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Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  3,385 Ratings  ·  286 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, sh
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 6th 2001 by Mariner Books (first published 1993)
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Kathleen Norris and her husband David Dwyer, both poets, left a thriving New York City arts community to live in South Dakota in 1974. Norris' family had inherited her grandmother's farm in Lemmon, a small town in northwestern South Dakota. Although they had originally planned on staying for only a few years, the couple decided to make it their permanent residence. In addition to their writing, they picked up a succession of part-time jobs to carve out a living.

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography is a
Lacey Louwagie
Jul 11, 2007 Lacey Louwagie rated it really liked it
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
May 25, 2012 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
“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,
Tiffany Reisz
Sep 28, 2015 Tiffany Reisz rated it it was amazing
Magnificent as always. I'll read anything by Kathleen Norris. She's my spiritual guidance counselor when I need her the most.
Sep 28, 2008 Mary rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 27, 2012 Phil rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christian
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
Jun 10, 2010 Melinda rated it really liked it
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
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
Edoardo Albert
Aug 29, 2013 Edoardo Albert rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
Sep 16, 2007 Joanna rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookgroup
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.
Becky Fields
Jun 23, 2017 Becky Fields rated it liked it
Poignant moments of reading throughout this memoir for me -- most often through Norris' descriptions of the landscape, movingly familiar and beautifully rendered for this girl who was raised on a North Dakota farm. I even recognized the people she depicts and often, to my hyper-sensitive reader's ears, seems to criticize. To be fair, her awarenesses of 'Dakota' (the western-most portions of South AND North Dakota) are much fresher than mine, given my departure from ND over 30 years ago. In all, ...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
Mar 27, 2012 Tim rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
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
Jul 18, 2012 Cathy rated it really liked it

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
Jun 01, 2011 Ed rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 08, 2013 Jennie rated it it was ok
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
Mar 26, 2011 Kate rated it really liked it
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-
Barb Fay
Jul 12, 2016 Barb Fay rated it really liked it
I found this collection of personal essays to be quite timely in my own life's journey as I retreated from having over committed myself to multiple, responsible volunteer projects. Norris describes in beautiful, sensitive, and intelligent prose, her move from bustling NYC to a small town in western South Dakota. Having grown up in a small town myself, I could readily relate to her observations -- the many little gifts such a town has to offer -- but also the feeling of isolation and pettiness th ...more
Jun 09, 2008 Emily rated it it was ok
Shelves: heartland
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
Aug 18, 2015 Megan rated it really liked it
I have spent most of my life living on the Canadian Prairies. Most of my time in Alberta but some in Manitoba. I know the wind, the rain, the blizzards, the sun dogs, the seemingly endless landscape. I lived on a farm in a rural community and know about time moving fast and standing still. This is a beautiful collection of poems and essays that depict life on the Prairies and its flaws and beauty.
Lynne Spreen
Dec 25, 2010 Lynne Spreen rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have ever read. I risked ruining a friendship when a friend of mine lagged in returning the copy I'd lent her - the one that had all my precious highlights and margin notes. My roots on my mother's side are in North Dakota, so this "spiritual geography" resonated even more than the deeply moving introspection on life, humans, small towns, artistry, marriage, and above all, spirituality. Thank you, Kathleen.
Les Sillars
Dec 06, 2016 Les Sillars rated it it was amazing
Drop Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, onto the western Dakota plains instead of a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains and make her more open to orthodox Christianity. Have her write with a little less insight but a little more grit about prairies like an ocean, and small town relationships, and silence, and living with monks. It's not for everybody but I really liked it.
Oct 09, 2007 Erica rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality, essays
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.
Mar 08, 2008 Courtney rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008
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 15, 2013 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.
Jul 11, 2008 Sskous rated it it was amazing
With the severe plains of Dakota geography beneath, Norris moves into spiritual geography, opening horizons the reader never imagined. Excellent!
Feb 11, 2016 Janet rated it really liked it
Well done tribute to place and spirit.

     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
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Wi-Minn-Dak-Ia: Dakota - A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris 1 7 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
More about Kathleen Norris...

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