Agee's saga, 'Bones of Paradise,' chosen for One Book One Nebraska

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Agee’s saga, ‘Bones of Paradise,’ chosen for One Book One Nebraska

Jonis Agee

The 2022 selection for One Book One Nebraska, “Bones of Paradise,” is a sweeping family saga by writer and University of Nebraska–Lincoln scholar Jonis Agee.

“Bones of Paradise” was published in 2016, and previously won accolades including the Nebraska Book Award and the High Plains Book Award for fiction. The novel tells a familial story spanning multiple generations in the Nebraska Sandhills. Told against the backdrop of the massacre at Wounded Knee, the saga explores themes of vengeance, racism, loyalty, family ties and generational trauma.

Agee is the Adele Hall Professor of English and teaches creative writing courses for the university’s preeminent Creative Writing Program. She was thrilled to learn her novel had been chosen for the program, which features Nebraska authors and themes and encourages all Nebraskans to read and explore a book together.

“It was one of those great moments,” Agee said. “I was floored, I couldn’t believe it. It hadn’t entered my field that they were doing this, and I never thought it was possible.”

Inspirations for the story were found during many of Agee’s travels to the Sandhills, one of her favorite places in the world.

“I’ve always been fascinated, even when I was younger, by the way people have hung onto these large pieces of land, and in the Sandhills, you can’t disrupt the land, so it takes a lot to have a ranch operation,” she said. “I’ve been interested in how that all came to be, and I heard a story several years ago about a ranching family, who had a tradition of — in order to hang on to what they owned — the family would give their eldest son to the grandfather.

“The grandfather would raise that kid in a really tough way, with no comfort or nurturing. That really haunted me. And then I had visited Wounded Knee, and I was really moved by that. A story began to evolve where you take all these characters that are exposed to these horrors, and what comes after that?”

Agee is hoping the pandemic will abate enough that she can meet with readers in person. She’s been adding dates to her calendar since the announcement and working with the Nebraska Library Commission and Humanities Nebraska on additional events. She’s ready to get back on Nebraska’s highways and byways.

“I love to drive,” Agee said. “It’s like a dream to have this opportunity. I’ll get to drive to new places and meet new people. I like to stop along the way and see the little roadside places, the places that make a town proud. I’m kind of the ultimate tourist in that way, and sometimes those places get into a book.”

She also hopes that reading the book, with its inclusion of Wounded Knee, will spur discussions in the groups on the atrocities committed against Native Americans by the United States government and settlers.

“It’s a piece of our history that’s uncomfortable,” Agee said. “When the book came out in 2016, and I went to some book clubs and readings, I would talk about it and present materials, and I plan to do that again. I think it does start those conversations.”

One Book One Nebraska is sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book, Humanities Nebraska and the Nebraska Library Commission. The organizations will produce support materials, including discussion guides, which will be available Jan. 1. Additionally, events and activities planned will be shared by the One Book One Nebraska Facebook page.

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