By Marlys Kruger
Karen (Anderson) Speerstra, a 1958 graduate of Colfax High School has made quite a name for herself in the literary world and in fact, won a significant award this past year for one of the many books she wrote.
Although Karen, now living in Vermont, did some writing in high school, she didn’t become serious about it until after graduating from what was known as Wisconsin State College-Eau Claire in 1962. She had her first article published a year later then went on to teach English and speech at Badger High School in Lake Geneva in southern Wisconsin for a couple of years before marrying John Speerstra in Sand Creek in 1964. After their two sons were born, she decided to become a more serious writer, a job which allowed her to stay home to care for the boys and also help out financially. She began free lance writing for various outlets which included articles, poetry, newspaper columns, Lutheran curriculum, children’s books and women’s spiritual materials, and eventually began writing a column called “Measuring the Marigolds” which ran in several Wisconsin weekly papers before appearing in a national venue. She then started writing books and had her first ones published in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Those books included “The EarthShapers”; “Color-The Language of Light”; “Divine Sparks”; Hunab Ku”; Our Day to End Poverty”; “Green Devotional”; and “Sophia: The Feminine Face of God: Nine Heart Paths to Healing and Abundance” which is her spiritual memoir.
Karen did not know that her publisher, Divine Arts Media had submitted her “Sophia: The Feminine Face of God” book for the prestigious Nautilus Literary award last year. Sophia refers to the Divine Feminine who has been a part of our world from the very beginning and is bigger and more inclusive than any of the names people have called her over time including Gaia Earth, Cyberle and Our Matrix. According to the Nautilus website, the process for choosing award winners is carried out by three teams of highly qualified, experienced reviewers located across the United States whose successful careers as editors, writers, librarians, schoolteachers and book store owners are matched with a passion for books that offer new ideas and options for a better world for everyone. Each book is then evaluated by two judges who use a meticulously prepared evaluation form. Karen earned the 2013 Nautilus Gold award in the Religion-Spirituality or Other category. Last year the award was won by Desmond Tutu, the well known South African social activist and retired Anglican bishop.
“The award was a surprise for me,” Karen said. “This is an award for “better books for a better world” so that means a great deal to me.”
Ideas for her books came from places she happened to be living in throughout her lifetime, or just areas of interest for her. For instance, “The Earthshapers” written in 1980 and still in print, was written about the Hopewellian People and Mississippian or Temple Mounds culture from 700 A.D. To 1700 A.D.
“This book was written when we lived in Prairie du Chien, WI,” Karen said. “The Effigy Mounds National Monument was just across the Mississippi River in McGregor, Iowa. I knew the archeologist (Jim Mount) there and he suggested, after realizing I had published some other children’s books, that they would like a book that would offer young visitors something that went beyond pot shards and dry, dusty facts. So I wrote a story for young adults about these early Native American people. I based the heroine’s grandfather on my friend Jim’s adoptive Navajo grandfather. I had great help from other park officials and archeologists and the manuscript had to pass a national review board before it could be offered for sale by the National Park Service.”
The book “Hunab Ku” came about in 1992 when the Taliban blew up the beautiful old Buddhist figures in Afghanistan.
“Our son Joel was living with us in Cambridge, MA working on his master’s degree at the New England Conservatory of Music,” she said. “We were speculating on why some old artifacts last and others don’t. We began researching ancient symbols and archetypal figures and came up with 77 of them, the oldest from about 30,000 B. C. E. (Before Common Era). We wrote about them, arranged them in a meaningful way and named the book after one of the Mayan “yin-yang” like graphs called Hunab Ku (which means God, One Mover, One Measurement). We worked on it, off and on, for about 13 years before it was published by Crossing Press (now part of Random House).We had intended that it be a card set and book, but it was “born” as a book. Joel drew all the illustrations. It is available in an electronic format, as are many of my other books,” she added.
Other books came about because of her great love of quotations. The book “Green Devotional” was actually asked for by a publisher and has stories that deal with Active Prayers for a Healthy Planet.
Karen is working on her latest book which she is co-authoring with an old friend, Herbert Anderson from Berkeley, who has taught death and dying classes and classes on grieving to seminarians. The title is “The Divine Art of Dying” and the subject hits close to home for Karen. In 2003, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she is now in hospice care after deciding to stop chemotherapy treatments this past December.
After leaving a full time career in book publishing, Karen started a book/writing consulting company in Vermont about 12 years ago. Later, she established the website/ blog site Sophia Serve, which is designed to help others with writing.
“After all my years of writing, instead of becoming a literary agent or starting my own small publishing enterprise I started this website,” she said. “I am a thought partner for people who need a little help pushing words around the page or across the screen.”.
Although she spent her married life of 49 years with John, a Lutheran pastor, away from Colfax, Karen still tries to keep in touch with friends and relatives from the area.
“I was back to Colfax for the 100 year school reunion three years ago,” she said. “But I haven’t gotten back since. I still have cousins in the Sand Creek/Chetek/Menomonie area and I keep up with five or six of my high school friends, mostly by e-mail,” she added.
Information on Karen’s books and writing service can be found at Sophiaserve.com