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
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.