Jack cracks corn jokes at Hotel Pattee author event

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Some 30 diners gathered Friday night around a long table in the Spring Valley Ballroom of the Hotel Pattee in Perry for a corn-themed meal with Iowa author Zachary Michael Jack, center, who followed the meal by readings selections from his novel and offering observations about the latest round of Iowa caucuses.

Iowa writer-farmer Zachary Michael Jack, author of “Corn Poll: A Novel of the Iowa Caucuses,” regaled some 30 corny diners Friday with tales of horror and woe from the literary latitudes of eastern Iowa.

Jan Kaiser, owner of Kick Marketing in Woodward in longtime marketing manager for the Des Moines Public Library, introduced Zachary Michael Jack, whose novel, "Corn Poll," sheds a timely light on the Iowa Caucuses.
Jan Kaiser, owner of Kick Marketing in Woodward in longtime marketing manager for the Des Moines Public Library, introduced Zachary Michael Jack, whose novel, “Corn Poll,” sheds a timely light on the Iowa Caucuses.

Jack heaped special praise on the fresh soups served up by Jay Hartz, owner of the Hotel Pattee, who gave lavish attention to every detail of the corn-themed meal, which also included corn muffins, corn bread and corn biscuits.

Set in the semi-mythical town of Hereford, Iowa, “Corn Poll” is a roman à clef and teems with cleverly named and thinly disguised characters, such as the political operative and party chair Prince Rebus, journalists George Agropolis and Donna Sawyers and politicians Rochelle Boxman, Paul Paule and Mike Santoro.

The hero of “Corn Poll” is one Preston Truman Jacobs, erstwhile reporter for a minor suburban daily near Denver. For most of the novel, Jacobs is poised between the twin attractions of Amethyst Gilchrest, ambitiously blonde New York Times correspondent, and the winsome Katie Clarke, daughter of Herb Clarke, editor of the local Hereford newspaper.

Herb Clarke is a crusty, prickly, hard-bitten newsman “who’s lived in Hereford all his life, knows all the secrets and bows down to no one,” as Jack described him — rather far-fetchedly — Friday in Perry. The digital revolution has taught most U.S. newspaper editors and publishers how to bow.

Iowa author Zachary Michael Jack  discussed his novel, "Corn Poll," over a corn-themed meal at the Hotel Pattee Friday.
Iowa author Zachary Michael Jack discussed his novel, “Corn Poll,” over a corn-themed meal at the Hotel Pattee Friday.

After dinner, Jack read a few passages from his novel. He paused before beginning the final one and said, “Well, I could read one more –or should we just keep eating?” His praise of the quality of the food served by Hartz was indeed boundless — with perhaps a winking allusion to the Midwestern fashion for wintertime overeating.

Jack is a seventh-generation Iowan who works his family’s Heritage Farm in Jones County. He is also an assistant professor of English at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., and is sometimes called on to commute to the campus daily. The duty would be roughly the same as driving back and forth every day to a job in Des Moines from a home in Iowa City.

Jack also chatted with his fellow diners about the prospects for the Iowa Caucuses as a fixture of future presidential politics. He said he thinks the caucuses are “in danger” and will continue to be challenged by other states wishing to “leap frog” Iowa and capture the premier place in the primaries.

“As Iowa becomes more autonomous and less predictable,” Jack said, “we’ll have a harder and harder time keeping our first place.” He said the caucuses could come to be lumped together in a regional arrangement with New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“Let’s hold on to the goodness we have,” Jack said.

IMG_4853 corn
Topping the corn-themed meal Friday night at the Hotel Pattee was caramel corn cake with Picket Fence ice cream. Hotel Pattee owner Jay Hartz, left, and major domo Steve Adams gave the finishing touches to the sweet dishes prior to serving.

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