Cynthia Frank-Stupnik taught high school English, advised both oral interpretation and the school newspaper. She rounded out her career by teaching Composition and Introduction to Literature for a local university and technical college.
Over the years, through all her researching, reflecting, and writing, she realized that she had ties, more like spurts of DNA, throughout the Midwest–Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. Like Hamlin Garland‘s homestead journeys around some of these same areas, her maternal and paternal families left their footprints.
After researching and compiling family histories about Dakota Territory, the land her German-Russian ancestors claimed in the 1870s, she wrote her first book, Steppes to Neu-Odessa: Germans from Russia Who Settled in Odessa Township, Dakota Territory, 1872-1876.
When she pursued her master’s degree in English, she developed an interest in women’s history. Her thesis, Harvesting Their Stories: South Dakota’s Writers’ Perspectives on Pioneering Women, 1870-1900, (I will upload thesis soon) draws from a collection of female protagonists who exhibit the strength and resilience needed to help settle the west.
In 2004, she wrote her second book. A memoir of mixed genre, poetry and creative non-fiction, Postcards from the Old Man and Other Correspondence from Clearwater, Minnesota, follows her early years in this little town huddled between the Clearwater and Mississippi rivers.
Women’s strength, their ability to adapt to harsh conditions and nearly impossible situations is the focus of much of her writing, from poetry to short story to her first novel, Scruples and Drams, A Novel of Minnesota’s Main Street Women (North Star Press, May 2015). Her sequel is about Maude Porter, Clearwater’s oldest settler. Pins & Needles, another in the series of Minnesota Main Street Women, published in October 2018 picks up about fifteen years later than Jennie’s story in Scruples. Some of the locals are buying automobiles and the telephone has now intruded into almost all residents lives. Maude, the protagonist is on fire though. Men from across the street at Pat Quinn’s Saloon cause way too many problems–drunken brawls, break-ins all over town to use the phone, now, it has become personal. The answer? Shut down Quinn’s Saloon.
A poet at heart, Stupnik compiled and published a book of poems, Passages, about her faith and how it has grown and reshaped itself over the years. Her next project was Around Clearwater, which was published by Arcadia Publishing and launched in August 2016. Her next project is a sequel to Jennie Phillips’ story, Scruples & Drams, the story of Maude Porter, one of the first children born in Wright County. Born in 1862 to two of Clearwater’s pioneers, Tom and Abigail Porter, she lived to be 103 and led quite a life in this small community. She was a milliner, an active Women’s Christian Temperance Union member, and a fighter for suffrage. She never married and lived in only two houses in Clearwater, both on Main Street. Needles and Pins is HERstory about her desire to help women get the vote and make their lives better.
Besides longer works, she has published short stories, creative non-fiction, and poems. She is proud that some of her writing has earned first-place awards and has been recognized with a few literary awards along the way. The latest one is from the United Methodist Church General Commission on Archives and History —Women in United Methodist History Research Grant– for her research and written work on the Reverend Mary MacNicholl, Minnesota first ordained woman in the Methodist faith. And, at heart, even though she is now retired, she considers herself a poet, novelist, researcher, history lover, and overall, teacher and storyteller.
A Taste of Poetry
POSTCARD FROM THE OLD MAN
Black loons skim my rock-line banks,
sip their sacrament to April days,
sing solemn psalms to my rhythmic beat.
On the horizon that barnacles sea to sky,
white gulls extend their sails, scoop my shores.
Brawny birches wave bon voyage
as I trickle forth in a silver stream . . .
I pick up hitchhiking streams along the way.
Paddling past St. Cloud,
I swoosh by clumps of pussy willows,
growing alongside lilacs and wild plum in white blossom.
Clearwater River’s mouth opens wide,
sending rippled yawns in my direction.
May 6th . . . male toads begin their trill,
calling for mates to meet by marshy milkweeds.
Sleek, black muskrats dive,
flapping their tails at anglers
casting lines from my clay-packed beaches.
Not much further before I plunge
on my muddy descent. . .
New Orleans. . .
Having a good time-
Wish you were here.
A Daughter of the Middle Border
Garland writes about my earthy grandmothers
who left eastern hamlets
to follow their wander-lusting husbands
across Dakota prairies.
These petticoat farmers produced the manna,
feeding the men who grappled with the land.
But their own hunger was harder to stave off
without churches, schools, and McClure’s.
North of Yankton, my youthful father tired of treeless plains,
left the rise and fall of the coteau.
Hankering after richer pastures,
he drifted east, sinking his spade in Minnesota’s fields.
Years later, I, like my grandmothers,
trekked to Dakota to work alongside my spouse.
We tilled the land in a different way,
reclaiming their inheritance of Canaan’s blessings.
While home for now may be inside this Harvey Dunn landscape
of azure skies, green-gold desert, and pasque flowers-
I feel Twain’s anchor, Old Man River,
tugging at my veins.
(c) 2002 Stupnik