Iowans are generous, strong

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 4 2012 | 12:01 am - Updated: 3 April 2014 | 9:49 am in

By Peter Feldstein

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I’m the co-author and photographer, with University of Iowa Professor Stephen Bloom, of “The Oxford Project” book. Bloom’s essay in “The Atlantic” online about the terrible state we Iowans are in came as a complete surprise to me. This article’s indictment of Iowa and Iowans is not in any way representative of my own feelings.

I was very disappointed personally and for my neighbors in Oxford, in Bloom’s arrogant and hurtful words, not just in the article, but in his written defense and his radio and television interviews.

CBS’s “Sunday Morning” did a piece on the launch of our book in Oxford. At the end of it, I get up on the stage and thanked my neighbors for helping with this wonderful book. And my final words were: “I love you all. I love Oxford. And I’ll never leave ... except in a box.”

What Steve mostly gets wrong is that Iowans are very much aware of the issues he raises. They are being discussed, and have been for a long time. Because there have been no adequate solutions doesn’t mean that we’re not aware of them, nor that we wouldn’t want the problems solved.

The article is a hit piece, not a parody or satire as Bloom claims.

No one is expecting a writer to polish the truth. What we do expect is a balance, which I’d think is essential for a journalist writing about anything or anyone. Instead, Iowans are described as “wasteoids” and “old people waiting to die” and “toothless meth addicts” and people afraid to look around the corner for greater opportunity and religious fanatics.

I don’t know what happened to Steve between the making of “The Oxford Project” and his online article. What happened to the grit and strength of people attempting to survive the hardships that life presents them? What happened to the intelligence of people like Kathy Tandy; the wonderful sense of humor of people like Jim Jiras; the generosity of so many of my neighbors, like Tonya Stratton Wehrle; the experiences of people who’ve suffered unspeakable horrors, like Jim Hoyt and his son Jim Jr.; and the difficult life transitions. met with great perseverance by people like Ben and Robin Stoker and their grandparents Kathy and Darrell Lindley?

And what about the incredible and real family values of the Cox, Hennes, Stratton and Stockman families”

All of their stories are true and what I know of Iowa.

A few days ago, I picked up the book for the first time since the brouhaha. I had a very sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wish Stephen Bloom’s name was not on it.

Peter Feldstein of Oxford is Professor Emeritus, Photography, University of Iowa. Comments: pfeld@southslope.net

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