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James Silas Rogers speaks about the inspiration in cemeteries and burial sites in “Writer in the Graveyard”

On Friday, November 17th, the Journalism and English Departments hosted a reading with James Silas Rogers called “Writer in the Graveyard.” Rogers read multiple pieces to faculty and students from his book Northern Orchards: Places Near the Dead. The collection of personal essays and poems was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award. Rogers is the editor of New Hibernia Review, an Irish Studies Literary Journal based in the Twin Cities.

During the reading, Rogers explained that a majority of his writing focuses on graveyards and burial sites. This was evident in all of the pieces he read. “[Cemeteries] are never emotionally neutral” explained Rogers. He travels around Minnesota and visits burials sites as inspiration for his writing, citing that “all writers should go to graveyards.” 

“[Northern Orchards] is not a book about death,” Rogers said. He purposely chose the phrase “orchards” as a descriptor of the content of his book instead of more charged words like graveyard or cemetery. “There’s very little grief in it.” Although much of his essays were personal narrative, he often provided the reader with framing information in the beginning. “There are over 500,000 marked burial grounds in the United States” he read, “We all occupy spaces near the dead. . .they outnumber the living 2:1.”

In between pieces, Rogers explained the start of his fascination with graveyards. Growing up in rural Southern Minnesota, there wasn’t a ton to do. “Besides putting pennies on the tracks and waiting for trains to run over them, the only thing to do was walk through the graveyard” he said. Since then,  he has always been interested in the “in-between spaces”– cemeteries included.

The content of Rogers’ prose was fascinating, but equally impressive was his ability to read a 10 page essay without faltering or tiring once. Maybe this was because Rogers wasn’t a stranger to campus. Two of his children, Frank and Annie Rogers both attended Beloit, and he is close friends with Journalism Department Chair Shawn Gillen.

Overall, those who attended the meeting seemed to react well to Rogers’ unique blend of memory, narrative, and facts throughout his essays.


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