Casper Author’s Nonfiction Work about Wild Mustangs to be Featured in National Book Festival

Children’s book about the Native story of Devils Tower also chosen to represent Wyoming

Pictured above is Chad Hanson, author of “In a Land of Awe” and sociology instructor at Casper College, at northcentral Wyoming's Fifteen Mile Wild Horse Herd Management Area in 2021. (Courtesy photo from Lynn Hanson)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

This story has been updated to reflect the accurate literary genre of one of the featured books as of June 6, 2023 at 3:51 p.m. MT. 

A Casper College professor’s book will be featured in this year’s National Book Festival as one of the representative literary pieces for Wyoming. 

The nonfiction work, “In a Land of Awe” by Chad Hanson, describes new approaches of viewing and interacting with the world through the eyes of the wild mustang, exploring perceptions of animals, landscapes, history and humanity, according to the book’s synopsis.

“We aim for books that reflect the Wyoming experience, either through persistence, managing change, connection to the land, our sense of identity and community,” Lucas Fralick, the coordinator for the Wyoming Center for the Book housed in Wyoming Humanities, told the Wyoming Truth. “The categories give the committee space to debate and expand our book selection—authors do not have to be from Wyoming to qualify.”

Hanson, who teaches sociology, is the co-founder of the Wyoming Mustang Institute, an organization that advocates for healthy, stable wild horse populations on public lands.

“In a Land of Awe,” by Casper-based author Chad Hanson, will be featured as one of Wyoming’s literary works in the 2023 National Book Festival in August. (Courtesy photo from Chad Hanson) 

“Wild horses are one of the things that make Wyoming a special place to live and an impressive place to visit,” Hanson said. “I’m honored by the book’s selection, and I’m hopeful, too. I hope the national attention will inspire more Americans to want to learn more about our mustangs, and the mental health benefits of feeling awe toward the wonders of nature…. Their majesty holds the potential to shock us into an appreciation of nature, and I’m of the view that reverence and gratitude are crucial forms of medicine—especially in our times.”

Hanson noted he lived in Wyoming for a decade before learning that the state has 16 herds of mustangs, initially believing they were myths or a part of the past.

“When I found out that I share the world with free-roaming bands of horses, it changed my writing life, and it made photography a central part of my work,” he told the Wyoming Truth.

Sharing Native stories about Wyoming’s landscape

Wyoming will also feature the children’s book “The Day the Earth Rose Up” in this year’s festival. Written by Alfreda Beartrack-Algeo, an enrolled citizen of the Oceti Sakowin, Kul Wicasa Oyate, Lower Brule, South Dakota, the book dictates the Lakota version of the story of the Pleiades star constellation and Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming, integrating the author’s cultural wisdom and oral traditions.

“The Day the Earth Rose Up” follows the story of seven Lakota sisters who venture into a forest to gather chokecherries and encounter a large bear. After praying for help, the earth rises, and an eagle saves the sisters from the bear and brings them to the Star Nation, where the sisters transform into the Pleiades star constellation.

“I am delighted that my book was selected not just because it validates my work as a Native author, but [because] it provides a platform for education on Native literature that is underrepresented in the literary world,” Beartrack-Algeo told the Wyoming Truth. “The Pleiades were among the first astronomical phenomena mentioned in many cultures throughout the world for many millennia. But it was the Native narratives that truly captured the awe of this mysterious constellation and inspired me the most as a storyteller.”

Beartrack-Algeo said the inspiration for her book stems from her childhood fascination with the Pleiades star formation and her connection to Devils Tower, also known as Bear Lodge. It’s a sacred site to her tribe and several other Native American tribes, providing an ancient connection to the natural and supernatural worlds.

Both “The Day the Earth Rose Up” and “In a Land of Awe” will be featured as Wyoming’s “Great Reads from Great Places” selections at the National Book Festival. The event includes youth and adult books that represent all 50 states, uniting bestselling authors and book fans for panel discussions and book signings.

Fralick said a committee of two library professionals in Wyoming and author Tyler Rogers, whose book, “The Marvelous Invention of Orion McBride,” was selected for the 2022 festival, chose the books to submit this year. The committee selected from a pool of around 20 books that have been published within the last five years.

The National Book Festival will take place Aug. 12 in Washington, D.C., from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Some programs will be live streamed online; videos will be available after the festival.

Wyoming has been participating in the festival since 2002, Fralick noted. Wyoming Humanities also plans to host events later this summer to honor Hanson and Beartrack-Algeo.

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