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Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  2,606 ratings  ·  238 reviews
A beautiful meditation on life in the Great Plains from award-winning author and poet Kathleen Norris.



Kathleen Norris invites readers to experience rich moments of prayer and presence in Dakota, a timeless tribute to a place in the American landscape that is at once desolate and sublime, harsh and forgiving, steeped in history and myth. In thoughtful, discerning prose, she
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Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 6th 2001 by Mariner Books (first published 1993)
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Lacey Louwagie
Jul 26, 2007 Lacey Louwagie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who romanticizes small towns or forgets they exist
Shelves: memoir
I came across this book while doing some research for work, and when I told my boss I was interested in reading it, she generously loaned me her copy. I've always had a bit of a love affair with the Dakotas -- the vast openness and the miles upon miles between towns speaks to both the recluse and the small-town girl in me. In this book, Kathleen Norris has collected her essays about Dakota (she lived in S. Dakota but repeatedly refers to both Dakotas as just "Dakota"). I could appreciate her ins ...more
Suzanne
“Nature, in Dakota, can indeed be an experience of the holy.”

I ran across a review of Dakota on Goodreads, and couldn’t believe I had not heard of this book before. As a native North Dakotan and someone who is on a faith journey herself, Dakota seemed to be a must read for me.

The author, Kathleen Norris, has had an interesting journey in her own right. She was born in Washington DC, but spent summers in South Dakota with her grandparents. Eventually, she found her calling as a writer (poetry,
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Mary
I read this several years ago and am rereading it. I was born and raised a Catholic and have since fallen away from the Church. Norris, as a Protestant, made me look again at the faith of Catholicism versus the Church of Catholicism (two very different things). While she does not say this explicitly in this book, for non-Catholic readers, the Church is a centuries old corporation of power and politics. The faith is just that: faith. It is what doesn't get practiced by the Vatican which tries to ...more
Phil
This is frequent re-read of mine, just as any Kathleen Norris. One of the reasons for that is she is so inherently calming that I find myself returning to her contemplative and thoughtful writing time and again.

Dakota is the first of Norris' non-fiction spiritual books and is as much a reflection on the Great Plain as it is on Christian Benedictine contemplation. By marriage, I have become acquainted with the Prairies (further north and east than Norris in Manitoba which is, after all, long gra
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Jackie
This is a book of essays about the genius loci of Dakota, where the vast geography and midwestern sensibility give it a distinct identity. Norris tells it like it is when it comes to Dakota:

"By the time a town is seventy-five or one hundred years old, it may be filled with those who have come to idealize their isolation. Often these are people who never left at all, or fled back to the safety of the town after a try at college a few hundred miles from home, or returned after college regarding th
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Laura
Poetry and Essay that recognizes the link of spiritual to geography. Our place affects our interaction with God. Norris in this book explores how the extremes of living in very rural South Dakota influenced her spirituality. I appreciated her lyricism.

As a North Dakotan by birth and choice but now living elsewhere, I miss the stark reminders of the true human position in the universe that the Dakotas provide their residents. When life and death and the cycles of seasons are harshly evident, it
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Melinda
Ok, so I'm on a Kathleen Norris kick here. What can I say?

Kathleen Norris grew up in Hawaii, but went to South Dakota every summer to spend time with her grandparents. She went to college on the east coast, worked for awhile after graduation in New York City, but eventually moved with her husband (also a poet) to her maternal grandparents home in South Dakota to live.

A parallel story is Kathleen Norris growing up not really understanding or liking the God she was taught about in the Presbyteria
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Edoardo Albert
This is a wonderful book. Norris is a poet as well as a writer, and this shows in the prose, and the precision of the language she uses. As an adult, she returned to her family home in a small town in South Dakota and, through a series of essays and snapshots, she reveals the dynamics of life in an environment that is extreme in many ways: climate, isolation, history. She interweaves this with the related but dissimilar insights gained from the time she has spent at Benedictine monasteries in th ...more
Joanna
This book had some really cool bits and pieces about the spirituality and desolation found in the geography of South Dakota. However, i found those bits were wrapped in a thick layer of condescension and prejudicial judgement. I did not enjoy reading this book because I bristled at her tone so many times. She seemed to generalize about the people who made that space their home.
Julie Golding Page
In "Dakota," author Kathleen Norris captures accurately, affectionately and yet also brutally honestly, what it is like to live in the American plains/Canadian prairie region of North America. On the positive side, she addresses the stark beauty, vast unpopulated territory, recent frontier history, and interesting ethnic mix. On the negative side, she confronts the isolation (both geographic and psychological) and potential loneliness which follows from it, often prevalent provincial attitude, u ...more
Robin Schoenthaler
My favorite lines:

“Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God.” (St Hilary). Angels (do) seem possible in the wind-filled expanse.

I began to see those forlorn motel rooms as monk’s cells, full of gifts of silence and solitude.

Asceticism is … a way of surrendering to reduced circumstances in a manner than enhances the whole person.

Walking in a hard Dakota wind..I have a sense of … my blood so like the sea in chemical composition, my every cell partaking of air. I walk in a turbu
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Tim
I discovered this book in a used bookstore in Charlottesville, and felt drawn to it immediately. My mom is from South Dakota and so I feel a connection to that part of the world, and I was also hoping to find a book celebrating solitude in a forgotten place. I was not disappointed. This quote sums up the book nicely-

"I had stumbled onto a basic truth of asceticism... it is a way of surrendering to reduced circumstances in a manner that enhances the whole person. It is a radical way of knowing ex
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Jennie
I liked her Weather Reports, I liked the short poetic bursts about life on the high plains, I liked her parallels between Dakota and a monastic life. What I'm not sure I liked yet was her tone. At times I felt it was condescending as in "Well, I moved to Dakota from NYC, now let me tell you about these simple folk."
I understand that some of this might be because she is writing as an outsider- this is one of the places on Earth where anyone who isn't born there will always be an outsider. I unde
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Cathy

I've always loved the Dakota prairie so when I stumbled upon this book at a flea market I grabbed it. As it happens, upon her grandmother's death, writer and poet Kathleen Norris and her husband left their high life in NYC and moved to the old family homestead on the western edge of South Dakota.

She tells her story via essays written across 20 years of her life on the prairie. Curiously enough, interspersed in her essays are her musings about monks and the life they lead inside the walls of a m
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Ed
The note inside the cover shows I bought this in January 1995 and I discovered it on a hidden shelf here in Norfolk and was prompted to read it because Kate had told me good things about her visit to her relative's farm in South Dakota last year. And I am so glad she did as this book moved me substantially and made me decide: Dakotas I must visit. It weaves some of the history of this rapidly depopulating western edge of South and North Dakota, with her spiritual development in the wilderness, a ...more
Emily
Unlike the NY Times Book Review, I did not find this book "deeply moving". There were moments of clarity in her descriptions of extremes in weather and Hope church. But reading it was not enjoyable which is surprising since the author is (as she regularly points out) a poet. For instance, she uses monastic ("It's hard to say what monastic people mean to us"), monasticism ("My monasticism is an odd one"), and liturgy so often it was making me crazy. These clunky words conjure up little meaning fo ...more
Kate
I read this years ago, and it was the first time I learned (by reading Norris's experience) to understand my sense of life through a sense of place. Geography is often ignored in this age when so few of us make our livings from the land, but the landscapes around us, what we see each day, the weather that blows around us, does impact us.
Having grown up in Kansas, I appreciated Norris's admiration for the plains -- a landscape many people write off as boring. There is nothing boring about a wide-
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Webster Bull
It can be puzzling to read a book that moved you twenty years ago and to wonder why it did so. I had that experience diving into "Dakota," the memoir of a New York City intellectual who moves to Lemmon, South Dakota (very small), to take over her grandmother's farm when no one else in the family wants it. Norris embraces small-town life and what she understands to be its religious analog: monasticism. A Presbyterian without much active faith on arrival in SD, she finds her faith restored by loca ...more
Erica
I think this is the first Kathleen Norris I read -- aside from her poetry. I also think it is her best. At least it is my favorite. She writes with such a sense of place -- both geographical and spiritual. The prose is stunning.
Courtney
Really interesting look at life in western South Dakota written by a woman who moved from NY City into her grandmother's farmhouse. She had a really unique perspective on religion and spirituality.
Cynthia Symons
Feb 05, 2014 Cynthia Symons marked it as to-read
I LOVE Kathleen Norris. Her writing speaks to me like very few authors do. I always feel like she knows me, and can articulate the things that I cannot say--and would not say, even if I could.
Sskous
With the severe plains of Dakota geography beneath, Norris moves into spiritual geography, opening horizons the reader never imagined. Excellent!
Judy
While we were planning a trip to South Dakota, I ran across this book and thought it would be the perfect read for the trip. Twenty years ago Norris inherited her grandparents' farm in northwestern South Dakota. She and her poet husband moved there from very busy lives in the urban environment of New York City. I was fascinated by her analysis of the inertia that dominates a land where nothing can be counted on. Having grown up in a small town myself, the impact of the physical environment on on ...more
Christopher
Just plain marvelous! Norris has a beautiful writing style, and a real craft for portraying not only the landscape of the Dakotas but also the contours of the human spirit. Reading this work slowly during a silent retreat only enhanced the power of its meditations on history, community, prayer, faith, perseverance, and the darker side of humanity that can undo all of these things. I often found myself wanting to visit some of the places that she described, a part of the United States that I've n ...more
Rebecca
This book is so beautiful, I'm not sure I can do it justice in this review. It is a spiritual memoir reminiscent of Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I started this book when we first moved to North Dakota over 2 years ago, and I savored it. I usually read books fairly quickly, but I couldn’t do that with this book, I truly didn’t want it to end. Norris is a poet, and her prose also has the lyrical quality of poetry.

Norris grew up all over the US, but spent her summers in Lemmon, Sout
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Cadie
This book was recommended to me offering another perspective on "moving down" in the world. What a beautiful description of committing to living a life of simplicity and hardship in one of the West's most forgotten landscapes. My favorite quote from the book is:

"When my third snail died," the little girl writhes, sitting half-way in, halfway out of her desk, one leg swinging in the air, "I said, I'm through with snails." She sits up to let me pass down the aisle, the visiting poet working with t
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Will Waller
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography may have been the best book I read in 2011 and it was almost the last book read then. It seemed as if all I had read up to that point (many of the Oz books based on an idyllic place, Gilead and Home which are about the prairie, and even Shadowland, a poor idea of the shifting wants and desires of a good home) were building up to reading this.

The author does a terribly fine –almost too fine—a job of describing the home that we make and the home that we inherit. Her
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Kendra

The first time I ran across Kathleen Norris is a bit of a story. Not a terribly long story, really, but a brief sidebar in the larger yarn of my development as a reader and writer of nonfiction. You see, the first class I ever took that even gave a wink at nonfiction was a college workshop in my third year of undergraduate studies. Yes, yes, it's a bit of a travesty for someone who calls herself a creative writer to go so long without hearing about a whole sub-genre, but in my defense it was a
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Keith
Jul 11, 2008 Keith rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: you
Recommended to Keith by: legion
In 1984 Kathleen sent me a copy a an essay she was planning to send off for publication. It was called "Gatsby on the Plains". She asked me what I thought of it. It offended me in a complex variety of ways. I wrote her back a six-page letter trying to explain what it was that so offended me about it. A few days later I received me letter back in the mail, with the note that the last couple of paragraphs were a bit confusing. Would I revise them so that she could send the letter in for publicatio ...more
James
It is always interesting to see how a book stands up to a re-reading. This book fared fairly well in that I think it is one of Norris's best written books. There is little narrative sequence in Norris's reflections, save the general story of moving from New York to South Dakota and through a process, South Dakota becomes home. Instead, what we have here is a series of poetic reflections on Dakota, on place, on the Benedictine monastery (Norris is an Oblate).

I found it interesting that many of N
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Wi-Minn-Dak-Ia: Dakota - A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris 1 4 Aug 28, 2011 08:18PM  
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Kathleen Norris was born on July 27, 1947 in Washington, D.C. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as on her maternal grandparents’ farm in Lemmon, South Dakota.

Her sheltered upbringing left her unprepared for the world she encountered when she began attending Bennington College in Vermont. At first shocked by the unconventionality surrounding her, Norris took refuge in poetry.

After she grad
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More about Kathleen Norris...
The Cloister Walk Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women's Work (Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality) The Virgin of Bennington

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