What’s News at the State Fair
Stop and smell the ink at the Minnesota State Fair. Book lovers can experience what printing was like before the digital age with a visit to the Minnesota Newspaper Museum at its new location in the 4-H Building. This living history museum has kept traditional printing techniques alive for 27 fair years, publishing the daily “Maynard News” with an old-time cylinder press and metal type from a vintage linotype machine. The museum celebrates the importance of newspapers in our communities. The state’s dynamic publishing industry began with a single press James Goodhue brought to St. Paul in 1849 to produce his newspaper, The Minnesota Pioneer. Today, Minnesota’s publishing industry is one one of the strongest in the country with three of the nation’s largest independently-owned children’s book publishers and a handful of well-respected literary publishing houses. Try to put that on a stick!
A Dickens of a Store
If you think you might find Mr. Micawber behind the counter at the St. Paul bookstore that bears his name, think again. The store’s namesake is a character from David Copperfield, an eternal optimist doomed to debtor’s prison. For several decades, Micawber’s Books has made a cozy home in the century-old Milton Square complex nestled in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood. The current owner, Tom Bielenberg, and his former partner, Hans Weyandt, acquired the store in 2003 after working together at the legendary Hungry Mind bookstore. Favorite books are flagged with personal recommendations from the staff. Bielenberg stocks the shelves with fiction, poetry, biography, history and children’s literature. He also maintains a well-curated selection of bargain remainders that any micawber would appreciate.
Prairie Prophet of the Airwaves
Lutherans and lutefisk have created a cottage industry, of sorts, for Anoka native Garrison Keillor. For four decades, the author, storyteller and creator of A Prairie Home Companion has broadcast the news from Lake Wobegon into the homes of millions of radio listeners. The humor of the fictional community, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average,” contrasts with the serious support Keillor continues to give to the literary arts. His daily radio show for National Public Radio, The Writer’s Almanac, spotlights authors and features a daily poem. Keillor himself has edited several poetry compilations and has been a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. At a local level, Keillor runs Common Good Books and has championed efforts to keep the legacy of F. Scott Fitzgerald alive, including the naming of the Fitzgerald Theater.
PHOTO: Garrison Keillor taking questions from the audience at the 40th anniversary celebration of A Prairie Home Companion at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.
Wilde in Minnesota
If Oscar Wilde came back from the grave, he might feel at home at the Wilde Roast Café in Riverplace. The popular restaurant’s Victorian fireplace, sumptuous curtains and peacock motif are odes to Wilde’s taste. Wilde’s aesthetic philosophy was less popular in 1882 when he visited the Twin Cities to lecture on decorative art at the Academy of Music. Midwesterners didn’t know what to make of the 27-year old bodacious Irish wit who extolled the virtues of exposing America’s peasants to beauty in everyday life. His thick accent and monotone delivery didn’t help endure him in the hearts of Minneapolitans. Nor did his flamboyant velvet jacket, knee britches and silk stockings. Applause was more enthusiastic for Wilde in St. Paul on St. Patrick’s Day when he delivered an impromptu speech on Irish nationalism.
Southern Fugitive in Minnesota
When Louisiana State University cut funding for the Southern Review in 1942, Robert Penn Warren left the South for good and headed north to join the faculty of the University of Minnesota. As the journal’s co-founder and a former member of Vanderbilt’s Fugitives group, Warren was a rising Southern literary star. In Minnesota, Warren found the distance he needed to begin work in earnest on a novel about a Bible-Belt politician gone awry. The story, All the King’s Men, was based loosely on the rise to power of Louisiana governor Huey Long. Warren finished the book in the fall of 1945, the last chapter written in a nook nestled in the upper reaches of the U’s library. The novel would win a Pulitzer Prize and be adapted into a play, an opera, and an Academy Award-winning film.
MINNESOTA l The F. Scott Fitzgerald Reading Alcove at the St. Paul Public Library is dedicated to to advancing appreciation for Fitzgerald’s literary contributions, informing visitors about the profound and long-lasting impact of his life, and celebrating a world-renowned author’s beginnings in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Booking it in Bloomington
When’s the last time you spent an afternoon discussing murder on the high seas, lake cabin love affairs and paranormal frontier adventures? Stories like these buzzed throughout the aisles of the 11th annual Writers Festival and Book Fair in Bloomington, Minn. on March 22. More than 75 published authors were on hand to discuss their work with potential readers. The event was a made-to-order literary cocktail of writing workshops, book fair, and networking fizz. Minnesota’s own children’s author and illustrator Nancy Carlson delivered the keynote speech, kicking off a day of workshops and panel discussions that covered the spectrum of a writer’s life from creative idea to published book. Missed the event? Check out some of the Fair’s authors online.
A picture is worth a thousand words, especially if you’re Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A photo of Minnehaha Falls helped inspire his 1855 epic, “The Song of Hiawatha.” The storyline borrows from a mishmash of Native American legends, but its real roots are European romantic ideals. Although the poem is set in Minnesota Longfellow never visited the state or lived in the house near the falls that bears his name. A quarter century after his death, a Minneapolis businessman recreated the poet’s Massachusetts home in three-quarters scale. The Longfellow House Hospitality Center, operated by the Minneapolis Park Board, isn’t the only replica. In the early twentieth century, the Sears catalog sold blueprints reminiscent of the revered poet’s home and look-alike houses were constructed throughout the United States from Portland, Maine to Washington State.
The Commodore has had its share of notoriety—Ma Barker and John Dillinger can be counted among its past residents. Sinclair Lewis hung out at its bar. St. Paul’s most famous literary couple lived there, too. The brick building was brand spanking new when Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald breezed into town in the fall of 1921. The name had a familiar ring; they had honeymooned at the Commodore in New York. Although the St. Paul residence hotel was smaller, it boasted a tony address, a rooftop garden, dining room and other luxe conveniences. The couple stayed for a month as they awaited their daughter’s birth, then moved to more spacious digs on Goodrich Avenue. The family returned to the Commodore again in 1922, shortly before leaving Minnesota forever.