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2011 Pilster Great Plains Lecture, October 13, 2011

“Mari Sandoz: On Writing and Life”

Ron Hull

The presentation featured Mari Sandoz in video-tape excerpts sharing her personal tips on how to write your story, with help from Ron Hull, Ph.D., senior advisor to Nebraska Educational Telecommunications and professor emeritus of Broadcasting at UNL.

In addition to other NET appearances, Mari taped a series entitled, “Mari Sandoz Discusses Creative Writing.”

As a friend of Sandoz, Hull worked on many NET television productions with her in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He discussed his personal reminiscences of the author, including her work and her philosophy about writing, which is illustrated with video clips taken from her series, “Mari Sandoz Discusses Creative Writing.”

“She worked many days and hours on the creative writing series in 1959 and her discussions about writing reveal much about herself as well,” Hull said. 

In the series, she talks about: “gathering your material, beginning the work, choosing the point of view, revising and polishing and the beginning and ending.”

Sandoz said, “There was no training school for the pioneer. He went out and he either was one or he wasn’t.” And there was no training for Mari Sandoz. With a limited education and an abundance of drive and courage, she willed herself to be a writer, gaining both success and fame as a chronicler of the history of the high plains country of Nebraska.

Mari said that everyone has a fascinating story to tell, he said. To do it you must bring a willingness to do a lot of work and the work must be imbued with honesty.”

Sandoz was a strong-willed, opinionated, energized person. Yet, when she was first approached about doing a television interview, she was not comfortable.

“I’d rather face a rattlesnake than one of your cameras,” she told Ron Hull, who produced and directed that first interview, “Mari Sandoz: Nebraskan,” for KUON-TV.

But Sandoz continued to work with Hull over the years, ultimately resulting in two television series. An important part of his presentation includes excerpts from “Creative Writing,” a series Mari Sandoz did for NET.

“She was driven by her zeal to tell the stories of the high plains country and she was most passionate about the lives of the plains Indians,” he said. “She respected the culture and wisdom of the Native Americans, having been raised among them.”

If Mari Sandoz were still alive, she would be urging all the people she met to write their stories. She felt everyone could be taught to write, just as he or she can be taught to sing and dance,” Hull said. “And, she wanted everyone to do some writing. She felt everyone has a story to tell and she would tell them to get to work.”

Ron Hull met Mari Sandoz in 1957 and the pair quickly struck up a discussion about early Nebraska history, a shared interest.