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May 2, 2011

Mary Jo Ryan

Nebraska Book Festival to Feature Kooser and Nebraska Repertory Theatre Production

The 2011 Nebraska Book Festival in downtown Lincoln will feature a conversation between former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, Nebraska Repertory Theatre's Virginia Smith, and Paul Amandes of the Theater Department of Columbia College Chicago. The conversation, free and open to the public, will be held at 4:30 p.m. on May 21 at the Nebraska State Historical Society's Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. A panel discussion titled "Local Wonders: From Book to Musical Theatre Production" will focus on how Kooser's book describing the place Kooser calls home in the rolling hills of southeastern Nebraska has evolved into musical theatre. Kooser will share his reaction to seeing his work, Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps (this year's One Book One Nebraska statewide read) being turned into a stage production. Smith and Amandes will talk about their experience working with Ted's material for the play, Local Wonders: A Play with Music.

"I'm always delighted when somebody finds a use for my writing, setting my poems to music, painting a picture based on something I described, and of course making a theatrical performance based upon Local Wonders or The Blizzard Voices," said Kooser. "William Butler Yeats said that the aim of a poet ought to be to be of service, and perhaps to write something that someone else finds a use for is the kind of service we writers can provide." Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate from 2004 to 2006, has authored twelve collections of poetry and essays, including Delights & Shadows, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for poetry; Lights on a Ground of Darkness, collected stories of his mother's Iowa family; and Bag in the Wind, his first children's book. He teaches as presidential professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"I wanted to share Ted's insights and observations in the way I share stories-on the stage. I first asked Paul to only write the music, but it was clear, early on, that his responses as a man and a father deepened our approach to the material," said Virginia Smith, Associate Professor of acting and directing at the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Artistic Director of Nebraska Repertory Theatre.

"I was the 5th child of 11 growing up in rural northern Illinois. Personal space was achieved only by getting outdoors. And it was there that I developed my love for weather and stillness, the seasons, and the fickleness of daylight. After reading Local Wonders, I was re-awakened into that sense of discovery and delight. I headed off to the rural shores of Lake Michigan (my Bohemian Alps) and let Ted's writing splash idea after idea against my ear and out of my fingers. I couldn't stop writing," said Paul Amandes, Associate Professor of acting in the Theater Department of Columbia College Chicago and free-lance writer-director-performer in theater and music.

In Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps Ted Kooser describes his home with exquisite detail and humor. Local Wonders (the musical) takes us to this same home ground where, in a circle of light, the journeys of the poet and his wife are shared with the audience. This play with songs by Virginia Smith and Paul Amandes and original music and lyrics by Paul Amandes will be presented at Lied Center for Performing Arts on October 19-23 at the Lied Center's Johnny Carson Theater. The Lied Center is working in collaboration with the Nebraska Center for the Book's Fall Celebration of Nebraska Books, held the same weekend.

The Nebraska Book Festival will also include free writers' workshops (facilitated by Timothy Schaffert, Jim Reese, Matt Mason, Dwaine Spieker and Jeff Lacey) and readings from Nebraska writers, whose books were published in 2010 including Matt Mason, James Solheim, Sue Baumann, Jim Reese, Marjorie Saiser, Mary Helen Stefaniak, Wendy Townley, Desmond LaVelle, Barbara Schmitz, Sarah McKinstry-Brown, Roy Scheele, Christopher Cartmill, Marilyn June Coffey, and Lynette Krieger of the Willa Cather Foundation

The festival is presented by the Nebraska Center for the Book, Nebraska Humanities Council, Nebraska Library Commission and the Nebraska State Historical Society, with support from Nebraska Arts Council and Nebraska Cultural Endowment, Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Nebraska Writers Collective, A Novel Idea Bookstore, nuVibe Juice and Java, and University of Nebraska Press. For more information, including a complete schedule of free readings and writers' workshops, see and


The Nebraska Center for the Book is housed at the Nebraska Library Commission and brings together the state's readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, printers, educators, and scholars to build the community of the book, supporting programs to celebrate and stimulate public interest in books, reading, and the written word. The Nebraska Center for the Book is supported by the Nebraska Library Commission.


As the state library agency, the Nebraska Library Commission is an advocate for the library and information needs of all Nebraskans. The mission of the Library Commission is statewide promotion, development, and coordination of library and information services, bringing together people and information. The most up-to-date news releases from the Nebraska Library Commission are always available on the Library Commission website,, search on News Releases.

For more information, contact Tessa Terry.