Lin•strom, n.: in Swedish, a name evoking a brook or stream (strom) flowing through blue flax (or linseed, lin) blossoms; thus, a landscape marked by ongoing change shaping an old field, liquid movement inscribing tradition and feeding the roots of plants both horticultural (Linum usitatissimum, cultivated for food and fiber) and wild (Linum bienne, native to the Mediterranian and western Europe); thus, both rooted and searching, transient and local. Sometimes considered anachronistic.
John Linstrom is a writer, doctoral student, teacher, Michigander, and occasional Liberty Hyde Bailey impersonator. He writes and publishes poetry and nonfiction prose, and has recently begun work on a PhD in English at New York University. But in this urban space, he remains haunted by the same Liberty Hyde Bailey whom he occasionally impersonated in Michigan, and by the small hometown of South Haven which they both shared some 150 years apart. These two hauntings have become the subject of his current book project, Havening: Love Letters to a Town and a Dead Man, and they also fuel his doctoral research. He also recently edited a centennial edition of L. H. Bailey's agrarian manifesto, The Holy Earth, published by Counterpoint in December 2015 and featuring a new introduction by Wendell Berry.
John attended Valparaiso University and its interdisciplinary honors college, Christ College, and he earned his B.A. in English and Humanities in 2010. He headed further into the belly of the great Midwestern beast the following year, and graduated with his M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University in 2013, where he also rubbed shoulders with students and professors in the Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture. He had fallen in love with agrarian philosopher and South Haven homeboy Liberty Hyde Bailey in 2010, and worked for several years at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, first as intern, then curator, and then for two years as executive director, after which the Museum named him their first Bailey Foundation Fellow. The museum is housed in the National Historic Site that marks Bailey’s birthplace and childhood home in South Haven.
John taught courses in creative writing and composition while a student at Iowa State, and in 2014 he taught a graduate course in research writing and methodology at his alma mater, Valparaiso. He has also done educational work with kids ages 6-11 through the Bailey Museum's summer program "Bailey's Budding Naturalists" and through the museum's other educational outreach efforts, including support of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Outdoor Learning Center at North Shore Elementary School, which was begun in 2010 by his inspirational mother and fourth-grade teacher Rebecca Linstrom.
John’s current book project, Havening, takes the life and work of L. H. Bailey and slams it smack into twenty-first century topsoil. By putting Bailey’s high ideals and agrarian reform project into the context of Linstrom’s postmodern life, these fellow South Havenites, separated by some hundred fifty years’ nearness, struggle to remap new ways to live as an individual in a corporatized and fad-stricken world. Central to that struggle is a looming question of place and home—how can we find true sanctuary in a society so insistently transient and a planet so suddenly volatile? How do we haven ourselves when our anchor lines keep snapping in the current?
John's dissertation, under the working title Thresholds: Land and Ecospheric Cosmologies in American Literature during Agricultural Mechanization, from Reconstruction to the Dust Bowl, seeks to intervene in ecocritical discourse with an insistence that ecospheric imagination predates Western empirical/colonial models of modernity. He considers non- and even anti-modern cosmologies under three major categories—the agrarian, indigenous, and diasporic—and seeks for ways in which each of these cosmological modes helps us understand humanity's context in the living creative ecosphere, especially in the ways in which these modes found their articulation in American literature written in and about the period of massive agricultural mechanization and migration from Reconstruction to the Dust Bowl. He is equally interested, however, in the ways in which these cosmological modes continue to influence people's lives today.
Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr. (1858-1954) was an influential agrarian philosopher, advocate of "nature-study" in primary schools, "Father of Modern Horticulture," bestselling author of 65 books and editor of some 140 more, Chair of Theodore Roosevelt's national Country-Life Commission, pioneering plant explorer and photographer, and the revered founding Dean of the College of Agriculture at Cornell University. His writings and philosophies influenced writers as diverse and influential as Aldo Leopold, Pearl Buck, Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and even Marianne Moore. You can read a thumbnail sketch of his fascinating life story, which John wrote for the Bailey Museum, here, or check out the 1956 biography by Philip Dorf, Liberty Hyde Bailey: An Informal Biography.