Biography of Linda M. Hasselstrom
OK all you Hasselstrom Scholars and Book Club folks-- here's where you can learn enough about Linda to get a good start on that paper or discussion. How did Linda's childhood experiences influence her later writing? Was that one particular poem based on an actual event? And just what does Linda have planned for the future?
Those of you with only a casual interest are welcome to scroll down really fast and just look at the pictures.
Linda's Biography -- with stories and photos!
Linda's Bare Bones Chronology -- just the facts, ma'am
Additional Biographical Sources
Suggested Reading and Other Articles
For More . . .
Linda's memberships, awards and honors will tell you a bit more about her interests and how her work is received by others.
Check out this year's "Where in the World is Linda M. Hasselstrom?" for information on events in Linda's writing life and perhaps a magazine or two in which Linda is featured or has published essays. You can also scroll through previous years lower on the page.
The Linda Online Page has links to other websites that feature Linda's work, interviews with Linda, or have clips of her readings at various events.
You may also visit the Ask Linda Page, where Linda answers questions about her life, her writing, and her ranch.
If you can't find what you really want to know, post your own question on the Ask Linda Page or send Linda an e-mail using the link in the left-hand column of this website.
back to top
. . .
Biography of Linda M. Hasselstrom
My memories of childhood never come with documentation; it’s never, “On September 29, 1953, I . . .” Instead, remnants of those days leap into my brain as smells, tastes, bright vignettes: complete with sounds and sensation.
Each time I attempt to write about my life, my brain slides sideways into memories; I pull out a file drawer and shuffle through dozens of blurry photographs; my mother never mastered the idea of focusing. But most of the photographs are irrelevant unless they call up a memory, and many of the memories are fragmentary. Still, this is how we understand our lives: in sharp-edged shards and single bell-like notes and shifting scenes.
My parents were Robert Paul Bovard and (Florence) Mildred Baker Hey (her step-father’s name) Bovard, married in 1938. I was born in Houston, Texas in 1943, near enough to Galveston beach to have good memories and to recall specific scenes:
sitting in the white sand looking back at big buildings;
how a stranger snatched me away just before I would have picked up a starfish.
We lived with, or visited frequently, my grandmother’s sister, Pearl Willingham and her husband Dan, who ran a little grocery store in Edinburg, Texas, and also spent time in Corpus Christi, and in McAllen.
I remember living in a house next to an old man who planted strawberries in a bed between our sidewalk and his. When I’d see him weeding, I’d go outside; Mother no doubt watched from the kitchen window, but I don’t remember her figuring in this story. As the man bent over the plants, weeding, he wore a narrow-brim straw hat and a long-sleeved shirt with buttons down the front, tan pants worn nearly white from washing, with a small belt, and heavy shoes. His hair was white; did he have bushy eyebrows? He asked me if I’d like to have some strawberries, and I said yes.
So he said, “Go inside and get your mother’s sugar bowl, and I’ll show you how to eat strawberries.”
I brought the sugar bowl out-- it was white, with flowers on it-- and set it carefully in his hands. He put it on the concrete sidewalk and we both sat down. We’d pick a strawberry, bite off the end, and dip it in the sugar bowl, and then bite again. Dip, bite, dip, bite. Soon red drops of strawberry juice collected and rolled to the bottom of the depression in the sugar. Strawberry juice dripped on my hands, and my arms, and on my dress. We grinned at each other and kept dipping and eating.
I seem to remember he told me my mother wouldn’t be happy about the mess we were making, but he winked at me, so I didn’t worry.
I remember hearing my playmate from next door, a boy, screaming and screaming. Later we learned that when he didn’t want to put on his shoe, his father thought he was just being difficult, and jammed the foot in, where the scorpion that was waiting bit him repeatedly.
From the front sidewalk, I could crawl directly under the house; since it was in Texas, it had no basement, only a crawl space. Seeing a spider on the basement stairs here at the ranch slaps me back into a memory of my four-year-old self, crouching under the porch looking at the gleam of black widow spiders hanging in their webs. Overhead, my mother screams at my father that she knows he is sleeping with the woman upstairs, and smashes a whisky bottle in the sink.
I look at the shiny backs of the closest spider, then reach up and turn her over to see the red hourglass on her belly, poke her until she bites me. My screaming brings both my parents running, and both their arms are around me as they run for the car.
Remembering how I woke in the Edinburg hospital reminds me of another hospital awakening only a couple of years later, when we lived in Rapid City, South Dakota. I’d had my tonsils out, and woke alone in the dark. The window was filled with starlight, and dark trees rimed with snow stood on a white lawn outside the window. If I felt any fear, the scene calmed me. Silence. Space.
Perhaps these two experiences help explain why I have preferred to live where it’s too cold for scorpions and where poisonous spiders are comparatively rare.
My mother divorced Paul, my biological father (and her second husband) in 1947.
We rode a passenger train to Laramie, Wyoming, to stay with relatives who owned a sawmill; I once saw, but cannot now find, photographs of me with these cousins on top of an immense pile of sawdust.
We also stayed with my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Cora Belle (Pearcy, Baker) Hey in Red Canyon near Edgemont, South Dakota for awhile, until my mother got a job. I know that Grandmother Cora lived with us in Rapid City until I was old enough to walk to school alone.
(For more about this move, see “The Owl in the Dark,” in my book Feels Like Far.)
Although I often have said I moved to South Dakota just in time for the legendary Blizzard of 1949, that is a touch of poetic license.
Photographs and my memories confirm that my mother and I came to South Dakota from Texas in the summer of 1948, when I turned five years old.
I stayed with my Grandmother Cora (my mother's mother) at the ranch near Edgemont while Mother went to Rapid City to find a house (at 818 Fifth Street) and a job as a stenographer with the law firm Whiting, Wilson and Lynn.
That fall, I went to first grade at Jefferson School. Since we had no car, my mother walked me to school before walking to work. Besides the photographs, I vividly remember walking with her (in her old fur coat) as the deep snow worked its way into the tops of my new galoshes; I'd never seen snow and never owned overshoes.
Since my mother worked, I spent summers with my grandmother at the ranch; my mother usually visited on weekends.
The Blizzard of 1949
The blizzard began Sunday night, January 2nd, 1949, and lasted a few days, with snow, very high winds (around 60 to 70 miles per hour), and temperatures below zero. However, in many areas there had already been unusually heavy snow on the ground from November and December. And strong winds and sub-zero temperatures continued off and on through January, making recovery from the blizzard difficult.
The train from the east was unable to reach Rapid City until January 24th, due to snow drifts 20 to 25 feet high-- so high that the train’s rotary plow didn’t work until men used snow shovels (and dynamite in some cases) to break down the drifts.
The Blizzard caused more damage outside of town, on the open prairie. Ranch houses were covered by drifts. Fences and trees were broken down by the wind and the weight of the snow. Thousands of head of livestock were lost-- buried in drifts or frozen by the cold wind. Airplanes were used to drop food and medicine to snowbound ranchers and hay for their livestock.
Elsewhere I've written about my father (John Hasselstrom) saying he drove his pickup home after a New Year's Eve party and left it in the yard because the weather was so warm and by the next morning it was snowed in and he couldn't move it for a month.
In summers while my mother was working I also stayed with Grandmother in her little house in Red Canyon on my uncle George and his wife Nancy’s ranch.
She bathed in the arrangement my uncle George fixed up for her: a 10-gallon bucket with a hose. She’d fill it with warm water (heated on the wood stove in the teakettle), hoist it to a shelf over the toilet in the concrete-floored bathroom. Then she’d pull the plastic shower curtain across her closet, so her clothes didn’t get wet, and stand between the toilet and sink to take her abbreviated shower. I loved it when I visited; the bathroom was about my size, but it must have been cramped for Grandmother.
Outside, she had a trellis with wonderfully fragrant pink roses, and down the path was her chicken house.
Here’s a memory of my evenings with Grandmother when I was five or six years old:
Grandmother sat in the old oak rocker with her crocheting, catching the fading afternoon sun. Later, she'd rock and crochet, light from the kerosene lamp flashing from her glasses.
"Uncle George says there are bobcats up on the cliffs, Grandma. Is that right?" I'd learned to get statements from at least two authorities before accepting new facts.
"I expect it is. Walt and I always used to see them when we was first down here building this place. I don't imagine anything has chased them away."
"Do they ever come down here?"
"Of course they do; you saw those kittens."
"Oh yes. I forgot." When a big white female in the barn had four off-white kittens with unusually long hind legs and stubby tails, Uncle George said she'd mated with a bobcat. The kittens ate table scraps and mice like the other cats, but when we tried to pet them, they leaped up on the rafters in the barn and stood looking down, their yellow eyes gleaming. The first time I climbed the ladder and reached for one, it hissed and crouched. After that, I didn't try very hard; somehow my cousins John and Susan never caught one either.
"When do you think she'll come for me?" I asked as a chicken grabbed a grasshopper right beside my shoe.
"Shoo, hen! Shoo!" said Grandmother, shaking her crocheting. "Your mother's last letter said this week sometime. Maybe this weekend."
"Tomorrow?" The hen pecked at my shoelaces.
"What is tomorrow, Saturday? She might wait until Sunday. Are you getting in a hurry to leave?" The sun shone off her glasses as she looked down at me, smiling. The hen started pecking at the mud on my legs.
"Ouch! I don't want to leave at all. Couldn't I live with you? I could go to school with John and Susan, and then maybe they wouldn't close the school."
"Oh, your mother wouldn't like that. She don't think our little school is good enough for you."
Her chair creaked, and Grandmother came in, shutting the night outside.
"You'll get the place full of those nasty old millers, leaving the door open when the lamp's lit."
Grandmother put her crocheting, another afghan for another granddaughter, into the big chest, then lifted the stove lid and peered inside to stir the coals. I had filled the wood box before dark.
"Grandma, Aunt Nancy says she's going to get an electric stove, now electricity's coming in. Are you?"
"I suppose. Though I've about got used to using this old wood one again. I'll like having electric lights, though. Can't read or sew much in the evening any more with these lamps and my old eyes. George says he'll get it over here this fall, now the haying is about done. He felt real bad about putting it in his own house before mine, but it didn't bother me." She filled the teakettle from the pail in the bathroom and put it on the stove.
"I wish we didn't ever have to have electric lights here. I mean, I know they'll be nice for you, but I like the lamps. Can you keep them after you get electricity? For me to polish and light sometimes?"
"I've lived with those old lamps a long time, but I guess I could keep one for you. They do make a nice light, don't they?" I nodded; I always felt warmer at Grandmother's than at my own house. "How about some cold chicken and some of those tomatoes for supper. And some milk. Will that do you?"
"Can I have some tea, too, with milk in it?" I'd read that English children drank tea that way, and immediately adopted the habit. Mother wouldn't let me drink tea but Grandmother thought it was fine.
I stepped up on a stool made of tomato juice cans to get the plates, kept in curtained shelves over the stove, while Grandmother took the chicken and tomatoes out of the icebox.
"How's the ice holding out, Grandmother?"
"It's about gone; you and George will have to get me another chunk in the morning."
Trips to the ice house gave me material to astonish my city classmates with when school started. None of them had ever seen an ice house, with the blocks of ice stacked high under layers of sawdust, or enjoyed sucking on a sliver of ice on a hot day. To them, ice houses were part of a pioneer era they read about in books. None of them had a cellar, either, with so much darkness gathered under the stairs that rattlesnakes hid there.
In Rapid City, we lived at 818 Fifth Street, in a little gray-shingled house behind the home of Mrs. Mary Bradley, the widow of Arthur. Her house at 820 Fifth was two-storey, white, with an ornate porch. Mrs. Bradley was pink-cheeked and white-haired, wore neat suits and always wore a hat when she went out.
The front door of our house led into the kitchen. The kitchen table had painted corners; I still have a tablecloth my mother used on it. Behind the kitchen was the bathroom, and through a door at left was a tiny living room furnished with at least one overstuffed chair. I sat on the arm and pretended I was riding a horse, playing out fantasies of being Dale Evans.
Next to the living room was the bedroom, with my single bed behind the door as it opened, and a single window that looked out to a lilac bush that provided great cover when I was being an Indian attacking the next-door cowboy, Jimmy Dies.
Jimmy and I walked to Jefferson School, at 5 St. Joseph St., together. Sometimes on the way home, we detoured considerably out of our way to cut through the storage yard of a lumberyard. We knew where loose boards would allow us to slip into the yard, run through the stacks of lumber, and slip out again closer to home, with the employees yelling at us all the way.
Our other Fifth Street neighbor, Mrs. Edith Melaven, lived on the corner of Fifth and Quincy, at 824 5th Street; her house was surrounded by tall spruce trees, and my impression was of grayness, though no doubt the house was white.
In contrast to Mrs. Bradley, Mrs. Melaven was an angular woman, with black hair streaked with white, a deep voice and a direct manner of speaking.
She came to visit us at least once on the ranch; I picture my mother going to collect her for lunch, to show off her driving skills and her new husband and house. Mrs. Melaven sits on the front porch step, legs stretched out in blocky sensible shoes, her print dress below knee length. She’s more interested in the dog, Teddy, than in having her picture taken. My mother sits in ladylike fashion with her knees sideways. The house front still shows its varnished pine paneling, which didn’t last long in our harsh climate. My father simply had too much else to do to keep the varnish fresh, and before long it was painted white.
These two women have come back to my mind with such clarity, I think, because I at my young age, I was learning from them something about how to be old. Mrs. Bradley kept herself immaculate; Mrs Melaven was more interested in dogs and flowers. They were independent, strong, and I wish I could thank them for their example.
Not long ago, sitting in the office of the company that insures my ranch, I realized that I was perched just about where I was in the photo of me digging in the snowdrift in 1949; the insurance company building now occupies the site of all three of the houses, ours, Mrs. Bradley’s, and Mrs. Melaven’s.
My mother married John Hasselstrom in 1952 when I was nine years old, and we moved to his ranch on the plains east of the Black Hills.
I began writing the year I moved to the ranch, as soon as I got my first horse-- there IS a connection between those two phrases.
At nine years old, I had no idea of being a writer. But sometime that first summer I was riding horseback with my father on the plains and saw an animal I knew nothing about-- I think it was an antelope.
I behaved like a writer without realizing it: at home that night, I wrote down what my father had told me about antelope, along with my own observations, so that I would remember the experience. Then I looked in my parents’ books for more information, and probably in the books at the small grade school in Hermosa. Without knowing it, I had begun to be an essayist: concentrating on detail, doing research to expand my knowledge, writing it all down as a way of possessing the experience.
Since then, I’ve kept an almost-daily journal.
My father believed that living on a ranch meant learning particular things, so he bought a Jersey cow so I could learn to milk, and filled the big chicken house with chickens so I could learn to reach under an angry hen and collect an egg. My mother wasn’t fond of the work of raising chickens, having grown up with it, and she absolutely refused to milk the cow. I loved it: leaning my head against her flank, hearing her stomach rumble with digestion, squirting milk to the waiting cats.
Because there were cats everywhere. I named every kitten born on the ranch, though my father considered them merely workers, useful for keeping the mouse population down; he would not allow a cat in the house, but my mother started taking food to the barn and usually fed the cats so generously that they didn’t bother to hunt mice.
One of the crew building our new house was a big man named LeRoy Jefferson. One batch of kittens lived in and under a boardwalk from the old house site to the former privy, the site of which became the pumphouse.
One day, to tease me, big LeRoy put his foot down on the head of a tiny yellow kitten and said he was going to squash it.
I attacked him, kicking his leg with all my nine-year-old energy. Trying to fend me off without hurting me, he tilted-- and squashed the kitten. I shrieked, bringing my mother out of the house, and my father from the barn. LeRoy, who was probably only in his 20s then, was horrified and kept apologizing, trying to pat me while I kicked him and squalled. My father was disgusted. “Get that kitten out of here,” he yelled, and LeRoy cradled the bloody kitten in one massive fist and ran off.
LeRoy later apologized; in fact, he never stopped apologizing and my father insisted that I forgive him. Poor kid had never been around little girls, and he had no idea of how to tease and play safely. He surely never meant to hurt the kitten.
For years, when I walked through the barn, a big yellow tom would jump from the loft to my shoulder without warning. I learned to let my knees give a little to make his landing more stable and grit my teeth when he gripped my shoulder with his claws. One day my father said at lunch, "That big yellow tomcat jumped on my shoulder this morning when I was in the barn."
"That’s Ralph," I said automatically. "What did you do to him?" I pictured the cat dead, squashed like the kitten.
My father smiled tightly. "He won't do it again."
I left the table without being excused and dashed to the barn, sobbing. Ralph met me at the door and I sat in the hay in the loft with him for a half hour, checking for wounds.
My dad found me there. "I didn't hurt him; cats have nine lives." He grinned. "But he bounced pretty high."
When I was riding home from pasture work, I'd sometimes see Ralph or one of the female cats hunting; I always called out cheerfully to them and laughed when they looked up at the horse, crouched and zipped away into the tall grass. But when they sat on my lap, they'd produce the all-important comforting purr. One of the cats who lived with me when I was grown would insinuate her head between the pillow and my arm and lick my tears away, an incredibly therapeutic action that usually won her a fresh can of cat food. In more cynical moments, I've pictured her smugly purring as she reflected on how easily she trained me by licking one of my sensory centers.
(For more animal stories and photos see the Dog Stories and Cat Stories pages on this website)
Looking back at high school memories mostly makes me cringe. I was an overachiever; I always felt inadequate, so I tried to be perfect. I was afraid to speak in public, so in addition to the required speech classes, my father encouraged me to take debate. Under the sharp-tongued guidance of Miss Hazel Heiman, I learned to think pretty well on my feet, and to compose a sensible response.
Here is a blog I wrote in April, 2011 about one of my high school teachers--
A few weeks ago, I received a telephone call from Becca Curry, the niece of my favorite high school English teacher, Josephine Zamow. Going through her aunt’s possessions, Becca had found a folder containing papers I’d written for Miss Zamow’s class. Would I like to have it?
That worn folder has kept me reading, and laughing, and blushing, and remembering Miss Zamow, for days. I’m deeply grateful to her, and to Becca, for reminding me that, like most of us, I wasn’t as smart in those days as I thought I was. I have trouble even looking at my photo, because I look so young and at the same time so smug. Like my peers, I was caught in the horrid high school business of trying to be gorgeous, trying to fit in with the crowd. I believe Jo Zamow was one of the people who taught me, by example, what a waste of time that is.
I remember Miss Zamow as a little dynamo with soft brown hair cropped at chin length, and bangs that curled down on her forehead. She wore tidy little suits, brightened perhaps with a scarf under the collar. I remember her jaw as usually being fairly rigid, probably from what she had to put up with from her classes. She had a wry sense of humor, and I always had the sense that she wanted to say more than was acceptable in a high school classroom. I hope I told her how much she meant to me, and probably I did not.
Years later, after I’d begun to be published, I visited her class. She pulled from a deep desk drawer my lengthy treatise on Why I Am A Christian and read parts of it to the class while I blushed furiously. I was hoping to find that paper in this collection, but it’s probably just as well it’s not here. As I recall, it was written while I was angling for the attentions of a handsome blond fellow who was determined to become a missionary. And I heard in Miss Zamow’s voice, when she read it aloud, her awareness of its pompous tone and its ironies. (See “Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan” in my book Land Circle.)
The papers Becca gave me were written for Advanced Placement English, dated from late 1960 into 1961. Here I found three poems that deserve to be forgotten, but they are among the earliest work of mine I’ve saved. I’ll show them to my retreat writers to prove that everyone CAN improve.
One poem, “The Alamo,” is filled with patriotic spirit-- and contains one of the errors I’ve now become a stickler about: the confusion of its and it’s. Here’s the handout I use when I encounter that error these days:
The confusion of the possessive “its” (no apostrophe) with the contractive “it’s” (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian “kill” response in the average stickler. The rule is: the word “it’s” (with apostrophe) stands for “it is” or “it has”. If the word does not stand for “it is” or “it has” then what you require is “its”. This is extremely easy to grasp. Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, “Good food at it’s best”, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.
-- Lynne Truss, Eats Shoots & Leaves, p. 44
Miss Zamow would have loved that.
The papers provide an insight into what we were reading and discussing for the class. For the third six-weeks test, for example, I wrote on conformity vs. nonconformity, and forecast some of my own future by voting solidly against conformity, quoting T.S. Eliot’s “Hollow Men” in defense of my view. In February, 1961, I wrote passionately in defense of the beauty of the prairie that some saw as “dull and uninteresting,” describing some of the encounters I had there with coyotes, antelope and eagles while riding my horse. However I also described Jackson Hole as the “ideal vacation paradise.” Both Jackson Hole and I have changed!
Another topic was training a young horse, and how one must patiently show him that “his diet includes only hay, oats and water,” and not human flesh. I vividly remember the inspiration for this one; my colt Oliver started biting my arm and left giant blue teeth marks on my buttocks before we convinced him that was a bad idea. Once you get on the horse, I said, his first act would be to “leap four feet into the air, come down hard, and start spinning like a runaway top. He is just high-spirited, as some parents say about their demon children.” I still feel pretty much the same way about horses and spoiled brats.
Another favorite topic of mine that semester was the behavior of teachers; three essays on the subject extol the virtues of strict teachers. Miss Zamow must have been proud of me; she certainly was not one of the lenient ones I criticized.
Much of our writing that semester centered around reading. I still recall lines from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poems “Ozymandias,” “To a Skylark,” and Ode to the West Wind,” and wonder if they are still read in high school English. I asserted in a September paper that Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 should be required reading for all high school students. I thought John Milton’s “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” were “escapes from reality,” but well-written. I didn’t care for William Blake’s work then, and have not changed my opinion. After writing papers analyzing the writing of Andreyev, Gorky, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, I have avoided all four writers ever since. But I had a great time comparing our new car with our old car, saying the 1950 Chevrolet “closely resembled a duck,” while the 1959 was more like a “crouching panther.”
Asked to write about one poem, I insisted that I couldn’t choose between them and wrote about two, Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners,” which I can still recite, and “The Stab” by William Wallace Harney, which I had entirely forgotten-- though I can see the influence of both poems in my writing today.
On Dec. 9, 1960, I turned in a diamond paragraph designed to teach us the use of various kinds of sentence structure; I’m going to use this as an example to the writers who come to Homestead House. We were instructed to write the following sentences:
Here’s what I wrote:
My mirror is my bulletin board. I wedge postcards around it, and I stick poems and reminders to the frame. Since I collect these items fanatically, I now see myself only in the center of the mirror. After tiring of peering at two inches of my face, I may tour the world in thoughts, or I may read poetry and philosophy. If I am discouraged, some selection will make me cheerful. I can read love poems and prayers, or I may look at friends’ faces and tour exciting places. Truly, my bedroom mirror is an adventure in itself.
But the best gift from this collection of papers came from the comments Miss Zamow wrote on two papers.
At the top of the paper on Maxim Gorky’s “In the Steppes,” dated Jan. 19, 1961, is an A-, followed by this comment in Miss Zamow’s small, square handwriting: “Excellent except for punctuation. Please analyze each use of the comma in this paper.”
The second paper, on Leonid Andreyev’s “The Seven Who Were Hanged,” dated Jan. 20, 1961, received an A, and this comment, “Anyone who can analyze this astutely, write this well, and produce a term paper for a daily assignment is intelligent enough to learn how to use punctuation. Please do so.”
I doubt that I sat right down and studied punctuation during that senior year of high school, but I’ve worked at punctuating correctly ever since. I’m delighted at this reminder of just why I’m so darn picky, and I hope Jo Zamow would be proud of me.
@ @ @
My high school memories are mostly not as vivid as those from earlier childhood. I don’t know if this is evidence of that aging process whereby one can remember more distant times better than more recent ones or not. But even though my high school days are 50 years behind me, I don’t want to write much about that part of my life; most of my high school friends are still alive, and they’d know where to find me if I let slip any secrets.
But this happened during my high school years--
A high school girl friend and I formed a horse club drill team; with a dozen other kids, we devised reining patterns and maneuvers on horseback. We'd gallop into the arena, break into pairs or groups of six, and form wheels that spun into spirals. We performed intricate dances on horseback at high speeds. When the team was invited to perform at the county fair later that year, we rode around town all day enjoying the sights.
Racing with friends, I ran Rebel across a highway ahead of a truck. Unshod, she wasn't used to running on asphalt; her bare feet slipped and she fell on her side with my right wrist caught under the saddle swell. As we skidded across the pavement, I heard the truck's brake's squeal. After we untangled ourselves, I found a scrape on Rebel's hip, and a scratch on her knee. The side of the saddle was gouged in several spots, and my wrist was black with ground-in asphalt and gravel. I tied my handkerchief around it. By the time our team entered the arena to perform our complicated drill, my wrist hurt so badly I couldn't rein with my right hand. I clamped my legs around the saddle, and prayed I wouldn't fall off in front of the grandstand.
That night, I dumped disinfectant on the raw wound and said nothing to my parents. The next morning, my wrist was swollen to double its normal size, and I couldn't close my hand. "Just a sprain," said my father.
Three days later the skin was puffed white with infection; my parents took me to a doctor whose X-rays showed a crack in the small bone, the ulna. New skin had already begun to grow, freckled with black; the doctor picked out the gravel he could reach, and splinted the wrist. I wore the cast all summer, and learned to rein with my left hand. When the bandages came off, my wrist was gray and bumpy from the pieces of highway left in it.
Later that year, the drill team performed at a local rodeo. In one maneuver, two lines of youngsters on horseback rode full tilt at one another, meshing and crossing. My best friend and I carried the flags in holsters on our stirrups, braced ahead of our knees. Just as our horses met, the flags crossed. The impact swung my thigh sideways, wrenching the hip out of its socket. With both the reins and the flag in my left hand and my right wrist in a cast, I couldn't even grab the saddle horn. Pain roared up my leg; when I could see again, I was in the correct place in line, galloping for the big finish.
As I dismounted outside the arena, my leg folded; I howled, but did not cry. Friends helped me unsaddle the horse. Two days later, when I still couldn't stand, doctors x-rayed my leg and found most of the ligaments torn loose and a chip knocked off the kneecap. They advised surgery; otherwise the fragment might slip into the joint under the kneecap.
"I don't believe in surgery," my father said. "That's what killed my dad."
That knee still bothers me when I walk too much, but I’ve never had surgery.
@ @ @
When I began reading the work of Nebraska writer Mari Sandoz, it gradually dawned on me that people like me could write the books I read so eagerly.
Like many writers, I published a few really terrible poems in high school, and a few more that were a little better as I worked for my college degree. Even though my mother hoped that I would marry a doctor or a lawyer so that I could be a homemaker and have babies, she encouraged me to get my own degree so I’d have "something to fall back on." From her own experience, she knew women couldn’t always rely on others to support them.
I graduated from the University of South Dakota with degrees in English and Journalism. During college, I usually had writing jobs; I worked on the night staff of the Sioux City Journal while finishing my senior year and one year of graduate courses.
With my first husband, I moved to Columbia, MO, where I taught Journalism at Christian (now Columbia) College, and received an M. A. in American Literature from the University of Missouri.
I had chosen a direction that took me away from the ranch, to the University of Missouri, and I believed my departure was permanent. Now that I have committed myself to the ranch, I find that period of my life hard to understand, but I know that then I thought I was doing the right thing. I felt like a capable, modern career woman. The intellectual challenges were terrific: I was teaching journalism in a girls’ school, taking graduate courses for my MA and later my aborted Ph.D., trying to be a stepmother, exercising every practical skill I knew to support us on little money, attending poetry readings and writing poetry, meeting new people.
When I returned to South Dakota in 1971, I continued to write, as well as founding Sunday Clothes: A Magazine of the Fine Arts, with the help of grants from several agencies, including the South Dakota Arts Council. I also began operating Lame Johnny Press, an independent publishing house which published 23 books by Great Plains writers-- but none I’d written. I derived great satisfaction and some financial support from the magazine and press, publishing the work of several hundred Great Plains writers and artists.
I divorced my first husband in June 1973, just in time for my 30th birthday. So I was back on the ranch, living in an apartment my husband and I had built on the side of my parents house, 30 years old and according to statistics I recall from the time far more likely to be hit by a meteor than to marry again. I had an MA in American Literature, and taught one year at Black Hills State College (now University) in Spearfish, SD. But I'd gotten crosswise of the administration by encouraging my journalism students to evaluate their teachers. Evaluations were common at the University of Missouri/Columbia, where I'd been teaching, but were a new and terrifying thing in SD. I recall yelling, "I quit!" just before the school president yelled, "You're fired!" but neither of us were right: I was only filling in for another professor for a one-year sabbatical.
Neither my mother nor her mother considered it proper for girls to work outside, either on the tractor or with cattle. A lady, they both declared, learned domestic skills to prepare for her traditional jobs of marriage and raising children. I found their unity puzzling since my Grandmother had worked outside-– in her garden and the chicken house-- all her life; she could chop a rattlesnake into fifteen pieces before you could holler, “Snake!”
By 1984, Sunday Clothes magazine and Lame Johnny Press had survived several serious crises--financial and otherwise-- including an entire print run lost in the Rapid City flood of 1972, my divorce from my first husband, and building a house with my second husband, George. The magazine and press were successful in that writers and artists sent hundreds of submissions of work for both the magazine and press from all over the country. But the subscriptions didn’t support the magazine, and I had little time to do my own writing.
During that year, in order to make money, I edited and published an anthology of South Dakota writers, with help from SDAC. I edited Journal of a Mountain Man: James Clyman for Mountain Press of Missoula, MT. My first book of poems, Caught By One Wing, was published by a San Francisco letterpress. At the end of that year, I received a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. This combination of events encouraged me to spend more time writing-- so I “suspended” operation of the press. I truly hoped to sell the press operation to someone, along with all that I had learned from it. I believed then, and believe now, that an astute person could make a living publishing the work of South Dakota and regional writers, both living and historical. But no one has done so.
I learned so much about regional literature while operating the press that I miss no opportunity to encourage teachers and the public to explore regional writing and art, and to appreciate our native cultures. I think contemporary regional literature can be a powerful tool for teachers and citizens, encouraging our children to appreciate their region, to remain there, and to value the Great Plains for its uniqueness-- rather than turning it into an imitation metropolis. Another great reason for creation and support of a press of our own.
My first book of poems, Caught By One Wing, had been published in a beautiful limited letterpress edition by Julie D. Holcomb in San Francisco in 1984. For years, I’d been writing and submitting fiction-- pretty closely based on my own reality in some cases-- to magazines outside the region. Not only was I rejected, but some of the rejections sneered at the ranching life I lived and chided me for writing fantasy. Yet no journalists were reporting the facts of our region except for those who occasionally dropped in, drew a few hasty conclusions, and zipped back to some metropolis.
So I decided it was time to write nonfiction, and began working on the book that became Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains using the journals I have kept since I was nine years old.
[To read a more complete story of the publication of WINDBREAK click here]
Windbreak was rejected by 24 publishers before being published by a one-woman press in Berkeley, CA in early 1987. The book was reviewed so widely and well it’s still astonishing, with notices in The New York Times Review of Books and Ms. Magazine; it was accepted as the alternate selection by Doubleday Book Club.
During the same year, a connected collection of my essays, Going Over East: Reflections of a Woman Rancher, won the first American Writing Award by Fulcrum, Inc., and was published in hardbound in September, 1987.
Roadkill, poems primarily about my rural experiences, was published in 1987 by Spoon River Poetry Press (now called Plains Press), and sold so well that Spoon River reprinted my first book of poetry, Caught By One Wing in 1990.
The ranch where I lived and worked cattle provided steady wages of $300 a month, but demanded year-round work, so I began doing fewer workshops and less teaching and cut back on active participation in environmental and social organizations in order to have more time to write. I believed I was more effective as an environmentalist by writing instead of lobbying, and the cost in fuel, and wear on my vehicles and myself, was considerably less. And always, I continued writing in my journals.
Following the death of my second husband, George R. Snell, LIFE magazine published Jeff Jacobson’s photos accompanying my journal entries in a feature about my ranch work in July, 1989.
I was named South Dakota's Author of the Year by the SD Hall of Fame in 1989. That same year I received the Governor's Award for Distinction in Creative Achievement, and used the award ceremony in the capitol rotunda as an opportunity to call upon the governor and other elected officials to preserve South Dakota's natural resources.
In late 1991, Fulcrum published my second collection of essays on the environment, accompanied by poems. The book was titled Land Circle: Writings Collected From the Land.
In 1993, Dakota Bones, a collection of poems including my first two books plus about thirty pages of new poems, appeared from Spoon River Poetry Press.
Roadside History of South Dakota was published in 1994 by Mountain Press.
[For an exclusive essay by Linda about writing Roadside History plus a list of corrections to the text, click here.]
Encouraged by the acceptance of work I had feared might never be published, or find a wider readership, I began studying and writing about rural and ecological problems from my own experiences in the Great Plains. As my knowledge expanded, I encouraged ranchers and farmers to adopt better practices to help keep more rural people employed in agriculture. I wanted to help inform the American public about the ruinous costs to all of us of the kind of development we've seen in agriculture over the last fifty years.
My work has been published in periodicals as diverse as Reader’s Digest, Bloomsbury Review, Orion, High Country News, Saturday Evening Post and Dry Crik Review. An excerpt from Land Circle appeared in the 2004 Chicken Soup for the Nature Lover’s Soul.
Focusing on environmental problems allowed me to use my ranching background in educating others about important problems relating to land use. Unlike many so-called experts on land use, I have actually spent most of my life working outside in all weather, observing storms, animals, floods, fires, grass growing, trees burning: Nature’s Reality Show. I see the plains as the final frontier, in danger of utter destruction if it serves more populous areas only as an energy reservoir, a source of cheap labor, or as a place to dump waste from more populous areas.
This writing, I believe, is closely connected to, and as worthy of attention as, writing generally considered more "artistic"-- fiction and poetry.
I believe one's work should complement the rest of one's life, and blend smoothly into a whole that keeps the physical body healthy while also working the mind. I work to bring my life into a circle: writing things I can respect, publishing work I value, laboring at riding, branding, gardening, taking care of the land, and doing it all with an awareness of how those things fit together. More and more, as I grow older, I feel that it is important to keep my roots in this arid soil, to learn from it all I can, in order to continue to grow as a writer and as a human being.
In 1992, during my father’s illness, I relocated to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Feels Like Far, sixteen connected true stories about this time of my life-- losing and regaining the family ranch-- was published in hard cover by The Lyons Press in 1999, and in paper by Houghton Mifflin in 2001.
High Plains Press published Bitter Creek Junction, poems, in 2000. I have also read the poems onto a cassette and CD, available from Windbreak House, so that you can hear my voice reading my words.
Bitter Creek Junction won a Fine Arts Award from the Wyoming State Historical Society, was a Willa Award Finalist from Women Writing the West, and won the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City is surely one of the leading repositories of Western lore and culture, and the Wrangler is a weighty sculpture of a cowBOY on a horse. I would not, of course, mock the Wrangler, though under certain circumstances-- which would not be while visiting The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City-- I might note that women have been cowGIRLS as long as men have been cowBOYS, and a statue of a female on a horse might be a nice way to recognize women who win the award.
Still, the Wrangler Award helped my respectability among writers of cowboy poetry, and that has led to some of my most enjoyable encounters in writing, particularly going to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV.
Between Grass and Sky: Where I Live and Work, published by the University of Nevada in 2002, focuses on Nature as “my boss, manager of the branch office-- or ranch office-- where I toil to convert native grass into meat.”
I’d always encouraged women’s writing when I read my own work or presented workshops, but I began focusing more of my poetic attention-- more of my own writing-- on issues concerning women. About 1990, I started looking for women who wrote about land use issues in the West, and eventually joined with my co-editors Nancy Curtis and Gaydell Collier to produce the nonfiction western women's anthology Leaning into the Wind: Women Write From the Heart of the West in 1997. I also wrote the introduction to the book, which was published by Houghton Mifflin and reprinted three times in cloth before the paper edition appeared in May, 1998.
To create Leaning, we sent invitations to six western states, to small-town newspapers, to agricultural weeklies, to extension agencies, libraries, arts councils, and teachers, asking women to write about their lives in the rural West. We deliberately avoided sending invitations to publications intended only for writers, so many of the women who contributed to that book had never written before.
Our second anthology, Woven on the Wind: Women Write About Friendship in the Sagebrush West, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2001.
Our third collection, Crazy Woman Creek: Women Rewrite the American West, 2004, features more than 150 Western women writing about their place in Western communities.
I consider the work on these anthologies-- helping those women send their voices out-- to be among the most important accomplishments of my life.
In 1996, I began conducting writing workshops for women at my ranch home during the beautiful prairie spring, summer, and fall. Each retreat is individualized, with a maximum of four women attending.
Women are welcome from anywhere, of course, but many say that reading my work has made them realize they want to write about their own lives, and about similar issues. It is rewarding to find them at Windbreak House, and see that they are encouraged by my example, and by my comments on their writing, to watch them finding their voices, beginning to speak the wisdom they have acquired in 20 or 30 or 40 years of living-- and without asking some authority figure if their work is acceptable by some spurious standard. Several women have written work at Windbreak House that has subsequently been published; in some cases it was their first publication, and while publication is not the most important standard by which I measure their success, it was satisfying to them, and that gives me great joy.
In 2008, my spouse retired and we moved from Cheyenne back to my beloved house on the hill on the South Dakota ranch. Because Jerry and I live in Windbreak House full time I have shifted the writing retreats to the house my father built when I was nine years old, now called Homestead House.
Though neighboring ranchers lease my ranch and I am no longer involved in the cattle operation on a daily basis, I am still deeply connected to the land and concerned for its future.
In 2001, with the Great Plains Native Plant Society, I dedicated the Claude A. Barr Memorial Great Plains Garden. The garden will preserve the native plants on 350 acres of my ranch-- white penstemon, red globe mallow, lanceleaf bluebells, golden pincushion cactus and dozens of others. A vintage log cabin moved to the site as labeled pieces is being erected and will serve as the visitor center. Eventually, the group hopes to label native plants, install pathways, and open the site to the public. The venture is an experiment in preserving some of the ranch without willing it to descendants.
I am also working with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory on a riparian habitat improvement project along Battle Creek. This pasture is the only section of my ranch land that has year-round flowing water on it. Barb-wire fences were put up to keep cattle away from the delicate creek banks and RMBO staff make annual monitoring trips to observe and photograph the habitat changes and conduct an annual bird count.
[For information on the Great Plains Native Plant Society and the Claude A. Barr Memorial Great Plains Garden, click here.]
[To read more about the birds and wildlife on Linda's ranch and to learn about the RMBO riparian habitat improvement project, click here.]
Occasionally friends ask when I’m going to start ranching again. Sometimes I think I’d like that, but I believe it’s more important for me to continue writing and working with other writers. At Windbreak House, I can demonstrate the lessons of becoming a writer: the importance of making do, of practice, solitude, patience, and finishing what you start. And show how a sense of humor can help a writer survive.
Rodney Nelson, writing in Dakota Arts Quarterly, once wrote about me, "She can deliver a calf and a poem on the same day-- after mending a fence." I like that statement, and believe something similar could be said of many farm and ranch women, who choose to be where we are because we love the wide land, the independence, even the occasional harshness of the prairies.
Linda's Bare Bones Chronology
1943 -- Born in Texas on July 14th.
1948 -- Moved to South Dakota when her mother, Mildred, left her husband, Linda's biological father, Paul.
1952 -- Linda's mother, Mildred, married John Hasselstrom, a rancher near Hermosa.
1952 -- John Hasselstrom adopted Linda as his legal daughter on August 14: Linda's "adoption birthday."
1961 -- Graduated from Rapid City High School.
1965 -- Graduated from the University of South Dakota with degrees in English and Journalism.
1965 through 1966 -- Worked on the night staff of the Sioux City Journal.
1966 -- Linda married Dan Lusk. Did some graduate work at USD in ancient history.
1967 -- Linda and her husband, Dan, moved to Columbia, Missouri, where Linda taught Journalism at Christian (now Columbia) College.
1969 -- Linda received an M.A. in American Literature from the University of Missouri while working as a graduate instructor and grader.
1970 through 1971 -- Edited the University of Missouri/Columbia literary magazine, Midlands, in the spring of 1971. Linda was a volunteer editor of The Issue, an anti-war magazine, from 1970-71.
1971 -- Returned to South Dakota in 1971 with her husband, Dan, continued to write, as well as founding Sunday Clothes: A Magazine of the Fine Arts, with the help of grants from several agencies, including the South Dakota Arts Council. Also began operating Lame Johnny Press, an independent publishing house which published 23 books by Great Plains writers-- but none by Linda.
1973 -- Divorced her first husband, Dan, in June 1973, just in time for her 30th birthday.
197? -- Taught one year at Black Hills State College (now University) in Spearfish, SD.
1974 -- Consultant for the South Dakota Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.
1975 -- Featured in Ms. Magazine’s “Found Women.”
1976 -- Moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, to be an editor for a multi-media course, The Great Plains Experience, for the University of Mid-America, branch of the University of Nebraska/Lincoln.
1977 -- Editor for proposals submitted to the Old West Regional Commission.
1979 -- Linda married George R. Snell.
1980 -- Grandmother Cora Belle Hey died.
1982 -- Built Windbreak House with husband George about 1/4-mile from her childhood home on the Hasselstrom Ranch.
1984 -- Suspended operation of Lame Johnny Press. Caught By One Wing published by Holcomb Press. Edited the book Journal of a Mountain Man: James Clyman, which was published by Mountain Press.
1987 -- Windbreak published by Barn Owl Books. Going Over East published by Fulcrum Publishing Company. Roadkill published by Spoon River Poetry press. Aunt, Josephine (Jo) Hasselstrom, died.
1987 through 1988 -- Taught English at National College, Rapid City and at Black Hills State College (Ellsworth AFB Branch).
1988 -- Linda's husband, George Snell, died.
1989 through 1990 -- Taught English at Oglala Lakota College and at the SD School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City, SD.
1990 -- Caught By One Wing reprinted by Spoon River Poetry Press.
1991 -- Land Circle published by Fulcrum Publishing Company. Moved from the Hasselstrom Ranch to live in Cheyenne, Wyoming full time and rented Windbreak House to tenants for a few years.
1992 -- Father, John Hasselstrom, died. Tamara, a friend and neighbor, began working for Mildred and for Linda as a personal assistant.
1993 -- Dakota Bones published by Spoon River Poetry Press. Mildred moved to a care facility in Rapid City. Linda's childhood home was rented to a ranch family.
1994 -- Roadside History of South Dakota published by Mountain Press.
1996 -- Established Windbreak House Writing Retreats at her home on the Hasselstrom Ranch. Uncle, Harold Hasselstrom, died.
1997 -- Co-edited the western women's anthology Leaning into the Wind with Nancy Curtis and Gaydell Collier, published by Houghton Mifflin (the first of three Wind Anthologies).
1998 -- Bison: Monarch of the Plains published by Graphic Arts Center Publishing.
1999 -- Feels Like Far published by the Lyons Press. First Windbreak House website put online and first began using email, though she had been using a computer for many years for word-processing and financial tracking.
2000 -- Bitter Creek Junction published by High Plains Press.
2001 -- Mother, Mildred Baker Hey Hasselstrom, died. Co-edited the western women's anthology Woven on the Wind with Nancy Curtis and Gaydell Collier, published by Houghton Mifflin (the second of three Wind Anthologies).
2002 -- Between Grass and Sky published by University of Nevada Press.
2004 -- Co-edited the western women's anthology Crazy Woman Creek with Nancy Curtis and Gaydell Collier, published by Houghton Mifflin (the third of three Wind Anthologies).
2007 -- Moved the Writing Retreats from Windbreak House (Linda's home built with George) to Homestead House (her childhood home with her parents) when the ranch family renting the house moved away.
2008 -- Linda and Jerry moved from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to live full-time on the Hasselstrom Ranch in Windbreak House.
2009 -- No Place Like Home published by University of Nevada Press.
2011 -- Dirt Songs, co-authored with Twyla M. Hansen, published by The Backwaters Press.
2013 -- Created a Windbreak House Facebook page and a Windbreak House blog on WordPress.
2015 -- The Wheel of the Year A Writer's Workbook published by Red Dashboard Press.
2016 -- Celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Windbreak House Writing Retreats.
back to top
Additional biographical information about Linda M. Hasselstrom can be found in the following sources:
Contemporary Authors, Gale Research (835 Penobscot Building, 645 Griswold St., Detroit MI 48226-4094), Vol. 153, pp. 144-145, 1996.
American Nature Writers, editor John Elder; written by Kathleen Danker, Vol. 1, "Edward Abbey to John McPhee," pp. 337-348; Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997.
Dictionary of Midwestern Literature Volume 1: The Authors, ed. Philip A. Greasley, Indiana University Press, 2001.
Such News of the Land: U.S. Women Nature Writers, ed. Thomas S. Edwards and Elizabeth A. De Wolfe; University Press of New England (Hanover NH), 2001.
back to top
The best way to really get the flavor of Linda's life-- the events and Linda's observations about those events-- is to read Linda's books about her life in publication order: Windbreak, Going Over East, Land Circle, Feels Like Far, and Between Grass and Sky.
Although the stories are not necessarily chronological (childhood memories are scattered throughout the books and Linda often juxtaposes one event on top of an earlier happening), Linda did write and edit the books in this order. Reading the books by publication date will, perhaps, allow you to follow Linda's changing thoughts and views on her own life and the land around her.
Some of Linda's poems, found in her books Dakota Bones and Bitter Creek Junction, are also autobiographical.
Click here for a bibliography of poems and essays by Linda that have appeared in other publications.
Click here for a list of articles written about Linda.
back to top