Woster: A fantastic festival for books, with some fantastic authors

The book festival observed its 20th anniversary this year. As always, the celebration involved readers listening to and talking with writers about poetry, history, fiction, politics and everything else you can imagine.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
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Mary Woster Haug, my little sister, talked about her latest book last weekend at the annual South Dakota Book Festival in Brookings.

My sister spent three decades of her professional life on the English faculty at South Dakota State University. After she retired, she and her husband, Ken, moved to Minneapolis to be close to grandchildren.

She has written two books. “Daughters of the Grasslands’’ came first. It’s a memoir/travelogue about growing up on the Lyman County prairie and, later in life, spending part of a year on sabbatical in South Korean. Her latest book, part memoir and part history, is “Out of Loneliness.’’ It’s the story of an early 1960s murder in Chamberlain and how that event impacted my sister, in high school at the time.

Noel Hamiel also presented at the festival. He grew up on a farm a mile from the Woster place in Lyman County. Hamiel’s long career in the newspaper business included time as publisher of The Daily Republic.

Hamiel wrote a book called “South Dakota’s Mathis Murders: Horror in the Heartland.’’ The book revisits to the 1981 murder of Ladonna Mathis and two of her children on their farm near Mount Vernon. Ladonna’s husband, John, was tried for the murders and acquitted. Hamiel explores the many questions that still swirl around the case.


As we have for years, Nancy and I took in the book festival this year. Our daughter is director of the event, so we go to support her. But we also go because it’s a marvelous place to connect with other readers and to hear wonderful writers, both local and national.

This struck me during the weekend: Noel and Mary Alice grew up “next door’’ in South Dakota farm country. They graduated from Chamberlain High School a year apart. They chose professions filled with language, writing and communication. And this year, they published books about decades-old murders. Maybe there was something in the water from those artesian wells out in the home country.

The book festival observed its 20th anniversary this year. As always, the celebration involved readers listening to and talking with writers about poetry, history, fiction, politics and everything else you can imagine. Many authors with whom I’ve spoken over the years say they like South Dakota’s festival. It’s intimate, friendly and packed with people who love language and stories. It includes a strong native American track, as well as a solid veterans’ track with a writing contest.

One of my favorite authors, a nationally known fiction writer, is William Kent Krueger. He’s from Minnesota, writes the popular Cork O’Connor series and faithfully attends the South Dakota festival. He recognizes that authors and readers have an important relationship and that renewing the relationship each year is pretty important for both groups.

This year, one of the sessions I enjoyed a lot came from Robert Sawyer. I knew little about him before I heard him speak. After the session, I made plans to read everything he every wrote. He’s from Canada, is big on science fiction. During his presentation, made the argument that Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, was the mother of science fiction. It’s an argument my granddaughter has made to me. It made sense when she said it and when Sawyer agreed.

A couple of other festival notes:

Seth Tupper, a former Daily Republic reporter and editor, offered a well-researched look back at the Rapid City Flood of 1972. Tupper also wrote a book on Calvin Coolidge and his time in the Black Hills in 1927. I always think of Seth as a kid, but he has grown into one of the state’s top news people.

Bob Keyes, a writer from Maine who worked several years for the Argus Leader, presented on his first book, “The Isolation Artist.’’ It’s about Robert Indiana, who created the sculpture LOVE in the 1960s. It’s about much more, too.


During the course of the weekend, I talked with my sis, visited with Noel, swapped thoughts on current events with Seth and relived shared times at the Argus with Keyes. I don’t know what their plans are for next fall, but I’m signing up for the book festival.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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