The University of Wisconsin Press

Wisconsin / Autobiography

Crunching Gravel
A Wisconsin Boyhood in the Thirties
Robert Louis Peters

No nostalgic tale of the good old days, Robert Peters's recollections of his adolescence vividly evoke the Depression on a hardscrabble farm near Eagle River: Dad driving the Vilas County Relief truck, Lars the Swede freezing to death on his porch, the embarassment of graduation in a suit from welfare. The hard efforts to put fish and potatoes and blueberries on the table are punctuated by occasional pleasures: the Memorial Day celebration, swimming at Perch Lake, the county fair with Mother's prizes for jam and the exotic delights of the midway. Peters's clear-eyed memoir reveals a poet's eye for rich and stark detail even as a boy of twelve.

"Peters misses nothing, from the details of the town's Fourth of July celebration to the cause and effect of a young cousin's suicide to the calibrations of racism toward Indians that was so acceptable then. It is a fascinating, unsentimental look at a piece of our past."—Margaret E. Guthrie, New York Times Book Review

"It's unlikely that any other contemporary poet and scholar as distinguished has risen from quite so humble beginnings as Robert Peters. Born and raised by semiliterate parents on a subsistence farm in northeastern Wisconsin, Peters lived harrowingly close to the eventual stuff of his poetry—the dependency of humans on animal lives, the inexplicable and ordinary heroism and baseness of people facing extreme conditions, the urgency of physical desire.... Sterling childhood memoirs."—Booklist

"Robert Peters has written a memoir exemplary because he insists on the specific, on the personal and the local. It is also enormously satisfying to read, and it is among the most authentic accounts of childhood and youth I know—a Wisconsin David Copperfield!"
—Thom Gunn

Robert Peters is the author of more than thirty books of poetry, criticism, short stories, and plays, including The Gift to be Simple, What Dillinger Meant to Me, and Poems Selected and New: 1967–1991. He continues to teach literature at the University of California, Irvine.


Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

Scene includes a farmhouse and a portrait of a man standing next to his cow

October 1993
LC: 91-026346 PS
128 pp.   5 1/2 x 8 1/2

The cloth edition, ISBN-13: 978-0-299-14100-4, is out of print, but the paperback is still available.

Book icon
Paper $15.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-14104-2
Shopping cart ADD TO CART
  Review cart contents
Secure checkout


Home | Books | Journals | Events | Textbooks | Authors | Related | Search | Order | Contact

If you have trouble accessing any page in this web site, contact our Web manager.

Updated November 2, 2011

© 2011, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System