Today, Stuart M. Harris lives in Brooklyn, N. Y., a far cry from southwest Iowa, but the author and playwright has ties to Iowa - he spent summers in Audubon, where his mother grew up - and he has just completed a book, “The Northeast Quarter,” following generations of Iowans, and a young girl growing up in a small town.
Stuart’s family did more than visit Audubon - he’s the great-great-grandson of Captain Charles Stuart, the founder of Audubon, and his family has had property there since the Civil War.
Of about 20 farms that the family once owned, one remains, and still belongs to Stuart, all because of a promise that he made to his mother.
His mother told him, “Don’t ever sell Section 10, keep it for yourself and your family,” he said, and “I kept the property, and that provided the springboard for my novel.”
Stuart was born in California, and grew up in Los Angeles, but later moved to New York, to pursue his career writing plays.
He’s had several plays produced Off Broadway - and at almost 70 years of age, Stuart set out to write his first novel. The story actually began as a full length play, but he thought it would work better as a novel. Remembering the rolling fields of Iowa, he wasn’t sure there was a way to really bring that image and feeling to the stage, and instead worked on the book as a saga of an Iowa family over the generations.
He said he’s always “really admired the books of Edna Ferber, the big, multi-generational family sagas.” He said Ferber’s kind of story might start with a character walking in the woods who finds a gold nugget, and then follows that character over 50 years until he is a grandfather, and the first elected senator in that area.
“I’ve always wanted to write (a story) about Iowa, a big, family story and this is what I did,” he said.
“What happened,” he said, “Is that my mother and dad grew up during the time I set this novel,” between about 1918-1929, in the time of the Great Depression.
His mother, “saw the Great Depression pretty much close up,” and farmers were having a rough time of it. As a young woman, his mother worried about what might happen to her family if something like the Great Depression happened again.
The main character, based on his mother, and stories she told, and the promise she asked him to make.
The story talks about what Ann has to face, with a theme of justice and revenge, it is about perseverance, and staying true to yourself, and his main character decides to become a lawyer, an unusual thing, in that time period.
Iowan Arabella Mansfield was the first female lawyer in the country, and Stuart’s main character wonders what Mansfield would have done as things start to fall apart around her, leading to her decision to become a lawyer.
More information on Stuart is available on his website, at smharriswrites.com, including blog posts, along with information on his book and biographical information.