A Bookworm’s Road Trip Inspired By Famous Nebraska Authors

Nebraska is one of those “gem” states. It’s whimsical, it’s beautiful, it’s rugged, it’s competitive, and it’s fun.

I know other states have plenty of great qualities, but I think there’s something about this diverse state that makes it perfect for just about everyone. 

Whether you’re in it for the museums, hiking, agritourism, boating, theatre — you name it — there’s something for you. There’s even something for people like me, who would much rather curl up with a good book than step foot on a hiking trail. 

Nebraska has been called home by more than a few extremely influential literary figures, and with well-maintained historical sites dedicated to these incredible authors, it’s easy to turn a road trip into something fun and educational.

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Willa Cather (Red Cloud, Neb.) 

Known for: “O Pioneers!,” “My Antonia,” “Death Comes for the Archbishop

A view of downtown Red Cloud, Nebraska. You can see the sign for the Willa Cather State Historic Site on a building on the lefthand side of the road.
Photo courtesy Robert Olsen

When it comes to famous Nebraskan authors, it doesn’t get much more prolific than Willa Cather. Recognized by notable critics as “…one of the most important American novelists of the first half of the 20th Century,” Cather is listed among greats like Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. 

Willa Cather lived most of her life in Red Cloud, Neb., and the city has become a literary destination visited by people from across the nation.

The National Willa Cather Center is only the beginning of Cather-related features in Red Cloud, alongside tours of Cather’s childhood home, literature-centric events, and even the recently-renovated and reopened Red Cloud Opera House. 

Important Addresses:

  • National Willa Cather Center, 425 N. Webster St., suite 2466, Red Cloud, Neb.
  • Willa Cather’s childhood home, 241 N. Cedar St., Red Cloud, Neb.
  • Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, 5 miles south of Red Cloud, Neb.

Mari Sandoz (Chadron, Neb.)

Known for“Old Jules,” “Crazy Horse,” “Buffalo Hunters,” years of Native American advocacy

Mari Sandoz was born in Mirage Flats, Neb., near Hay Springs. With an in-depth knowledge of life in the Sandhills, and a passion for sharing the history of and advocating for Native Americans, her writings have become an important part of Nebraska’s cultural history.

Exterior of Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center in Chadron, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Daniel Binkard/Chadron State College

Through extensive in-person interviews of Crazy Horse’s peers, she wove together the infamous biography of the celebrated warrior in a time when many people had no interest in the persecution of the Native Americans. 

You can visit the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center on the Chadron State College campus in Chadron, Neb. The center has exhibits and archives available, along with educational programming coordinated by the Mari Sandoz Heritage Society. Admission is free. 

Important Address:

  • Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center at Chadron State College, 1101 Main St., Chadron, Neb.

What’s nearby: Chadron State Park

John G. Neihardt (Bancroft, Neb.)

Known for: “The Divine Enchantment,” “A Cycle of the West,” “Black Elk Speaks

At the age of 11, John G. Neihardt, along with his mother and two sisters, settled in Wayne, Neb. Neihardt would eventually graduate from Wayne Normal College at 16, and move to Bancroft, Neb, where he worked as the editor of the local weekly publication, “The Bancroft Blade.” 

The exterior of the John G. Neihardt Study in Bancroft, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

His body of work is massive, beginning with the poetry he began writing at the age of 12, and progressing to his position as Nebraska’s Poet Laureate at age 40.

One of his most famous works, “Black Elk Speaks“, grew from his acquaintance and fascination with Native American tribes of the region. 

The John G. Neihardt State Historic Site in Bancroft offers an interestingly varied experience. You can visit the “Sacred Prayer Hoop Garden,” designed by Neihardt and inspired by Oglala Lakota Holy Man, Black Elk, as well as visit Neihardt’s study and the memorial room, dedicated to his life. 

Important Address:

  • John G. Neihardt State Historic Site, 306 Elm St., Bancroft, Neb.

Bess Streeter Aldrich (Elmwood, Neb.) 

Known for: “The Rim of the Prairie,” “A White Bird Flying,” “A Lantern in Her Hand

Bess Streeter Aldrich published nine novels, one novella, two short story compilations, and over 160 other short stories and articles over the course of her 40-year career.

She and her husband settled in Elmwood, Neb., where she raised their children and supported them through college by way of her literary earnings, once her husband passed away in 1925.

She was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Nebraska in 1934, and was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame posthumously in 1973. Aldrich’s novel, “A Lantern in Her Hand“, is read in many high school English classrooms across the country, providing a heartfelt, authentic look into the life of Midwestern pioneers.

You can visit the Aldrich House and Bess Streeter Aldrich Museum in Elmwood, Neb. You can enjoy tours of both the author’s home and the museum for a small admission fee.  

Important Addresses:

  • Aldrich House, 204 E F St., Elmwood, Neb.
  • Bess Streeter Aldrich Museum, 124 W. D St., Elmwood, Neb.

What’s nearby: Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari

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This is a great way to explore Nebraska - road trip to destinations related to famous Nebraska authors and Nebraska poets! This is the ultimate list of places to visit in Nebraska if you consider yourself a bookworm.

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