Associated Press, Published June 10 2008
National Geographic writer visits N.D. to defend earlier article on it, then suggests Gov. Hoeven might be less literate than an Arkansas 10-year-oldBISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakotans who felt an article on "The Emptied Prairie" unfairly put down their state should get over it, the writer said, later suggesting to a reporter that Gov. John Hoeven might be less literate than an Arkansas 10-year-old.
Charles Bowden gave the keynote speech Monday at the a summer geography institute at Bismarck State College, and spoke to reporters.
Bowden's article, which ran in National Geographic Magazine in January, drew editorials and strong criticism from North Dakota officials. A letter from Gov. John Hoeven said the story was "way off the mark."
"I think most people thought, 'the state is never mentioned in a national magazine and when it is, you picked this to talk about,'" Bowden said.
"The comic thing for me is, I really like this place," he said.
In his lecture, Bowden said Arizona has problems similar to North Dakota's. Arizona, he said, has a severe drought and faces water rationing as well as other resource shortages. He said both states lack the ability to sustain large populations and used up too many geologic resources.
"I'm making a simple point, folks, about where I live and where you live," he said. "We seem to mistake the present moment for the way things have been and will be."
Bowden also took on critics of the article.
"I don't know about your governor, I haven't met him," Bowden told KFYR TV. "But I guarantee you I can hand it to a 10-year-old in Arkansas, and they'd read it, and they'd perfectly understand it. If people in North Dakota can't reach the level of a 10-year-old in Arkansas, I don't know what to say."
Bowden said he thought the reaction to the article was a tempest in a teapot.
"Anybody that reads knows the article was about an earlier period of settlement that didn't work," says Bowden. "It's not about the state today."
Bowden said North Dakota is a beautiful state.
"How could you live here and think this is a failing state?" he asked. "Get over it."