All Iowa Reads Program Resources
The 2024 All Iowa Reads selection for adults is The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson.
About the Book
Rosalie Iron Wing has grown up in the woods with her father, Ray, a former science teacher who tells her stories of plants, of the stars, of the origins of the Dakhóta people. Until, one morning, Ray doesn’t return from checking his traps. Told she has no family, Rosalie is sent to live with a foster family in nearby Mankato—where the reserved, bookish teenager meets rebellious Gaby Makespeace, in a friendship that transcends the damaged legacies they’ve inherited.
On a winter’s day many years later, Rosalie returns to her childhood home. A widow and mother, she has spent the previous two decades on her white husband’s farm, finding solace in her garden even as the farm is threatened first by drought and then by a predatory chemical company. Now, grieving, Rosalie begins to confront the past, on a search for family, identity, and a community where she can finally belong. In the process, she learns what it means to be descended from women with souls of iron — women who have protected their families, their traditions, and a precious cache of seeds through generations of hardship and loss, through war and the insidious trauma of boarding schools.
A haunting novel spanning several generations, The Seed Keeper follows a Dakota family's struggle to preserve their way of life, and their sacrifices to protect what matters most.
Book Discussion Questions
- Were you aware of the history of the Dakota War of 1862, or of the mass execution in Mankato, Minnesota? How was Native American history taught in your schools, if at all?
- Which tribes and Indigenous communities live in Iowa? Which crops and harvests do they hold sacred? (Adapted from Milkweed reader’s guide questions).
- Rosalie and Gaby have a strong bond, but they also approach the world very differently. What do you think they each offered to the other through their friendship? (Adapted from Milkweed reader’s guide questions).
- The Seed Keeper highlights the tension between viewing seeds through a lens of reciprocity in opposition to regarding seeds solely as commodities. How does Wilson illustrate this tension in the ways Rosalie and her husband John communicate and interact? (Milkweed reader’s guide question).
- Rosalie makes the decision to retreat from the world after John’s death. Why do you think she made that choice for herself after such a loss?
- Integral to the story is the idea that the generations are interconnected. How do you see that playing out in Rosalie and Tommy’s relationship?
- The Author’s Note reveals the original ‘seed’ of the novel — the true story of seeds being sewn into clothing by Dakota women who were being forcibly removed from their homelands in Minnesota in 1863. How does learning about these generations of Native American women who were feeding their families through agriculture help debunk the myth that Indigenous cultures had to be “taught” to farm by white colonizers?
- Ida provides tremendous support for Rosalie once she returns to her childhood cabin. Discuss the impact Ida has on Rosalie over the course of the book.
- The Seed Keeper explores the ways in which identity is linked to a sense of place. How did the book make you reflect on your own relationship with the land and your idea of home?
- According to the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, “Seeds are not just a source of food; they are a record of human history. Seeds are intrinsically connected to culture, health, technology, and the human experience.” Have you ever grown or eaten rare or heirloom varieties of produce? How does living in Iowa, an agricultural state, influence what you eat and your relationship with food?
About Author Diane Wilson
Diane Wilson is a Mdewakanton descendent, enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation (Dakhóta). She is a writer and educator, who has published four award-winning books as well as essays in numerous publications. Wilson has received a Bush Foundation Fellowship as well as awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Jerome Foundation, and the East Central Regional Arts Council.
She is the former Executive Director for Dream of Wild Health, an Indigenous non-profit farm, and the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, a national coalition of tribes and organizations working to create sovereign food systems for Native people. She lives in Shafer, Minnesota.
Reviews and Interviews
Reviews and interviews with Diane Wilson and other information about The Seed Keeper: A Novel:
- "Through the voices of . . . women from past and present, Wilson deepens the reader's understanding of what loss of language and culture has done to Indigenous people . . . A thought-provoking and engaging read." — Booklist (starred review)
- "[A] moving and monumental debut novel . . . Wilson opens her book with the poem, 'The Seeds Speak,' in which the seeds declare, 'We hold time in this space, we hold a thread to / infinity that reaches to the stars.' This novel illuminates that expansiveness with elegance and gravity." — Minneapolis Star Tribune
- "In chapters that shift among the perspectives of four Dakhóta women . . . Wilson tracks Rosalie's attempts to understand her family and her roots, and considers how memory cultivates a sense of connection to the land." — New Yorker
- "Wilson offers finely wrought descriptions of the natural world, as the voice of the seeds provides connective threads to the stories of her people. This powerful work achieves a deep resonance often lacking from activist novels, and makes a powerful statement along the way." — Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
- “With compelling characters and images that linger long after the final page is turned, The Seed Keeper invokes the strength that women, land, and plants have shared with one another through the generations.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Find Copies of The Seed Keeper to Borrow
Find out which Iowa libraries have copies of The Seed Keeper to borrow, or find out how to request sets for discussion groups.
Find in Iowa Libraries:
Find on Bridges: Iowa's eLibrary:
Multiple Copies for Discussion Groups:
- For libraries: Each of the six District Offices for the State Library offers copies for libraries to borrow. Contact your local district office to reserve a set.