Transforming Steel into Books
Andrew Carnegie had a real knack for making money but when he thought his wealth might be corrupting his character, he turned from the business of steel to the business of books—libraries to be specific. The Scottish industrialist-cum-philanthropist funded the building of 2,500 libraries across the world—65 in Minnesota alone. The Twin Cities received grants for 8 libraries; six are still operating as public libraries, including the Saint Anthony Park Branch Library that opened in 1917. The library, a well-loved landmark of the Saint Anthony Park neighborhood, has its own library association with volunteers who maintain a garden on the library grounds. Through the years, the library has received a few face lifts—the most recent in 2013—but has never lost its lovely beaux-arts charm.
Mystery at the Fair.
Crime is alive and well in the Twin Cities, judging by the abundance of mystery writers at the Annual Local Author Fair in Apple Valley last Saturday. Not surprisingly, many of their stories have Minnesota connections:
- A St. Paul homicide detective investigates the suspicious drowning of a war vet in Bone Shadows, the latest in Christopher Valen’s crime fiction series.
- Twin Cities book club friends work together to help a 96-year-old woman locate her missing son in Barbara Deese’s Spirited Away.
- A Mendota County social worker retreats to the north woods only to stumble across a sinister plot to steal oil and gas rights in Burnt Out by Susan Koefod.
The fair, sponsored by the Dakota County Library, also featured a smorgasbord of other writing genres including historical fiction, romance, memoir, local history and children’s literature. In addition to meeting local writers, fair goers could bone up on their writing skills at mini-workshops.
What does a brick-and-mortar bookstore have that Amazon doesn’t? When it comes to Magers & Quinn, the answer is “lots.” To be precise, more than a quarter million books you can thumb through, on the spot. It’s no surprise that Magers & Quinn is also Minnesota’s largest independent bookstore. The Uptown location sprawls across two buildings—a former thrift store and a 1920s Chevrolet dealership—and has been a browser’s heaven for almost 20 years. The shelves overflow with a wide range of new and used books ranging from rare century-old collectible editions to the latest best-selling paperbacks. Better yet, Magers & Quinn hosts dozens of events with local and national authors, some of which are available for replay on the store’s own YouTube channel.
Boxing, football, drama, dancing, and girls are just a few of the subjects F. Scott Fitzgerald explored during his three-year stint at St. Paul Academy. Although he excelled in social activities, his grades were less than stellar. In retaliation, his parents sent him to an East Coast boarding school. Although Fitzgerald’s time at SPA was short, his experiences there were crucial in his development as a writer. While a student, he published his first story, “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage,” and developed source material that reappeared in later work, most notably the Basil Duke Lee stories. In Fitzgerald’s day, SPA held classes on Dale Avenue. The brick structure now serves as an office building where Aaron Dysart’s sculpture of a youthful Scott perpetually lingers on the front steps.
Are you hungry to start a food blog? Itching to write poems inspired by the Pecha Kucha craze? Dreaming of writing your memoir? Try one of the classes starting this week at the Loft Literary Center. For more than 35 years, the Loft has been nourishing writing and literature in the Twin Cities. The organization got its start as a “poets’ club” and has grown to become one of the nation’s leading literary centers. Each year, more than 10,000 people pass through its doors in the Minneapolis Milling District for classes, conferences, author readings and other literary events. In addition, awards like Loft Mentor Series in Poetry and Creative Prose and the Loft Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship program help promising writers find their voice.
A popular 1960s TV comedy chronicled the amorous pursuits of a perennial student, Dobie Gillis, and his beatnik buddy Maynard Krebs. Dobie’s creator, Max Shulman, attended the University of Minnesota and cribbed heavily from his own campus experiences in the books, movie and TV series featuring Dobie. Shulman is among notable alumni who honed their writing chops at the “U.” Several Pulitzer Prize-winning authors also studied at the “U” including poet Carl Dennis and biographer William Andrew Swanberg. The Wall of Discovery on the University’s campus celebrates achievements of graduates such as Garrison Keillor, Carol Bly, and Patricia Hampl. Today, budding creative authors continue to fill campus lecture halls taking classes from Hampl and Macalester alumn Charles Baxter, among others.
Literary glitz at the Fitz
When the Fitzgerarld Theater first opened in 1910, F. Scott was barely a teenager. Of course, it went by different name then—the Shubert Theater—and it was the grandest theater in downtown St. Paul. Garrison Keillor began producing his radio program, A Prairie Home Companion, from its stage in the late 1970s. Keillor, who led the charge to rename the theater after St. Paul’s most celebrated author, continues to broadcast his homespun stories and entertainment from the Fitz. Other literary events in the theater’s limelight include the acclaimed Talking Volumes series, now in its 14th season. Talking Volumes has brought a pantheon of literary stars to the Twin Cities including Junot Diaz, Jennifer Egan, Richard Russo, Michael Chabon, and Stephen King. An audio archive of Talking Volume events is available at at Minnesota Public Radio.
The Fair from A to Z
Here’s one place a kid can get an “F” and feel really good about it. The Alphabet Forest at the Minnesota State Fair, now in its fourth year, encourages children of all ages to join in ABC games. Fairgoers can have their picture taken with their favorite letters, add a word to the Fair Dictionary, spin the Word Wheel, color the alphabet or meet an author. This year, 13 children’s authors—one for each day of the Fair—are joining in the fun, signing books and meeting with young readers. Authors include Debra Frasier, Nancy Carlson, Michael Hall (pictured above) and Joyce Sidman. The Alphabet Forest is the brainchild of Debra Frasier who created A Fabulous Fair Alphabet, an abecedary of State Fair images.
Blue ribbon stories
Along with cheese curds and Princess Kay of the Milky Way, Ye Old Mill is a Minnesota State Fair staple. That tunnel-of-love ride also creates a timeless setting for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “A Night at the Fair.” Fitzgerald’s coming-of-age tale captures the whizz-bang excitement Basel Duke Lee experiences as he cavorts through the fairgrounds a century ago. Another 20th century fair ride, Gravitron, spins its way through the writing of Louise Erdrich, appearing in the short story “The Gravitron” and her novel The Antelope Wife. More recently, Jess Lourey brings intrigue to the fairgrounds when one of the butter princesses is knocked off in Lourey’s Murder-by-Month novel, September Fair. It all goes to show that although the Great Minnesota Get-Together only last 12 days, its stories endure.
Read "A Night at the Fair" by F. Scott Fitzgerald online at Project Gutenberg.
St. Paul, it seems, has a special affinity for poetry. The city embeds poetry into its sidewalks, a local team claimed the National Poetry Slam championship twice, and residents can enjoy the poetry garden at Lake Phalen. Poetry Park, sponsored by the East Side Arts Council, celebrates the joy of verse through artists’ works. Marking the entrance is Poetry Post, a sculpture shaped like an abstract metal Christmas tree and decorated with gifts of poetry. The poems include famous lines from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Robert Frost, verses by local poets, and contributions of neighborhood school children. Nearby is a Talking Bench. From there, follow the word-stamped bricks to the Dragon Garden where you will find a relaxing spot filled with flowers, book-shaped benches, and—you guessed it—more poetry.