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Resident archivist publishes a novel

January 31, 2012

MEDIA CONTACT: Hilary Dickinson at or 608-363-2849 

Around Beloit College he’s known as the author of the popular weekly column, Fridays with Fred, but archivist Fred Burwell’86 is also the author of a novel, his first.

Prairie Hill, a story about two young people in a small 1980s Wisconsin city, was recently published as an e-book. So far it’s available at and Barnes and Noble for $2.99.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Burwell, who started writing the novel four years ago. “Writing it was one of the best experiences of my life.”

The idea for Prairie Hill originated out of a story that was published in 1991 in a literary baseball magazine called Fan. Years after, Burwell kept wondering what might have happened to the main character, Jimmy Lathrop, after the story ended.

After writing several drafts and incorporating advice from a dozen readers, Burwell finished the novel about a year ago. He decided to publish it as an e-book because the traditional publishing world is changing, and more and more writers are looking at alternative ways to reach readers.  

Meant to appeal to teenagers and adults, Prairie Hill explores themes of redemption and love and features characters who are struggling to find themselves against the backdrop of threatened tall-grass prairie and a soon-to-be abandoned historic baseball stadium. Most importantly, the characters care about each other, which is something Burwell says he misses in modern fiction.

Readers also have the opportunity to learn more about the characters in a unique way because Burwell took the approach of having the different characters, even minor ones, tell the story.

“It gave me a chance to be all the different people and to look through their eyes and hear their voices,” he said. “I came to have affection for the characters over time, and I hope readers will care about them, too.”

Up next, Burwell is working on a comic fairy tale and continues to write Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary, the latter of which he routinely posts to his blog. For anyone who likes wordplay and off-beat humor, Tales consists of providing a fake definition to a strange or odd word, using the term in a short made-up story, and concluding with the real definition.

Learn more about Burwell, Prairie Hill, and Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary by visiting his blog.

SOURCE: Fred Burwell majored in English Composition at Beloit College where he graduated in 1986. While a student, he edited the Round Table (the student newspaper) and Avatar (the student literary magazine), and he helped found the Beloit Fiction Journal, a national literary magazine.  He was a managing editor with the BFJ until graduation and then worked as associate editor for several years and as editor-in-chief later on for two issues.  A history enthusiast, Burwell has worked as the Beloit College archivist since 1986 where he facilitates the preservation of the college’s historical materials while also making them available for researchers. In 1994, Burwell founded the literary magazine, Acorn Whistle magazine, and served as editor and publisher. He has also published short fiction and non-fiction on a variety of topics including baseball, rock ‘n’ roll, and American history. Burwell can serve as a media resource on the process of publishing an e-book and his reasons for not going the "traditional" publishing route. He could also talk about his novel, Prairie Hill; his Beloit College column, Fridays with Fred; and Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary.