BJ Omanson


Morgantown, WV

Author's Bio

BJ Omanson was born and raised in the Spoon River valley of Stark County, Illinois, where both sides of his family have lived and farmed since the mid-19th century.

Omanson dropped out of high school at age 17 and never earned a HS diploma. He began taking college courses the following year and continued to take courses intermittantly over the next twenty-or-so years, eventually earning a BA in English & philosophy from Rockford College.

At 23, Omanson camped for a year in primitive shelters along the Calawah and Hoh rivers on the Olympic Peninsula, where he discovered Taoism and the Cold Mountain poems of Han Shan, and determined to dedicate his life to poetry (see his memoir Three Years on the Nowhere Road).

Over the next fifty years Omanson held a wide range of blue collar jobs, including assembly-line worker in various factories, tree trimmer, logger, shake mill worker, and farmhand. He also clerked in second-hand bookstores for several years. (See his memoir, " Book House Nights").

For six years, on a part-time basis, Omanson worked as design & layout editor for the academic journal, Medieval Perspectives. He used the experience gained in this work to expand his used-book business, Monongahela Books, into book design and publishing, specializing in American history and culture.   Among other history and literary titles, he has published books by such poets as Jared Carter, Dana Gioia and Marc Harshman.

In the early 1990s Omanson rediscovered a completely unknown American poet of the First World War, John Allan Wyeth, and worked over several years, with the help of poet and critic Dana Gioia, to bring Wyeth to light. Their efforts culminated in 2008 in a reprint of Wyeth's 1928 collection, This Man's Army: A War in Fifty-odd Sonnets by the University of South Carolina Press, as part of their Joseph M. Bruccoli Great War Series (general editor Matthew Bruccoli), for which Omanson provided the historical annotations and Gioia the introduction. Omanson would later publish a collection of his own essays on Wyeth, Before the Clangor of the Gun: The First World War Poetry of John Allan Wyeth.  (for more information on Wyeth, see Omanson's blog The War Sonnets of John Allan Wyeth).

In 2019, Omanson published Stark County Poems, a collection of over fifty poems written over thirty years, portraying the history of a small rural county in central Illinois, along the upper Spoon River valley. Chronologically arranged, and incorporating letters, newspaper articles, obituaries, family stories, early county histories and diaries, the poems cover a century of the county's history, from the 1830s through the 1930s.

Before retiring to work on his publishing, research and writing full-time, Omanson worked for ten years as an historical interpreter at Prickett's Fort, a living-history refuge fort (18th century) on the Monongahela River in West Virginia.

BJ Omanson currently lives with his wife, Marian Hollinger, in Morgantown, West Virginia.



Publications & Prizes

New Voices: University and College Poetry Prizes, 8th edition (Academy of American Poets, 2002)
Before the Clangor of the Gun: The First World War Poetry of John Allan Wyeth (Monongahela Books, 2019)
Stark County Poems (Monongahela Books, 2019)
Old Locksley among the Ruins (Monongahela Books, 2018)
Journals: ,
North Stone Review
, , ,
The Hudson Review
Prizes won: 

Academy of American Poets College Prize, Rockford College, 1989

"Closing Inventory" short-listed for the "Best Poem 2022" prize at The Milk House, a rural writing collective based in Ireland.

More Information

Gives readings: 
Travels for readings: 
Born in: 
Osceola, Stark County., IL
Raised in: 
along Spoon River, Stark County , IL
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Last update: Jan 16, 2023