Barbara Schmitz always wanted to be a writer.
Now known as the Poet of Highway 81, Schmitz has lived and worked in Norfolk, Nebraska, for the past 40 years, and most recently celebrated the release of her ninth book, “What Bob Says (Some More),” published by Backwaters Press on April 6.
Schmitz has also been published in several magazines and anthologies. In 2005, she won the Award for Poetry from the Nebraska Center for the Book.
Born in Plattsmouth, Schmitz attended Wayne State College and later moved to California to be an English teacher. She said she moved back to O’Neill, Nebraska, after a few years in California, then she had the opportunity to study as an apprentice under Beats Generation poet Allen Ginsberg for three years.
In 1978, Schmitz settled in Norfolk, where she now works as an emeritus professor of English at Northeast College.
On April 11, the University Nebraska at Omaha College of Communication, Fine Arts, and Media hosted the Writer’s Workshop Reading Seriesm, with Schmitz as one of the featured poets.
The air in the Weber Art Gallery hummed with quiet anticipation. Students, faculty and visitors mulled about while gathered around rows of folding chairs. Friends passed jokes and new acquaintances exchanged names. The gathering was centered on a podium in the center of the room, from which Nebraska-born poets Marjorie Saiser and Schmitz would read a selection of poems from their new books, “The Woman in the Moon” and “What Bob Said (Some More).”
The Writer’s Workshop has hosted Reading Series for 40 years as an opportunity to bring nationally renowned authors to UNO’s campus. The spring series focused on poetry, readings from Saiser and Schmitz and was hosted by professor Todd Robinson, Ph.D.
Robinson introduced Schmitz as a “living legend,” and described her as “prolific, unstinting and unrelenting.”
Schmitz’s book, “What Bob Says (Some More),” is filled with humorous anecdotes and tales of her life on Nebraska State Highway 81.
UNO student Aubree Fleming attended the reading for class credit. “I also wanted to come to learn more about poetry,” she said. “I left my other class early to come to this,” she added.
She said she appreciated the opportunity to learn more about a subject with which she wasn’t familiar. “They did really well expressing the scenery and the feelings and blending them together.”
Not all in attendance were from UNO. Creighton student Danny Carraher also came to listen to Saiser and Schmitz. “My professor referred us for an assignment,” he said.
Carraher, an English major, is exploring poetry. “It’s new to me. I’m developing that skill,” he said.
In addition to sharing her poetry, Schmitz also shared her writing method. She told the audience that she maintains her writing skills through constant practice.
“I used to write all the time on scraps of paper,” Schmitz said, until a friend told her to get a notebook to keep all her poems.
Schmitz advocated for an intuitive approach to her writing. “I just start to write,” she said. “It just kind of goes where it goes.”
In addition to the world and people around her, Schmitz draws inspiration from her spirituality. “I’m a long-time practitioner of meditation,” she said.
Schmitz intends to remain in Norfolk and continue writing for the rest of her life.
“I’ll have my ashes spread along Highway 81,” she said. “Hopefully I make it to Columbus.”