One of our recommended books for 2020 is American Harvest by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

AMERICAN HARVEST

God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland


For over one hundred years, the Mockett family has owned a seven-thousand-acre wheat farm in the panhandle of Nebraska, where Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s father was raised. Mockett, who grew up in bohemian Carmel, California, with her father and her Japanese mother, knew little about farming when she inherited this land. Her father had all but forsworn it.

In American Harvest, Mockett accompanies a group of evangelical Christian wheat harvesters through the heartland at the invitation of Eric Wolgemuth, the conservative farmer who has cut her family’s fields for decades. As Mockett follows Wolgemuth’s crew on the trail of ripening wheat from Texas to Idaho,

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For over one hundred years, the Mockett family has owned a seven-thousand-acre wheat farm in the panhandle of Nebraska, where Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s father was raised. Mockett, who grew up in bohemian Carmel, California, with her father and her Japanese mother, knew little about farming when she inherited this land. Her father had all but forsworn it.

In American Harvest, Mockett accompanies a group of evangelical Christian wheat harvesters through the heartland at the invitation of Eric Wolgemuth, the conservative farmer who has cut her family’s fields for decades. As Mockett follows Wolgemuth’s crew on the trail of ripening wheat from Texas to Idaho, they contemplate what Wolgemuth refers to as “the divide,” inadvertently peeling back layers of the American story to expose its contradictions and unhealed wounds. She joins the crew in the fields, attends church, and struggles to adapt to the rhythms of rural life, all the while continually reminded of her own status as a person who signals “not white,” but who people she encounters can’t quite categorize.

American Harvest is an extraordinary evocation of the land and a thoughtful exploration of ingrained beliefs, from evangelical skepticism of evolution to cosmopolitan assumptions about food production and farming. With exquisite lyricism and humanity, this astonishing book attempts to reconcile competing versions of our national story.

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  • Graywolf Press
  • Hardcover
  • April 2020
  • 408 Pages
  • 9781644450178

Buy the Book

$28.00

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About Marie Mutsuki Mockett

Marie Mutsuki Mockett is the author of American Harvest, credit Sylvie RosokoffMarie Mutsuki Mockett is the author of a novel, Picking Bones from Ash, and a memoir, Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye, which was a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award. She has written for the New York TimesSalonNational GeographicGlamourPloughshares, and other publications and has been a guest on The WorldTalk of the Nation and All Things Considered on NPR. She is a core faculty member of the Rainier Writing Workshop and a Visiting Writer in the MFA program Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California. She lives in San Francisco.

Author Website

Praise

“A revealing, richly textured portrait of the lives of those who put food on our tables.”Kirkus Reviews

“An extraordinary feat of empathy set against a land of reds, whites, and blues, American Harvest doesn’t just speak to the great divide—it dares to bridge it.”—Marlon James

“Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s American Harvest is a book about this country unlike any other. Mockett’s account of the harvest is riveting, and the way she navigates her own plural identity as she travels with the combines is brilliant. This is a stunning, astonishing accomplishment.”—Susan Cheever

Traveling the West with a group of grain harvesters is a great idea for a book, and Mockett, the daughter of a Nebraska farm family, gives her whole self to it. . . . A beautiful and powerfully moving book.”—Ian Frazier

Discussion Questions

1. Early in the book, Eric Wolgemuth identifies “the divide” as a prominent feature of contemporary American life. What are some examples of that divide? What groups or ideas stand on either side of it? Do you agree that it’s an accurate description of the society we live in?

2. Throughout her journey, Mockett listens closely as various people describe their personal experience of faith. What are some of the different ideas she encounters about what being a “good Christian” means?

3. Mockett asks her family early in the book, “Why are our farmers and harvesters, who are conservative Christians, okay with GMOs, while people in the city, who believe in evolution, are obsessed with organic food?” (14). What answers does Mockett find, if any?

4. How does Mockett’s experience as a woman of color play an integral part in her journey with the harvesters? Were you surprised by the direction or shape taken by her discussions about race with the people she encounters?

5. On page 52, Marie asks Juston “Did you always doubt?” In what ways are Juston and Marie similar, particularly regarding their journeys around belief? In what ways do their approaches remain different?

6. How does Mockett’s presence on the crew either create or exacerbate certain tensions? Do you think she could have done something differently? Did she succeed in bridging Eric’s “divide”?

7. American Harvest pays close attention to the ways our preconceptions might get in the way of understanding complex realities. Did reading the book change the ways you think about any or all of the below? If so, how?

  • organic food
  • farming
  • the heartland
  • religion

8. Mockett spends considerable time on the road, meeting new people and engaging them in conversation. Can you think of any questions or topics you wish you could similarly explore, simply by going out and talking to new people?

9. What are some of the ways that Mockett has changed by the end of the book? What are some of the ways Eric and Juston Wolgemuth have changed?

10. How does the epigraph from Nikki Giovanni encapsulate the themes of Mockett’s journey?