From WILL - Focus -

Flyover Lives

Do you have a sense of your own history? What stereotypes about the Midwest do you agree or disagree with? Today on Focus, Lisa Bralts talks with Diane Johnson about her new memoir “Flyover Lives.” 


(Duration: 50:05)

book cover

book cover

Over drinks at a dinner party, a French friend was frank with essayist and novelist Diane Johnson about her opinion of “Americans” and our sense of heritage. She described us as “indifferent.” Johnson disagreed, and a few years later, we have her response in the form of her new memoir “Flyover Lives.” She has a sense of her family’s history and a lot of other Americans, specifically Midwesterners, do too.

This hour on Focus, Lisa Bralts talks with Johnson about her upbringing in Moline, Illinois, and how that’s shaped her outlook on life. We’ll hear about how she traced her family back to the 18th century and learned more about her own family’s roots in Illinois while writing the book and will delve into perceptions of Midwesterners across the country, and across the globe.

Do you have a sense of your family’s history? How did you learn about it? Have you been accused of not knowing? We’d love to hear from you today on Focus!

  • Read the full transcript

    Pop Up Archive Item: “Flyover Lives” :
    Transcript for file: focus140220a.mp3


    after dinner at a house party
    party a French friend was Frank with Diane Johnson about her opinion of Americans
    really have is true
    few years later we have Johnson’s response for new book is a memoir detailing
    bringing in Moline Illinois


    Midwest family history
    Vocus all talk with Diane Johnson about her new MMORPG Lavalife
    chipolte about her memories of Moline in the 40’s and 50’s how to trace your family history
    do you have a sense of humor

    coming up on focus after this news
    Draya Michele I’m talking with writer Diane Johnson


    finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and has been nominated 3 times to the National Book Award
    nes a biography and fiction novels in Clute 1997
    2000 the mariage in 2003
    why our lives published recently by biking Penguin
    is in part of response to a French friend
    that Americans have no sense of their personal history is in the book not only offers
    of her childhood and adolescence in Moline Illinois but also the circumstances of her


    from France to the northeast and eventually to Illinois
    questions for listeners do you feel like you have a sense of your personal history
    Americans generally struggle with this idea what are some of your perceptions about living in the Midwest
    disagree with out stereo types at 1 800 to do tonight
    29455 what you know about your family history the things you’ve learned
    you can also email it will talk it Illinois Facebook and Twitter
    Twitter @ focus 580 Diane Johnson thank you so much for doing yesterday


    thank you for having me so I would like to start with a house party
    party that you were out and that you were at in Provence France visiting friends and that store
    does set the stage for everything that follows can you
    can you talk a little bit and describe the situation at this party and what was said to you that made you think
    is it true that should I start digging through my family history
    something that a French friend that we were in the south of France visiting
    sitting in a beautiful house


    love in French food in Fallon NV
    where a group of American General who
    taking and they will retire
    taking a trip to France to look up there
    this is how a conversation
    where the girl with the subject
    okay though the topic of historical memory came up after the excellent dinner


    when we gathered on the patio and the American army general wrong with telling
    French ancestors is calling Billabong within us
    look up his roots in Germany the bones in Los Lobos retired and have the Montreal
    Dreamstime virginal Daniel optical research
    Washougal Rosso
    summer Catholics mean before the Revolution and the French Revolution timeline
    many people don’t realize it extend of Catholic immigration into America


    Maryland it was the discourse well informed and lightning
    early immigrants to America visit prompted are holy
    hostess saying that it was unusual for Americans to take a nap
    can interest in history in any form after they mentioned
    the covered wagon nothing
    it’s because we don’t believe that ancestry matters is what you are yourself
    it’s an axiom of America selfmade set times


    delete defensive I suppose international class list
    American Pacific
    Civic for knowing and caring so much about a background Simone rental
    is it feel because French’s pizza place on citrus mall stay
    St John of the Cross
    the blue dress
    he has a covered wagon in his family tree


    is on grandmother went to California in one in the 1880s

    avg answers most American treatment had no idea about
    about anything before their own grandmothers if that indifference
    2 history Simone Smith that’s why Americans have so naive
    as always in Vandeven countries American Mason FL
    it’s winter in the foreign land in someone criticizes the United States


    that you come to feel loved American most Midwestern because
    California weather live for 50 years has ever felt like America
    Illinois dot ok
    so how so how did you feel in that moment when im on
    says that
    play thinking about it I started
    my mother had a drawer full of maggots cramps and diarrhea


    I’ve always believed
    not without reason I think that the interest in front of family
    geneology is at the gumline with increasing age
    and at the time I guess I haven’t reached that point
    quickly did because I thought I should look into those manuscripts and Irish
    and so I did
    what do you think she was trying to accomplish by bringing that up


    it was probably the continuation of a conversation she didn’t have a
    American husband over the air
    probably fence historical woods way
    kind of flooring in NC
    I could you could just stay here
    Wanderlei a conversation I did have to laugh when I read the park
    the part where she said you know all Americans think they’re descended from royalty


    what that’s ridiculous but then I remembered that my
    my grandfather on my dads side had had told me when
    geological research and he told us that we were descended from Napoleon
    which you could see all of us were all like sex

    after I realize that died in my family Skating what there is always a
    to be related to somebody way back who was it was important


    yeah I know it’s true
    when I haven’t heard usually is
    as it was in my family
    the cafe in festival

    and I would ask the audience


    how many people had a tradition
    condition of someone great
    very high proportion
    everybody listeners have have
    Family Feud questions or comments for Diane Johnson
    give us a call at 1 802 to 2945 email at will
    talking at Facebook and Twitter at a Twitter


    Twitter @ focus 580 and leave a message for a there and will get back to you
    just one last question about the French
    do you feel that the Europeans in particular have a better sense of their head
    history of Nations as individuals or is that something that there
    will talk more about this question a basic answer now that something that you think is
    is actually true true I think of a number
    free things in their education


    little so different from all the places in Glendora
    Brownsburg Zampa has a more compact history where of America
    has a live in different regions are after dentist on
    on educating the luck of the West what happened in Louisiana
    California and outside of the side of the big picture sometime
    time impressed with how
    school children are made to remember all those Louis MO


    do deers a little bit so
    counter with somone and in France with with the general
    general you decided to start pursuing
    family history maybe it’s starting to work on your own story of your family so
    talking bout moving in your childhood bear
    is that the winter wear currently experiencing this year in central Illinois
    your recently in Chicago on your book tour you might have had a little taste of exactly like your description


    scription of winter in Moline that you gave in yearbook we all feel like we been wearing
    wearing many layers of clothes for several months now
    Chicago one day when it was I thinking
    17 below on my book to a couple weeks ago
    I don’t like it I like it very very much longer but it took me back
    low freezing water
    Logan grade school from my house


    why have to say it’s actually been awhile since we’ve experienced a winter like that
    here our selves how long has it been since
    the wall above the winter season in the Midwest when was the last time
    sixth and I had to move to California
    and of course I’ve never had anything even if
    address in winter even when we go skiing in the ass


    it’s not that common like in the
    3800 just below freezing with nothing like
    below zero in fact I don’t think that people can even imagine
    experiences talking to people overseas aid
    crazy for living here
    back in the 1930s 40’s and 50’s you know when your book sounds like it was
    largely untouched by the outside world in a lot of ways


    what does feel that way to me because I was
    I was a child on Goodreads about far away places
    and I know that we did not have
    sailing ships above all
    pirate Council

    videos of child even even Tom Sawyer


    amor eterno amor Aventura
    little girl in Moline even though he wasnt that far away
    do you think that insularity is more of a small town thing
    or is it that you need to Midwest
    it’s just a little bit a condition of being in the Midwest
    when I start would I find myself thinking about it said and realize
    it was true that you’re a thousand miles ocean when you’re in my way


    or or more
    during the war yes they were headlines yesterday
    they came every morning with
    details of of the war but it wasn’t
    funny thing to do with the war
    graphical reality I fink so in the book
    book you talk a little bit about how you loved parrot stories and you love to read


    can you talk a little bit about the library that you visited when you when you were growing up
    ESI I was happy to see that it was still there
    InMotion when I visit a couple of years ago it was the Carnegie Library
    is there were in love lots of small towns in America
    what is that was such a great thing that
    Andrew Carnegie did to build Library
    smaller communities over over the country


    and they were wonderful looking if you if you’ve ever seen a Carnegie Library with the column
    looking Library the Carnegie Library
    is closed Anu
    community library is here and I think you’re looking for something to do with the
    what the building that as a couple years ago it was in the news
    pencil eyebrows which is sad but at least fans turn it down
    down when to when you were a kid was that what it was clearly a center for youth


    you had a really have the library and I feel like libraries
    even now I remain at the center of small town life
    what it seems like a library still remains
    place that sounds like it was really important place for Moline as well it was very
    very important that I have to say when I was on my book to I
    beautiful library in Libertyville
    and you know it boot it really


    the continuum of the library
    the community center place to get books on now
    media related things and it was a fairytale land
    the community and that the flushing library
    okay we’re going to go to the phones online for we have Steve
    Eve from Urbana
    my last name is Julia


    HRL lyer and for my whole life my brothers
    paternal grandfather
    that are surname was a French Huguenot
    we believe him well I look to research and it didn’t take much dick
    its in fact an occupational name the originals
    hial lier
    workman who does that


    and it is hot pseudo houses and then the other fat so I just
    tourney for the Interstate Commerce will he was working on
    nevermind he was bright mad at any other matter I wanna bring up
    I had this friend moved to Urbana
    Anna from Evanston to two and a half years ago
    distressing time and close friend here


    family law photo

    that’s what I did she said it well if I had to I would never
    when did the revelations that I have had the experience going
    are you might make my father was a brilliant photographer
    completely missed his call and he should have been
    genius photographer


    it’s like Faulkner said I don’t know if I have the exact wording
    famous quotes of William the past is never pass it isn’t even
    dead people
    who sings it all that was in the past forget about it move on
    something so Calif that that that stuff
    yeah I’m so glad you didn’t


    do it is another Mather and sometimes the Chevalier
    things really dont spit ball
    thank you Steve for your call an effect anyone else has AIDS
    I want to ask our guest Diane Johnson 1 800
    9455 mail it will talk at
    Facebook or Twitter @ focus 580 and Diane
    Diane we just received a tweet from reign Mary Queen of Scots


    what is a story in her mom’s family
    lily thai
    Mary Queen of Scots
    do the math
    it’s very likely that bad
    descendants of if anyone that was alive
    Queen of Scots OH


    truth very often they do
    think there’s something in the
    International psi kids don’t you about wanting some connection
    European history or or the history of the old country
    from which immigrants come to
    keep that connection have a sensor off of the past
    the past tense of the whole new country with everyone


    talking about no stories to tell my ticket Delta because
    because our country’s history is relatively young compared to
    European countries is Histories go back millenia really
    there are histories in North America that go back millenia also b***
    what are current culture that immigrant culture from Europe
    are becoming a nation in 1776 history is really not that old


    old and so I think maybe you’re right that’s that that’s part of it
    Steve who talked about his
    the divisions of his name is another way of recovery
    recovering history what people think of their family
    family name of the place that the format
    forbearance left until then some of the history
    in his steps to love


    probably came from France so
    so that we try to hold on
    we have another color online for bill is driving
    riding on his way on his way to the family farm
    full size my family back
    2010 Minnesota Minnesota Saipan
    back to 1601 Fulton Illinois


    back to France and Germany
    everybody’s got friends people
    people as answer if you’re from Western Europe
    Cleopatra related to Caesar


    remember the mass murder
    character only the good get remembered
    member of the very very bad to write yes you have that
    link to somebody who is a truly an outlaw that’s not so bad either
    when we were talking at the well my great great


    great grandmother was the host of 4 Jesse James

    flights from the banks bill for your call
    I’m sitting in virgin Meadows today we’re going to take a short break year
    I’m talking this hour with Diane Johnson she’s in a clean daughter whos recent memoir fly over live
    contractor upbringing in Moline Illinois
    questions about how Americans see themselves in relationship history this is focus


    WI AM 580
    Diane Johnson screenplays
    94 the break your talking again about our relationship
    relationship with true or not to a famous or folks
    Cecil from Saint Joseph
    Joseph is on the line hi thanks for sharing stories
    nice out we have a semicolon


    my kind of story family and I found a whole lot of history and it was related to
    infamous people and they hit them to research in
    unchanged go away after my father passed to change the way we are with herself
    heritage of astonishment very proud
    city with a very similar meanings and after my father passed weekend
    can cause a document politician 3340
    at that had a chase down


    and it turns out that we are in Spanish
    French indeed again and back time
    Mike Kemp great grandfather actually came across something called
    first ship iss the Huguenots word from England
    and I just found out 3 interesting
    are some of the things that are princess resort but when you find out
    find out so much more about you know that your real history


    not here say I just furniture
    best writing I’m a couple things
    it turns out that I have never understood the extent to which
    people of France in the Midwest there was a lot of emphasis on on Germantown
    in my timeline
    Louis from Scandinavia but in fact France
    America from from the Alleghenies


    the Rocket from the Great Lakes who booty
    is there was a massive French immigration
    best way to part of that so
    looking up more you know
    your nationality is completely different
    I wonder what they have


    friends at what point of the family
    Spanish is there was a hole
    holtel that was created around it is well my father told to stay at someone came from the
    Old Republic for a bow at the end
    they said that the people in New Orleans couldn’t understand
    Gracian the name at the end


    and then eventually the W was dropped in thats my name
    Italian or Spanish name an exactly exactly
    Cecil thank you so much
    how much for your call
    Alva who says American history of young many immigrants in captivity wanted to forget the past


    the past and begin anew think that’s an interesting point over here
    I do think that’s true
    specially people
    my family have come early in alphabet
    most of the memories of anything that happened in the Old West
    long fence
    no recollection of the old country anything but


    for somebody who had the Advent wreath
    Mikasa solar oil level on the Holocaust
    cost any of those things
    and so I think at a certain point
    work from the 1880s
    1920 that was very much
    program UK you dropped your own language


    encourage your children to learn that
    embrace American but of course not
    it’s really sad when people could have learned another language
    this idea was mistaken a lot of way
    is that we should have


    not going out the family paper right right sided love reading about
    about your great great great grandmother and I think that’s great
    so she’s a little further
    into your history shes born in 1779 if I’m not mistaken
    so your family had had come over for a while and had their names
    maybe not exactly changed but certainly change something
    is something a little more American like in your family


    call France Way
    what was pretty funny but really I really like dreaming about
    she actually seems like a teenage girl from any era
    you always feeling like she’s doing all the work and no one really understand her
    more about her about her life was like before she married
    is this he was born as his hand 1779 and so that was doing
    American Revolution her father or some kind of joke


    who is a in the Santa professional family
    family things are really cry primitive in 1779
    so so that would have been open fire
    lots and lots of laundry to do in the probably would have had a hired girl
    leg b***
    had to do a lot of work and so as a girl
    how many 96 girls


    principle of occupation
    area of a circle
    what was related to the church
    Church going to the descendants of characters
    Pilgrims and a very caught up in the ology


    and so
    going to different meanings of different denominations
    I’m also that she was a teenager with a very
    fervor in the country it was
    is it was called the Great Awakening and people
    with all kinds of method is a Presbyterian Rosa


    azfamily would wear to a concert that point
    but at that time the Church of England whetstone
    the revolution was an over anyway so she
    into the logical questions like
    will the nation with one big subject
    big word for her definition is weather
    weather not your dander saved has been decided


    nothing that you can do nothing that you just can’t change it
    she was worried about bad to cut off Dancing
    say but I suppose you
    epic church
    young Mr Perkins
    Mary’s when she’s a tan in real life
    Vegas live in very rustic circumstances


    in the wilderness in a cabin
    The Weeknd
    primitive life for a season 4

    middle middle class people note 2 or listener
    if you have a question or comment about memoir personal history or the Midwest place in history
    we would love to hear from you at 1 800 22 29455


    will talk at Illinois .edu or you can just be a social media and Facebook
    Facebook and Twitter at focus 5800 the next generation after
    after an
    Kathryn was quite the writer
    Ann’s writing kind of drops off because she probably had all these kids to deal with b*** Catherine
    Catherine Rohr quite a bit with an unusual for that time I don’t know
    it’s really very hard to find out how many people have


    grandmother diarrhea in their attic something it is heated
    is he into the relatively unusual but um but they’re not writing is Delaware
    and so I think maybe girls diarrhea
    Diary like
    statesman like to do a professional to do so
    I think it was more than usual for women 5’3 heard


    just grateful that is a generation
    people have held on to do with something
    importance of these women voices
    are there lots of others out there
    IHOP distance from somebody listening
    remember only a I go to look at that girl
    Ashley recently had a program edition of focus that was about the preservation of


    vision of family heirlooms including people out there who are starting to dig around looking for those things
    things that would be
    what to do with them
    but I think will need to be aware of what
    archival resources are found in which library is win
    accept things like this
    should encourage library to a car


    this kind of material which is on the way
    is the meaning of deciding to throw it out
    Fred from Urbana online 1
    it’s a comment on place names that were adopted by our ancestors from other places
    French Andhra incest records all along the rivers
    in the Midwest the French were some of the first
    European place name all over and from


    your part of the state that Moline IL later
    immigrants from New York State canal in the Great Lakes
    place names I think maybe one of the closer wanted to where you grew up with
    the town of Geneseo name for the Genesee tribe I think of the name
    Native American names were also years and up but also other
    mother TownePlace names for New York State little town of Utica
    what comes to mind when you aware of any of that when you were out


    come along Aaron in Moline
    the local area being called the Quad Cities sure of course
    when I was growing up actually I have the address to the 4th
    what is the fourth and maybe he’s falling out
    or Bendorf Iowa
    in and out
    place names of the fence


    because of his lesson was about 5
    Father Marquette and Joliet
    me cumming
    the Erie Canal in Mississippi and of course the
    does playing February
    hot and lots and lots of friends
    Detroit lots of Midwestern Center names that wave anglicized


    my mother
    what Sica
    American tribal names what was the name of the prince
    what Sica so
    tradition that up thank you
    thank you for your call I died and I just
    I want to get back to Katherine really quick eventually got married


    part of the Yankee migration moving from from what is the NE
    Illinois sickness
    and death or constant actually in a lot of the writing that you do talking about your ancestors
    sick or dying or something terrible is happening in
    there’s a part in the book written by Kathryn Kathryn involving the death
    three of her daughters and I had to get up
    he’s around the room for a few minutes after reading those words that story was was incredible


    how how did people handle that how did Catherine handle that how
    how did people even recover from something like that
    2009 children in data
    three little Khalsa weather like 531
    something within a couple of weeks but over there should have
    boy died


    and then all the Left
    but very little
    photos from the confirmation but I’m not sure
    what church going of Korra
    does Akoo
    little girls when she writes about it later she said something like
    when I got up they will go on


    she was taken sick by the same as he was in
    stay right so I think maybe the
    the collapse today the boy with
    with great difficulty and waffles
    mystery really how how brave people wear her writing about it
    about it I thought was was incredibly powerful so I’m very glad that you include that in the b***
    in the book we have another color online to its Ron from Decatur and he has


    as he wants a comment on how he knows about his family history
    first of my grandmother was a f** offa Jyoti
    she had a Bible what are French Bible with a geology and she took a couple
    couple of a French girl who just come over to help a mountain board of them for a week or two
    crystal the Bible history of gone
    set up my other, is it looks of America
    are part of mixed by have German French to English


    difficult to do genealogy or just one for flight before I go
    willow tree for a complication over here
    to do with a geology
    increasing and sister .com sites in
    in France and I don’t know about Gemini but I would guess probably
    similar thing in Germany
    more more things are digital eyes that’ll be possible to track


    black people on their voyage essence of find out a bit more
    about what about the people that the Gamo over
    what the families were doing and where they were in the old gum tree
    bentos a lot of different record themselves a very good
    good and they go back back back in o2
    some of the 15th century
    yeah so


    thank you so much for your call bring me to
    do a question about writing a biography how is it going to change now that we have the Internet
    information you think what I think
    problem too much information
    what in in the long way it’s a great blue in all of the stuff that’s been all the census records
    everything that’s been on
    and I just think it’s going to be up to the challenge of people not to


    rise up to do something with air with air genealogical
    thats that represents a little bit of
    organization and so are you talking about how
    because he working so many other genres house write a memoir different from working
    will iphone


    remind myself that these were stories of truth
    true stories in this case but they were still stores that have had to be told in it
    Benetton a kind of novel is not novelist
    you have to make the characters Claire
    Claire and the narrative sequence has to be understandable
    37 kind of climax
    Maxtor ending to the story that you’re telling her that says about Anna cafe


    think thin
    the hottest pepper in the world list talking about my own life
    very self reflective person
    and so when I try to
    memories came rushing and then I had before
    out of this stuff in my own mind make a selection
    election I would give an idea life in on me and my family was like until I’m just


    as examples of Midwest America I will interest was in
    and in this region in the little towns in ND
    lives of those those courageous people who came trekking across
    crossed a root canal in wagon
    Bloomington OR
    how to live how long did it take you to


    well I have a couple
    sum of the parts of a written from time before
    Publix the general
    weather experience
    I had written up and so that was
    changes to make it fit in but it was already written
    fat ass so I was a boy


    is material that I put into some kind of shape
    so just things up
    you know we got about a minute left do you miss
    living in the Midwest that you split I should tell that you split your time between San Francisco
    France and you left the Midwest permanently when you are 16
    and I know you’ve been back to visit is it a place you miss is there anything about it
    do you have a more than that


    book about your life I think so I think when I back off
    hilltop of years ago 3 years ago
    and then I of course have this
    experience of things that I remember
    forgotten about green and beautiful
    foliage was American society


    remember those we love to have you
    what have you back for a visit sometime in Urbana Champaign but I actually have to
    how many more questions for you but don’t have to do it for today Diane Johnson thank you so much
    talking with me to date and lovely
    sitting in this hour for gym Meadows have been talking with Diane Johnson
    Johnson about her recent memoir flyover lives you can find out more about her and her book

    focus is produced by Lindsey moon Jason Croft is our technical director and Ryan weather is our intern for the pro
    the program pocus is life weekday mornings at 10 with replay at 8 p.m. You can always
    always find free downloadable pod cast of the show again our website will.illinois
    Illinois focus on to Marshall have an encore presentation of what
    what doctors feel emotions affect the practice of medicine
    thank you so much for joining us