Authorpreneur Dashboard – Bruce E Whitacre

Bruce E Whitacre

The Elk in the Glade

Literature & Fiction

"Bruce E. Whitacre's collection, The Elk in the Glade, is a lovely and loving celebration of his remarkable great grandmother, Jennie Hicks's, life and art, and an inspiring example of how a woman's artistic discipline gave her the courage and insight to transcend the hardships of the Nebraska frontier." Ladette Randolph, Editor in Chief, Ploughshares

Based on personal memories and family oral history, Whitacre’s debut collection of sixteen poems traces the life and legacy of a family matriarch, his paternal great-grandmother, Jennie Hicks. The daughter of American pioneers, she marries a successful farmer, bearing him three girls, seeing them all married, only to outlive him and the farm. Once again alone and facing hardship, she transforms an almost forgotten hobby, her young girl dream, into a brilliant thirty-year career as a successful landscape painter, the future pride of her hometown, Farnam, Nebraska, and an important figure in American art. Lovers of American history, art, and strong female characters will enjoy these chronicles in verse.

Book Bubbles from The Elk in the Glade

New review offers new insights

My thanks to Michael T. Young whose review on Compulsive Reader of this book, and my next one, GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, offers interesting perspectives: "What he’s been and where he’s gone is the trajectory the poet himself followed, descended from a painter and, as the subtitle of the collection indicates, a pioneer, his own story and exploration extending and evolving from the history we follow in this wonderful narrative collection."

March 1 is Nebraska Statehood Day

My great-grandmother, Jennie HIcks, came out to Nebraska as a little girl in the 1880's, nearly twenty years after it was made a state on March 1, 1867. She returned to Cleveland as a young woman, but ultimately chose to make Nebraska her home. She raised a family and embarked on her artistic career. In 2023, the Dawson County Historical Society held the first ever museum show of her work. I think of Nebraska every year at this tme, and all it gave Jennie. Read more about her life as an artisti and pioneer in The Elk in the Glade.


Jennie's daughters, including my grandmother, Esther, were key to her painting career. And Esther herself was a talented painter. She helped me with my first oil painting, and a cottage landscape she painted is a true delight to me this day. She was always very low-key about her "second sight", seemingly as baffled by it as we were. I always knew when she died, I would hear from her. I am still puzzling over her message.

Christmas Oranges

My great-grandmother, Jennie, loved holidays. She had very warm memories of their first holidays on the prairie, and of the Christmas oranges that arrived by train. Warm wishes to readers and friends. May your holidays be merry, sweet and orange.

Happy Thanksgiving

Jennie loved family holidays. She was proud our family always got together no matter the crazy Nebraska weather. This poem depicts the origin story of the book: Jennie telling me her tales, usually at a family gathering, sitting in front of one or more of her paintings. Afterwards, I'd race home and write it all down, determined to be a published biographer at the age of ten. THE ELK IN THE GLADE is a terrific Christmas gift. Check with your bookstore or online. I wish everyone a great Thanksgiving, and a warm holiday season of family, chosen or otherwise. Happy Holidays! Bruce

Happy Thanksgiving! Best Book Award Finalist!

I always think of Jennie during the holidays, and this excerpt captures how the book came to be: the stories she would tell me at family gatherings. We're celebrating one year since the publication of THE ELK IN THE GLADE, and just got news it is a Finalist in the American BookFest Best Book Awards for Narrative Poetry. Thanks to the judges. Most of all thanks to you, the reader. Happy Thanksgiving!

Kindle Version Free November 3!

Read all about Jennie's daughter, my Aunt Ruth, who played a key role in launching Jennie's landscape painting venture. The Kindle version of THE ELK IN THE GLADE is free November 3 only. The ebook includes some of Jennie's paintings and tells the inspiring story of her life on the prairie. Don't miss out!

Celebrating Jennie after one year

THE ELK IN THE GLADE has been out a year! I can't believe it. Reactions to the book have been so positive: 5-star reviews on Amazon, a big tour in Nebraska, countless moving conversations. More info is at Thank you to all Jennie's readers. To celebrate, the Kindle version will be available free of charge Friday, November 3 for that day only! Grab a copy of the book that was a BookLife Editors Pick, 2nd Place in The BookFest 2023. And most of all, thank you to family, friends, readers, bookstores, and everyone who has made Jennie's journey possible. Happy Halloween! Bruce

Free on Kindle October 6!

Join the journey of Jennie Hicks from her childhood in Cleveland, Ohio to the Nebraska prairies in the 1880's, followed by her gradual discovery of her true passion: painting. I still remember the family dinner where Jennie told about her white cradle and her journey to her new home as a child. We're free on Kindle October 6 only. Get your copy and see what happened to Jennie and her family over the years. Rave reviews, and more coming!

Lovely review on Compulsive Reader

Thanks to Charles Rammelkamp and for this exciting review that begins: "A century-long family saga focusing on the author’s great-grandmother, a landscape painter named Jennie Hicks, dubbed the Nebraska Grandma Moses, Bruce Whitacre’s The Elk in the Glade is a charmingly quintessential American story of pioneers going west..." The review captures the events and characters in the book, and celebrates the pioneer and painting life of Jennie Hicks. Enjoy!

Back to school: Free Kindle 9.12-14

My great grandfather, grandparents (Esther and her Harlan), and father were all teachers, and to celebrate back to school, we are offering the Kindle download of THE ELK IN THE GLADE for free September 12-14. The ebook includes illustrations that bring Jennie's pictures to life. We hope you enjoy it, as Jennie's journey continues.

Giving Thanks

The show of Jennie's paintings at the Dawson County Historical Society Museum in Lexington, Nebraska ends August 31. It's so sad to see it go, but thanks to the team there, Jennie's paintings have touched many lives, again. Thanks to the generosity of readers in Nebraska and across the country, we were able to contribute $500 to the Eustis-Farnam Public School art programs. Jennie had to go to Cleveland, Ohio to get her training. Arts are such an important life skill, and I deeply appreciate the readers who are helping bring the arts alive in rural Nebraska.

Jennie in the spring

I once accompanied my grandmother, Esther, as we moved Jennie back into her house after a few weeks wintering at Esther's. Jennie dreaded March, believing she would die in that month. (She didn't.) But Nebraska springs can be chilly, or hot, and always windy. When I dumped the ashes from the wood-burning kitchen stove in the back yard, where grasses and flowers were just coming up, Esther quipped, "You've probably never dumped ashes in your life." I sensed I had missed out on a despised ritual in her life. But now I can say I did do it once, one more slender link between me and my ancestors.

reader reactions

I have been heartened by reader reactions to Jennie's story. Here's one of my Amazon reviews: "This book is a transporting read- full of color, sweet and instructive. With agile and dexterous strokes, Bruce fleshes out the world and art of his great-grandmother, Jennie Hicks- a strong, creative, and resilient artist and pioneer in turn-of the century Nebraska. I was deeply moved by it." Jennie's journey is a pioneer story, yes, but it's also about anyone who perseveres to make dreams come true. Enjoy!

Returning to the Hi-Line

This past April I returned to the Hi-Line to see the show of Jennie's paintings at the Dawson County Historical Society. Family came from all over and we visited the Fitch homestead, where Jennie's family first settled in Nebraska. Perched atop a deep canyon, where they had dug their first well to be closer to water, sat the ruins of the frame house Horace built to replace his sod house. It had burned down a few years ago, but many of us remembered living there or visiting it. The vast horizon, the wandering county road, the scraggly still felt like a frontier.

Jennie's Painting Career

I am in Nebraska now on a tour for the book, and one revelation is the paintings that are appearing, shown by families who have held them for generations. New colors, more human figures, a range of settings and moods...we are discovering whole new sides to Jennie's work. See her paintings at the Dawson County Historical Society Museum through August 2023, and now at the Museum of the High Plains in McCook, Nebraska. It's so exciting that fifty years after her passing, she is getting not one but two museum shows!

Jennie won a BookFest Prize!

I just learned that The Elk in the Glade has won second place in the contemporary poetry category from BookFest. This is the first award my writing has ever received and I am grateful to BookFest and all my readers for their support. I am on a Nebraska tour, appearing in Lincoln, Lexington, McCook, Red Cloud and Omaha over the coming days. See more at

Returning to Nebraska

This book was written following an absence of nearly 40 years from life on the Hi-Line. I return this April, for a 6-city tour of Nebraska libraries, museums and bookstores to talk about Jennie and her first museum exhibit ever at the Dawson County Historical Society and Museum. Stops include Kearney, Lincoln, Lexington, McCook, Red Cloud, and Omaha. See for more info, and follow along on FaceBook and Instagram. More soon! Bruce

Family Storytelling

As she got older, we all worried about losing the stories Ruth had yet to tell. No one else knew as many old tales as she did, and this poem is based on one she told me while we were driving around near her place. She had a wry sense of humor and she enjoyed the macabre. A lynching story she told me: a stranger hired for a threshing crew got drunk and threw a boy into the machine, to his death, and was immediately lynched, was the basis for a play I wrote a few years ago. One part I remember her relishing was the sight of the boy's body parts flying out of the machine. Yet that detail justified in a dramatic sense, though of course not a legal one, the brash response of the work crew. Ruth had a genius for a good yarn.

Jennie's Sources

Jennie painted from images, often calendars and postcards. It has been an interesting challenge to retrace her source material: a view of Mount McKinley here, a National Geographic illustration there. Sometimes Google Lens can find no matching image, or one suggestive but very unlike it. The range of alterations she made seems pretty wide. This poem was written to explore why she used landscapes other than those outside her window in Nebraska.. For decades, there seemed to be no appreciation for Nebraska's wide, rolling landscape. Certainly not in her time. Patricia Scarborough's paintings today show the potential of these prairies.

Painting for a living

Once Jennie settled in Farnam in the early 1940's, selling her paintings became crucial to her livelihood. There were no galleries or shows or dealers. Her living room was her marketplace, though once she did display a couple of paintings in a drugstore window. When they sold, she used the money to pay for a trip to the dentist. By the mid 1950's, the local newspaper carried a profile of her. Word of mouth, visits by out-of-town relatives, and networking by her three active daughters helped build her trade. A show of her paintings, the first ever, begins in February, 2023 at the Dawson County Historical Society Museum in Lexington, Nebraska. See for more information.

No houses. No Trees....the sod house...

Jennie and her family were among three from Ohio who settled in the same area near Farnam, Nebraska. The men came first and built the sod houses (There were no forests and lumber needed to be hauled by wagon a day's journey away). These three families dug a communal well. When a new neighbor needed water, Jennie's father and one of the Ohio men argued over whether they could have some water. Jennie's father won: the neighbor got his water. The labor of plowing up enough sod to build a house for a family, haul it to a site and then layer it into a wall is so daunting to imagine. Yet the sod houses were energy efficient, lasted several years, and echoed the Pawnee lodges that once marked the area.

Ranchers & Farmers in Wyoming

My Aunt Ruth and Uncle Glen had a rocky start when they moved from Nebraska to Wyoming to homestead in the 1930's. The incident of Glen's horse became family legend. When they returned to Nebraska, their dining room wall bore the horns of a buffalo he had found on their land, which was where Buffalo Bill once led a buffalo trophy hunt for a Grand Duke of Russia sixty years before. It was thrilling to grow up with these living bridges back into historical times. I think of Glen whenever I see Buffalo Bill's bust in the Caffe Greco in Rome. It was placed there while he was on tour in Europe with his Wild West show in the 1890's..

Jennie at Thanksgiving: Family Storytelling

Family gatherings were extremely important to Jennie. She took great pride in the fact that despite tricky Nebraska weather, the family never missed a holiday. The stories in THE ELK IN THE GLADE came from moments like this, sitting with Jennie while a football game played in the background, in a house filled with her paintings. She would tell me about sod houses, digging a well, fording a river, blizzards, and how over time painting came to mean more and more to her. This was also Ruth's great moment to shine at the head of her table, and always, the stories. Writing this book gave me new appreciation for the role these women played in my upbringing.

Esther's Premonitions

Jennie's daughter, my grandmother, Esther, had a sixth sense about death and disaster. The death of her young husband, my grandfather Harlan Whitacre, echoed down through the generations as a game-changing event for our family. As this section goes on to tell, Esther had these clairvoyant experiences all her life. She always downplayed them, and we'd sort of grimly laugh over them. But we paid attention!

Farnam Cemetery

In 2016, I returned to Farnam Cemetery for the first time since the funeral of my grandmother, Esther, in 2006. With all the distractions of life in New York, the familiar physical landscape, the graves, the names, all surprised and somewhat overwhelmed me. As I put this book together, that experience served like a guidepost, showing me where I was headed.

Jennie's earliest memory

As described later, Jennie enjoyed sharing her life story, and I was always eager to listen. The death of her mother and the break up of her family while her father tried to adapt was a lifelong issue for her. It led to the separation from her dear brother, Rollie, and ultimately triggered their move from Cleveland to Nebraska in the 1880's. Jennie's girlhood in a sod house coincides with the years Willa Cather was growing up a little more than 100 miles further east, in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Her return visits to Cleveland later on set the stage for her interest in painting.

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