Iowa Writes

from A Lucky American Childhood

Why was the bloodiest, most horrible day in English history a joy to an eight-year-old boy on the streets of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the summer of 1916?

July 1 that year was the first day of the Battle of the Somme in northeastern France. Between sunrise and sunset the armies of England suffered a shocking, unbelievable sixty thousand casualties. In slow and vulnerable lines, under heavy packs, the bravest and brightest youths ever assembled in that green island walked into barbed wire and massed machine guns, under full observation even before they left their own trenches. Every man was a volunteer. They walked straight. They lay dead in straight rows.

That summer I was selling the noon edition of the Cedar Rapids Gazette on 3rd Avenue, downtown. In those days the paper would publish an "Extra" if there was some great event, bringing it out between regular editions. I bought them for one penny and sold them for two, a fine capitalist rate of profit. Extra papers meant extra pennies. I would howl out the headlines, "BIGGEST BATTLE IN FRANCE, ENGLISH AND GERMANS! THOUSANDS DEAD! READ ALL ABOUT IT!" My voice must have been quavering, uncertain, shrill, but I sold those Extras. My pocket became heavy with little copper pieces because the blasted fields of French farms became heavy with the bodies of England's most loyal, most courageous young men. Every one a volunteer, including the Newfoundlanders, so far from their own loved island.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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Paul Engle (1908-1991) was director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop from 1941 to 1965 and the founder of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.  A Lucky American Childhood is new in paperback from the University of Iowa Press. It is the 2008 selection for Linn Area Reads, an all-county, everyone-read-one-book program.

A Lucky American Childhood site

University of Iowa Press

This page was first displayed
on May 18, 2008

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