In search of Minnesota’s literary identity at AWP

As the fifteenth annual conference of the Association of Writers and Publishers (AWP) convened in Minneapolis this week, thousands of writers, editors, publishers, and other literary fellow travelers attended panel discussions and readings both at the AWP itself and offsite in bookstores, coffee shops, and theaters across the Twin Cities. The conference — which draws attendees from all over the country, indeed all over the world — presented an occasion for reflecting on the literary identity of the Twin Cities and the Upper Midwest more broadly. Such was the topic of a least a half dozen AWP panels, among them: “Beyond Lake Wobegon: Minnesota Writers of Color,” which interrogated Minnesotan cultural identity beyond the “clichéd images of the state”;  “Letters from the Snow Belt: Writing in the Land of Blizzards and Cabin Fever” which asked whether the famously hard Upper Midwest winters are “a key ingredient in the creative spark of prose and poetry”; “Revisiting Highway 61,” and homage of sorts to Bob Dylan that included local rapper Dessa among its participants; and a reading by regionally-based writers celebrating the University of Minnesota Press’ 90th anniversary.  

Minnesotan literary identity was also explored at several offsite events. Wednesday evening’s “Literary Locavores” reading – an on-going series by local writers – took place at Nicollet Diner and brought together novelists, memoirists and poets who read pieces about canoeing in the Boundary Waters, the political shenanigans of a fictional western Minnesota small town, and the emotional pull of the North Country for a Minnesotan expat living abroad. Continue Reading

Mizna hosts evening of Arab American poetry and performance

 Arab American Soundscapes: An Evening of Music, Poetry, and Performance lit up the Cedar Cultural Center. Presented by St. Paul-based Arab American arts organization Mizna, the program highlighted live readings and performances from eight different poets–some local and some national, but all identifying in various ways as Arab American. The event was one of the many offshoots of this year’s massive Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference.A video projection of a rippling Euphrates River and digital music from local artist Naj Bagdadi served as the backdrop of the evening, both literally on stage and more symbolically as cultural and historical touchstones. (The video was an original Mizna commission, by Iraq-based video artist Ali Al-Tayar.) Opening the evening were poets Hedy Hebra, Glenn Shaheen, Trish Salah, Philip Metres, and Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán. Continue Reading

Al Milgrom’s long to-do list: Second of two parts: Film Society founder becomes filmmaker

Al Milgrom, who founded the first long-lasting film society in Minnesota, has become a filmmaker himself with his first feature length film, “The Dinkytown Uprising,” on the demonstrations to stop construction of a fast-food restaurant. [Link to great trailer:]During the takeover, the protestors – some of whom were university and high school students – cooked their own food in the former diner, published their own newsletter, and created a “hotel” for staying on site, where one of Milgrom’s subjects admitted to losing his virginity. The film “Easy Rider” was listed on the marque of the Varsity Theater across the street.In 1970, Red Barn, a chain that folded in the 1980s, would have faced competition in Dinkytown from Burger King, which went out of business in Dinkytown in the late 1990s, and McDonald’s, which has been in Dinkytown since 1960. Bob Lafferty, who owned five Twin Cities Red Barn franchises, met occasionally with protesters and Milgrom shows some tense but friendly banter between them.With speakers on a megaphone in the background, Milgrom caught some of the personal exchanges. “You need fast food on a campus,” Lafferty said. Continue Reading

We’re Number One!!! Northeast Minneapolis celebrates being the nation’s premier arts district

 The Northeast Minneapolis Arts District was recently named the Number 1 Arts District in the USA in a reader’s poll that set it against Arts Districts in cities like Boston, Dallas, Detroit and Los Angeles. That victory was celebrated at a party in the Solar Arts Building on April 1. The party featured music, food by Chowgirls, speeches by Northeast Minneapolis leaders and arts district pioneers, and awards to Northeast Arts District Visionaries.Video produced by John Akre Green Jeans Media Continue Reading

Louise Erdrich: Asynchronous Reading explores the novelist’s visual side

Award winning writer Louise Erdrich is best known for her prolific novels such as the Plague of Doves, Love Medicine and The Round House, but she’s also a visual artist. Asynchronous Reading, a new show curated by Heid E. Erdrich at Bockley gallery is the first time her works will be on view. Asynchronous Reading presents Erdrich’s paintings, collage boxes, and found-object constructions along with poetic text and audio works to create an experience to be viewed, read, and heard. Aza Erdrich and Pallas Erdrich, Louise’s two daughter, contributed key images and media works to an installation curated by Heid E. Erdrich, who also collaborated on parts of the exhibit.It all started when Louise wondered to herself, “Why am I drawing these lines?” Heid remembered saying to her, “You’re abstracting the process of writing.”Heid also remembered seeing Louise make small boxes filled with curiosities.“I always felt that her house was a Cornell box,” she says referring to the American artist and sculptor Joseph Cornell, who was known for his assemblage.Viewers at Bockley gallery will be encouraged to pick up a phone to hear advice, a story about two people stuck on the roof of a hotel, and a message to a secret agent. Asynchronous Reading also features paintings by Aza Erdrich, one of which viewers will recognize from the cover of Louise’s novel The Round House. Continue Reading

Comic Books from the Margins

Comic Books from the Margins on Vimeo. Presented by Gazillion Strong, Big Brain Comics, Moon Palace Books, Boneshaker Books, Ancestry Books, and Ramsey County Libraries, these series of workshops is aimed at teens and pre-teens. each bookstore and library will select comic books and graphic novels in which the central character(s) are from marginalized communities, such as the POC (people of color), LGBTQ, adoptee, foster care, and disabled communities. The books will be presented to preteens, teens, and their families by knowledgeable authors, activists, performers, and comic book connoisseurs.Comic Books from the Margins series gives an opportunity to people to tell their stories, and pick out books that are reflective of their culture.”We want different kinds of narratives,” said Ancestry Books owner Chaun Webster. “That don’t reduce us to these small, tokenistic stereotypes.”Future Comic Books from the Margins will be held at Boneshaker Books, the Minnesota History Center and Big Brain Comics. Check out Gazillion Strong’s website for more information Continue Reading

Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison

April 17 marks the passing of Minnesota artist George Morrison (1919-2000) 15 years ago. Seeing the exhibition Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison on view through April 26 at the Minnesota History Center in Saint Paul, reinforces his powerful, although under-recognized, voice in the aesthetic arch of 20th century art. Comprising some 80 works, Modern Spirit makes relevant the deep well of ideas that Morrison explored and refined over a six-decade career.The Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) in Saint Paul, and Arts Midwest, Minneapolis, organized Modern Spirit, and much of the work is from the museum’s collection. W. Jackson Rushing III, the Eugene B. Adkins Presidential Professor of Art History and Mary Lou Milner Carver Chair in Native American Art at the University of Oklahoma nimbly curated Morrison’s paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture into an evocative, comprehensive whole. This is the final leg in a five museum-tour that began in June 2013 at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, ND.Morrison’s life is a peripatic journey that takes him from Minnesota to New York City to France and back again. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Girl Germs: An epidemic you won’t mind catching

Saturday night the Turf Club welcomed the second infestation of local Girl Germs. Like lots of good ideas, it’s a simple theme – local musicians paying homage to women in rock. That might mean Kitten Forever taking a pop icon like Beyoncé and making it their own. It might mean Aby Wolf striking perfect pitch of Kate Bush. There’s something for everyone, which makes the case that women can’t be pigeon-holed – they can rock any genre, any era, any taste.Also worth noting – casting for the event is gender-blind. (Which led to the most amazing performance last time around with Night Moves singing the Cranberries. Continue Reading