University of Northern Iowa
Phone: (319) 268-1001

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He attended the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), graduating with a vocal music education degree in 1965, a Master’s Degree in English in 1968 and a Ph.D in Modern Letters from the University of Iowa in 1978. Dr. Cawelti taught at UNI from 1968-2008. During his career at UNI, Dr. Cawelti taught numerous writing, film and literature courses, as well as American Civilization, collaborating with three other faculty on a humanities “cluster course,” consisting of Humanities II, American Civilization, Expository Writing and Oral Communication. He has published two writing textbooks and edited The Complete Poetry of James Hearst, (University of Iowa, 2001). In addition, Cawelti is the author of Brother's Blood: A Heartland Cain and Abel (Ice Cube Press, 2011) a creative nonfiction book about the Mark family murders in Cedar Falls. 

Dr. Cawelti retired from UNI in 2008 and continues writing, leading discussions, and offering musical presentations. Dr. Cawelti is married with two children. If you want a preview of Dr. Cawelti’s performance, click here to watch him on YouTube and a special viewing of After the People Go.

Robert James Waller’s Songs/Poetry:  An Appreciation
Most people are surprised to learn that popular Iowa novelist Robert James Waller (1939-2017) wrote and performed songs for years before he wrote fiction. He aspired to professional songwriting, and once traveled to Nashville where he auditioned his songs for producers. His song lyrics are dense, complex, lengthy and often deeply sad—not the stuff of pop hits. So Waller never developed his songwriting talents, but his lyrics and melodies are worth enjoying and pondering in detail. This presentation offers an opportunity to do just that. In “Robert James Waller’s Songs/Poetry: An Appreciation,” Dr. Cawelti will play six or seven Waller songs (from the 1984 cassette) and discuss each song in detail. Waller and Cawelti performed the songs from 1980 to 1986 around Iowa with their former band, “Winter Ridge Handy.” Waller’s consistent themes of loss, isolation, sadness and perseverance run throughout his work, most intensely and obviously in these songs. In particular, “North Dakota Transfer” directly echoes both the plot and character of his blockbuster novel, “Bridges of Madison County,” the song having been written at least a decade before “Bridges.” Dr. Cawelti's talk will offer an in-depth examination and appreciation of Robert James Waller from the perspective of his musical and songwriting talents and how they relate to his prose writing, including his essays and novels.   


Landscape Iowa: Poems of James Hearst, Sung
Cawelti explores the life and poetry of Iowa farmer-poet James Hearst, having been Hearst’s student and colleague from 1968 until Hearst’s death in 1983. Cawelti will perform several of Hearst’s poems he has set to music, accompanying himself on acoustic steel-string guitar, chosen from these sixteen poems: “After the People Go,” “Forsythia,” “Green Voice,” “Hog Economy,” “Landscape Iowa,” “The Malicious Spirit of Machines,” “Orchard Man,” “Seventy Times Seven,” “Snake in the Strawberries,” “The Movers,” “Truth,” “What is a Cow?” “Whatever Happened?” “When a Neighbor Dies,” and “Who, Who?”

In addition, a professionally produced CD (made by Cawelti) of these songs will be available to preview the program, and offered for sale at the time of the performance. The CD and MP3 download is also available on