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.
14 IN ’14: Literary Events on the Horizon in the Twin Cities
Did you make a resolution to get more involved with the local literary scene in 2014? In January alone, more than 14 bookish events are scheduled. Cut the procrastination by adding one of these to your calendar:
2 JAN l Social Brief: Blank Slate
Head over to the Walker Art Center to join local literati and art lovers for a poetry and printing party
6 JAN l Poetry Lovers Converge
Poetry in the suburbs with an open mic event at Golden Valley Library
7 JAN l An inside scoop on e-books
Local authors Lorna Landvik and Connie Claire Szarke share experiences from publishing’s new frontiers at the Edina Public Library
10 JAN l Mentor Mentality
Listen up as Loft Mentor Peter Campion presents in the Open Book Peformance Hall
13 JAN l Virtual classroom
Paragraph Party and Poetry Playhouse are just two of the online classes that start this week at the Loft
14 JAN l Everyone’s book club
Books and Bars meets at Republic in Calhoun Square for a few swigs of beer and a lively discussion of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
15 JAN l Free writing workshop
Unleash your creative muse with the help of Roseanne Bane, author of Around the Writer’s Block at this workshop at Subtext: A Bookstore
18 JAN l Revolver at the Ritz
Come along with Heid Erdrich, Andy Sturdevant, Dylan Hicks and other local literati for crazy fun at this Revolver-sponsored event at the Ritz Theater
22 JAN l Join Andy at the Fireside
The 20th season of the Fireside Literary Reading Series gets underway with Andy Sturdevant reading from his book, Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow
22 JAN l A Night of Minnesota Mystery
Two local mystery writers—Ellen Hart and Wendy Web—read excerpts from their novels at Common Good Books
24 JAN l Music, hors d’oeuvres, and wine
Open Book is the place to be for the opening reception honoring 2014 Book Artist Award recipient Fred Hagstrom and his work, “Passage”
27 JAN l Witness to greatness
The Literary Witnesses program kicks off its 15th year with a celebration of the genius of William Stafford at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis
29 JAN l Burning truths
The Fireside Literary Reading Series continues as Jack El-Hai discusses his new nonfiction book, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist
30 JAN l Party down
Head over to the James J. Hill Reference Library as the local musicians, the Wolf Lords, rev it up for the return of Book It: The Party
Two days before Christmas in 1926, Laq qui Parle County got a new resident who came into the world bringing gifts of his own. Robert Bly, now 83, has spent decades flexing his talents as poet, translator, publisher and social change agent. Early in his career he sought to modernize poetry with his magazine The Fifties. People who submitted pieces not up to snuff received acrid rejection letters such as “These poems remind me of false teeth.” Bly, Minnesota’s first official poet laureate, has published more than 30 volumes of poetry including a National Book Award winner, The Light Around The Body. Ironically, his best-known work is not poetry. The New York Times Best Seller, Iron John: A Book About Men, established the mythopoetic men’s movement. The 83-year-old’s latest book, Stealing Sugar from the Castle Selected Poems, 1950–2011, was published in September.
Holiday poems by Robert Bly:
A Christmas Poem
Driving my Parents Home at Christmas