My gift to you this morning: feast on these two opening sentences:
“Iowa is a fairy tale.
“Somewhere between the crumbling bridges, the meth clinics, the jackknifed tractor trailers, the zombie combines steered by satellite, the putrid purgatories for dinner-bound hogs — somewhere among the wannabe novelists and suicidal farmers and drooling cage fighters sponsored by bargain hotel chains, down rutted byways to giant wind turbines, alongside ditches oozing with nitrates and Busch Light — is a loose menagerie of utopia, where Americans are pleasant, responsible and cooperative, where they pass down their civic duty like a trust fund, where they still have one hand in the fallowing topsoil, the other locked in fellowship with their neighbor, and their eyes on the future of the republic.”
---Dan Zak, the Washington Post, quoted in an article by Nieman Storyboard contributor Jill U. Adams, linked below
This is writing at its most compelling, IMO. This is poetry. This is powerful. This uses the power of paradox and contrast--both in the story's content and in the light-years' difference between its first sentence and its second--to its greatest advantage. And if Dan Zak’s full Iowa profile fulfills the promise of his opening sentences, a Pulitzer in his future would not surprise me.
I can’t wait to read it, whenever they publish the whole piece. Meanwhile, this shorter article, the one which recognizes the genius in Zak’s opening, is food for thought in itself. Jill Adams’s insightful observations about Zak’s resolute focus on the contrasts and paradoxes that are the reality of Iowa (or anyplace, let’s be honest) and his adamant refusal to resort to stereotypes makes me wish fervently that everyone writing in this season of political madness would do the same—and that we as a culture were mature enough to accept it.