Public Speaking2018-09-13T08:58:20+00:00
Dean Klinkenberg, The Mississippi Valley Traveler

Dean Klinkenberg, The Mississippi Valley Traveler

Are you interested in the history and culture of the Mississippi River Valley? Consider hosting an event with Dean Klinkenberg, the Mississippi Valley Traveler. Klinkenberg, author and photographer, currently offers several different presentations:

The Mississippi River in Song: What the River Means to Us

“My ma and pa got drowned, Mississippi you to blame
Mississippi River I can’t stand to hear your name.”
–from Homeless Blues; Bessie Smith

“Take a chance, leave behind all the troubles that are on your mind
Cause all I want to be is at the Mississippi River.”
–from The Mississippi River; Firehead Jerry

To some people, the Mississippi River is a beast to be feared and hated, while it’s a carefree playground for others. The Mississippi River means something different to each of us. Most of us experience the river through a microscopic lens. We only see what’s right in front of us. We don’t see what others see, so we miss the complexities in our relationship with the river. If we can’t get those perspectives through our own experiences, though, then how? How about through the words of songwriters?

There are hundreds of songs that are directly or indirectly about the river; they cover a wide range of themes. These compositions offer a rich source for exploring the different ways we experience the Mississippi. Dozens of songs, for example, tackle the devastation wrought by a swollen Mississippi River. Other songs cover themes like levees, African American experiences along the river, gambling, river rats, pollution, pretty sunsets, and falling in love on the river.

Many of the songs are from well-known musicians like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, but many more were recorded by talented artists who might only be known to their mothers and best friends. While everyone won’t necessarily love every song, most people will leave humming at least one tune. And everyone will see the Mississippi River in a new way.

“Mississippi River, so long, deep and wide”
–from Mississippi River Blues; Big Bill Broonzy

A standard talk takes about 60 minutes, but it is easily customized to focus more or less on specific themes like:

  • River towns: snapshots of communities from the Headwaters to the Gulf;
  • People of the river: light tenders to Cajuns and Isleños;
  • Floods;
  • Monsters, real and imagined;
  • Boats: flatboats to showboats and shanty boats; and
  • Steamboats.

A standard talk takes about an hour, but it is easily customized. Fees are reasonable.

Klinkenberg presented a version of the talk as a keynote address for the Mississippi River Conference at Moline, Illinois and on the American Queen.


Mississippi, Missouri, or Big Muddy: What’s in a Name?
Why do we call the river in the middle of the country “Mississippi”? Shouldn’t the name Missouri really carry forward to the Gulf, at least until it meets the Ohio River? This talk goes deep into how we named (and have tried to rename) our rivers and why it matters.

The River Ends Like It Begins
The Mississippi River begins and ends in a marsh, but the similarities don’t end there. At each end of the river, residents have a strong connection to the natural world and Indian nations are reconnecting to their cultural and language traditions. There are also on-going battles over balancing conservation with economic development and looming threats from climate change that could bring major changes to each landscape. Even though the Headwaters and the Delta are separated by 2,000 river miles, they enjoy many of the same advantages today and face similar challenges for the future.

The Joys of Travel Along the Mississippi River
Klinkenberg explores the essence of communities through the lens of a traveler. He has been to over 30 countries around the world but has learned that he doesn’t need to travel far to satisfy his desire for local foods, rich culture, and fun people. He finds plenty of that along the Mississippi River. The one-hour talk is richly illustrated with photographs and stories about the people and places along the Mississippi River.

Traveling the Great River Road is a bit easier today

Klinkenberg has presented for a number of groups, including:

  • Des Moines Public Library
  • River Valley District Library; Port Byron, IL
  • Galesburg (IL) Public Library
  • Minnesota City Historical Association
  • Dubuque (IA) Public Library
  • La Crosse County Historical Society
  • Rock Falls (IL) Public Library
  • Clinton County (IA) Historical Society
  • Beltrami County (MN) Historical Society
  • Winona County (MN) History Center
  • Grand Rapids (MN) Public Library
  • Alton (IL) Public Library

“Klinkenberg’s presentation was a big hit. He is funny, informative, and knowledgeable. His informal style had the audience engaged even before the program officially started.”

  • Jane Easterly, Galesburg Public Library, Galesburg, Illinois

“The members from our Writers’ Workshop and those who attended Dean’s presentation enjoyed hearing Dean share his enthusiasm and knowledge from his adventures along the Mississippi. He was an entertaining and informative speaker.”

  • Laura Walth, Librarian, Des Moines Public Library, Iowa.

“Dean Klinkenberg’s presentation to the Des Moines Public Library’s writer’s group was a very informative, highly entertaining experience for me.  He has a great sense of humor and his “tell it like it is” style was obviously appreciated by our group.  I was surprised that as a native Iowan I did not know about many of the interesting sites he covered. Thanks to him I am making a better effort to know my home state.”

  • Terry Crane, Retired Educator, Ankeny, Iowa

View clips from the presentation “In Search of Great Places” below.

To schedule a talk, contact Klinkenberg by email (Dean[at]TravelPassages[dot]com].

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