of the Chicago and Northwestern railroad, Chicago, Illinois

Under the rolling clouds of the prairie a moving mass of steel. An irritable clank and rattle beneath a prolonged roar. . . . Towns as planless as a scattering of pasteboard boxes on an attic floor. The stretch of faded gold stubble broken only by clumps of willow encircling white houses and red barns. No. 7, the way train . . . imperceptibly climbing the giant table land that slopes in a thousand-mile rise from the hot Mississippi bottoms to the Rockies.

Sinclair Lewis, Main Street

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A Literary Map of Indiana

Indiana is not Out West or Way Down East or Up North or south in Dixie. . . . Forty or fifty years ago the native son who went travelling owned up to an indefinite residence between Chicago and Louisville. To-day the Hoosier abroad claims Indiana fervently, hoping to be mistaken for an author.

George Ade,"Single Blessedness and Other Observations"

A Literary Map of Indiana. Indiana Council of Teachers of English, 1974. Courtesy of the Indiana Council of Teachers of English. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (51)

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Illinois Authors

But of all the flowers of Illinois, in the field
Or Meadow pond or by the rivulet
Under grassed hillock, the wood violet
By drifts of forest leaves concealed
Touches the heart's blood deepest with its hues
Like a pale sky its scent half unrevealed:
The legend of the land it typifies,
The pioneer who sought the river woods
And struggled with harsh earth, unfriendly skies
For life and beauty amid far solitudes.

Edgar Lee Masters, Illinois Poems

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Illinois Authors. Judie Anderson, Arn Arnam, Tom Heinz, Illustrators. Chicago: Chicago Tribune Educational Services, 1987. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (52)

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Chicago, Illinois

An indescribable city, huge, roaring, dirty noisy, raw, stark, brutal, a city of extremes: torrid summers and sub-zero winters, white people and black people, the English language and strange tongues, foreign born and native born, scabby poverty and gaudy luxury, high idealism and hard cynicism! . . . A city which has become the pivot of the Eastern, Western, Northern, and Southern poles of the nation.

Richard Wright, "How Bigger Was Born"

Chicago, Illinois. April 1942. Jack Delano, Photographer. FSA-OWI Collection. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (53)

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Historical and Literary Map of Iowa

Iowa is usually imagined as a fecund but unbeautiful state laid out in flat squares. The contrary is the case. This fair land is unusually personal in its appeal and its beauty [and] in the end proves to be haunting. . . . The Iowa scene boasts a peculiar picturesqueness which I do not find elsewhere in the United States.

Carl Van Vechten, "Folksongs of Iowa"

Historical and Literary Map of Iowa. Vira E. Moran, Illustrator. Davenport: Davenport Public Library, 1934. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (54)

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Harrowing the ground before planting, Jasper County, Iowa

As I look back over my life on that Iowa farm the song of the reaper fills a large place in my mind. We were all worshippers of wheat in those days. . . . We stood before it at evening when the setting sun flooded it with crimson . . . and our hearts expanded with the beauty and the mystery of it—and back of all this was the knowledge that its abundance meant a new carriage, an addition to the house, or a new suit of clothes.

Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border

Harrowing the ground before planting, Jasper County, Iowa. May 1940. John Vachon, Photographer. FSA-OWI Collection. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (55)

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Nebraska Centennial Literary Map and Guide to Nebraska Authors

Cedartown sits beside a great highway which was once a buffalo trail. If you start in one direction on the highway . . . you will come to the effete east. If you start in the opposite direction . . . you will come to the distinctive west. Cedartown is neither effete nor distinctive not is it even particularly pleasing to the passing tourist. It is beautiful only in the eyes of those who live here and in the memories of the Nebraska-born whose dwelling in far places has given them moments of homesickness for the low rolling hills, the swell and dip of the ripening wheat, the fields of sinuously waving corn and the elusively fragrant odor of alfalfa.

Bess Streeter Aldrich, A Lantern in Her Hand

Nebraska Centennial Literary Map and Guide to Nebraska Authors. Jack Brodie, Illustrator. Omaha Nebraska Centennial Non-Profit Association, 1967. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (56)

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Nebraska cornfield

July came on with that breathless, brilliant heat which makes the plains of Kansas and Nebraska the best corn country in the world. It seemed as if we could hear the corn growing in the dewy, heavy-odoured cornfield where the feathered stalks stood so juicy and green. If all the great plain from the Missouri to the Rocky Mountains had been under glass, and the heat regulated by a thermometer, it could not have been better for the yellow tassels, that were ripening and fertilizing the silk day by day.

Willa Cather, My Antonia

Nebraska cornfield. Courtesy of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (57)

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A Literary Map of Ohio

Beyond the last house on Trunion Pike in Winesburg there is a great stretch of field. . . . In the late afternoon in the hot summers when the road and the fields are covered with dust, a smoky haze lies over the great flat basin of land. To look across it is like looking out across the sea. In the spring when the land is green the effect is somewhat different. The land becomes a wide green billiard table on which tiny insects toil up and down.

Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio

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A Literary Map of Ohio. Donald Wenty, Designer. Columbus: Martha Kinney Cooper Ohioana Library Association, 1983. Courtesy of the Ohioana Library Association (58)

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A Map of Sinclair Lewis' United States as It Appears in His Novels

The state of Winnemac is bounded by Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, and like them it is half Eastern, half Midwestern. There is a feeling of New England in its brick and sycamore villages, its stable industries, and a tradition which goes back to the Revolutionary War. Zenith, the largest city in the state, was founded in 1792. But Winnemac is Midwestern in its fields of corn and wheat, its red barns and silos, and despite the immense antiquity of Zenith, many counties were not settled until 1860.

Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith

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A Map of Sinclair Lewis' United States as It Appears in His Novels. George Annand, Illustrator. New York, Doubleday, Doran, 1934. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (60)

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Lone Birch, Makinac Island, Michigan

Nick pulled the boat high up the beach. . . . In back of them was the close second-growth timber of the point and in front was the bay with the mouth of Hortons Creek. It was not quite dark. The firelight went as far as the water. . . .

Ernest Hemingway, "The End of Something"

Lone Birch, Makinac Island, Michigan. Detroit: Detroit Publishing Company, ca. 1900. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (62)

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The City Dressed for Her Wedding With Winter

That's my Middle West—not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family's name.

Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The City Dressed for Her Wedding With Winter. Detroit: Detroit Publishing Company, ca. 1900-1910. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (63)

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Sections: Introduction | The Northeast | The South | Midwest | The West