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

Rain Taxi Presents: A Literary Tribute to Grant Hart and Husker Du

A dozen Husker Du and Grant Hart inspired poets and writers came together Friday night sharing their literary homage to Husker Du and Grant Hart, presented by Minneapolis-based literary organization Rain Taxi as an AWP conference event. Writers from near and far shared how Husker Du and Grant Hart’s music inspired their art. Poetry and prose – a few named after Husker Du songs – ranged from Joel Turnipseed’s Zen Arcade featuring booze-soaked pot cookies, to one of Daniel Mahoney’s  (Bar Harbor, Maine) imaginary music reviews, Silence More Profound than Pure Silence; Brooklyn textile artist/poet Maria Damon’s punk-inspired textile/text slide show and embroidery performance art to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life.  Brooklyn’s Justin Taylor shared Husker Du “origin stories, not theirs, mine” about his teen “nerd punk” friend and a ‘zine. Minneapolis poet, Paula Cisewski, shared an essay and a poem inspired by Husker Du songs, and Toronto’s Hoa Nguyen shared poems inspired by Husker Du music that was “informed by other things, such as the cover of Mary Tyler Moore theme song, Love is All Around and Eight Miles High.Providence, Rhode Island writer Matthew Derby regaled his adolescent influence by Husker Du “but maybe not how they would have wanted,” comparing Guns ‘n’ Roses drug references on Appetite for Destruction, to Husker Du’s on Candy Apple Grey.” Hilariously analyzing song-by-song, Guns ‘n’ Roses’ drug references were not clear, whereas Candy Apple Grey songs such as Crystal were crystal clear, and this was an anti-drug album by inducing sheer terror, making drugs sound “terrible.”“No one will ever want to do drugs after hearing that song, which puts you in the mind of an addict. It’s scary when you’re sober, imagine if you hear it while on drugs!”He had the audience cracking up in peals of uncontrollable laughter. Continue Reading

Writers of color showcased at Gazillion Strong’s AWP event

Through poetry, fiction, memoir, and spoken word, 11 literary artists took part in Gazillion Strong Presents: Writers of Color Showcase, at Aster Cafe in Minneapolis on Wednesday, April 8. Co-sponsored by Boneshaker Books, Moon Palace Books, and Gazillion Strong, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization, the event is one of several free, off-site events being held in conjunction with the 2015 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, April 8 through 11. More than 12,000 writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers are expected to attend the national annual event in this year’s host city, Minneapolis. To the delight of a packed house, Kao Kalia Yang, acclaimed author of The Late Homecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, read an excerpt from her forthcoming volume, The Song Poet, a memoir about her father, Bee Yang, a Hmong man working in the factories of Minnesota. The Song Poet will be published by Metropolitan Books in 2016.Kao Kalia YangOther highlights included readings by Los Angeles-based Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut and Rachel Rostad, a Macalester student and recipient of an Academy Of American Poets Prize, both of whom explore their exaperiences as Korean American adoptees, among other themes, in their poetry and other genres. Nicky Sa-eun SchildkrautMatthew Salesses offered a sample of his forthcoming novel, The Hundred Year Flood, the story of a young man who escapes to Prague in the wake of his uncle’s suicide and 9/11.Matthew SalessesKeno Evol, a poet, educator, spoken-word artist, fashion designer, revolutionist, dancer, and director rocked the stage with a dynamic spoken word performance. Evol has developed curriculum for Crack The Page. Shift The Stage. Continue Reading

Beyond Bars Reading Brings to Light Writing from American Prisons

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration on earth, with 2.3 million people imprisoned in 2013—one in every 100 adults. Yet in spite of the prevalence of imprisonment in our country, many Americans see prison inmates as very separate, an Other they find easy to vilify or at the very least forget about and ignore. On Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 7 PM at Minneapolis Central Library, writers who teach creative writing in prisons will share some of their students’ work at Beyond Bars: Voices of Incarceration, a free, public reading offering a rare chance to see past stereotypes into the hearts and minds of imprisoned writers. The Beyond Bars reading is one of a dizzying array of readings and other programs taking place in Minneapolis April 8-11 as part of AWP, the annual gathering of writers and creative writing teachers sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. The AWP conference is happening in Minnesota for the first time ever this year. According to event co-organizer Peter Pearson, the Beyond Bars reading will feature student work from the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop; Hennepin County Library Outreach Services; the Women’s Writing Project in Ramsey County, the North Carolina-based program Revised Sentences; Literature on Lockdown, a regular feature from The Missouri Review literary journal, and Words Without Walls, a program based at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Other participants may be added closer to the event. Readers will include Patrick Jones, a librarian with Hennepin County, Sarah Shotland with Words Without Walls, Cody Leutgens of Revised Sentences, and Diego Vazquez, Jr. with the Women’s Writing Project. Jennifer Bowen Hicks, the founder of the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, will also read, along with writers Kate Shuknecht and Mike Alberti. It was an encounter at another AWP conference years ago that planted the seed for Bowen Hicks to start the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. Continue Reading

Top 12 Off-Site AWP Events

Twin Cities literati are gearing up for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference on April 8th-11, where we will be descended upon by authors, poets, publishers and editors from all over the country and beyond. Even if you can’t manage the $285 nonmember fee for the conference, never fear, as there are plenty of off-site events happening in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, which are open to the public. These readings, parties and events are great places to soak up some of the energy of AWP and possibly rub elbows with some great writers both from Minnesota and from far away places. There’s a full list of off-site events on AWP’s website, but here’s a list of some of the ones we’re most excited about. Riot Act Reading Series presents AWP Calvalcade of Stars in conjunction with Punk Hostage Press in Conjunction with Hot Lava and the Black Forest InnThursday, April 9th at 7 p.m. at the Black Forest Inn, 1 E. 26th St.Facebook Event There’s no reason that literary events have to be stuffy. Case in point, the Twin Cities’ own Riot Act Reading Series, which revels in debauchery as part of their aesthetic. Continue Reading

Videos: Lorna Landvik & John Marty

Author Lorna Landvik reveals that her recent novel best to Best to Laugh borrows some from her own life in Hollywood.  Minnesota’s most gifted humorist, like the Korean-American protagonist of her book, had been a stand-up comedy hopeful in L.A. who supported herself with a series of eclectic temp jobs and a residential complex injected with LaLa Land characters and urban legend.  Landvik also tells of her real-life adventures on the 3,700 miles long Peace March for Nuclear Disarmament from L.A. to D.C. in 1986.  Landvik’s quick, sharp and easy wit is a delight that is rarely seen on home flatscreens. I consider her Dem Vis appearance a satisfying stew of sly insight on being Minnesotan. State Senator John Marty, Minnesota’s leading progressive law maker, here makes a solid case to Democratic Visions host Tim O’Brien for SF 890 the “Worker Dignity Bill.”  Marty (DFL, Roseville) and co-author Senator Chris Eaton (DFL, Brooklyn Center) proposed legislation would extend the phased-in minimum wage increase; increase the working family credit to exceed the federal earned income tax; provide increased child care assistance to all low-income workers and, among other actions, would reform MinnCare.  SF 890 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing on February 16 where it awaits further action. The full version of the current Democratic Visions includes a short segment on the St. Olaf College dedication of its memorial to civil rights martyr James Reeb.  Rev. Reeb, a 1950 graduate of the Northfield school, was murdered in Selma, Alabama fifty years ago.  He and two other activist clergy had been beaten on the evening of the “Turnaround Tuesday”  march led by Dr. Martin Luther King.  This demonstration had concluded with prayer on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the highway to Montgomery, the Alabama State Capitol. Lorna Landvik on Dem Vis - John Marty on Dem Vis - Full Democratic Visions program CABLE TV SCHEDULEEden Prairie, Richfield, Minnetonka, Edina and Hopkins Comcast Channel 15 – Saturdays 2:00 p.m.. Sundays 9 p.m., Mondays 10 p.m., Wednesdays 5:30 p.m., Bloomington – BCAT Channel 16 — Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 — Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.  Program is streamed at the MTN website during cablecasts.Champlin, Anoka,Ramsey, Andover – QCTV Channel 15.  Click here for schedule. Democratic Visions is produced by Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Edina volunteers at the Bloomington Community Access TV studio. Continue Reading

Learning in traditional ways from Native children’s literature

n Ojibwe tradition, as well as in all other Native cultures that I know of, womanhood from birth until the return to the spirit world is a sacred state, honored and respected. Countless generations of storytelling, combined with observation and experience, are the foundation of Ojibwe teaching and learning. For girls, this has been intertwined with preparation for the passages of the female life; the words themselves, ikwe for woman and kwesens (“small woman”) for girl, indicate a meaningful seamlessness in the cosmology of tribal womanhood. The position of Ojibwe woman is equal in status and power to that of Ojibwe men; this concept is so basic to our worldview that it is rarely even stated. Many Native women feel that our cultural role, including our gifts and resulting obligations, is beyond the constructs of majority American feminism, that “indigenous feminism” as defined by majority feminists is not empowering and inclusive so much as simply missing the point. We are Native women; our culture honors womanhood. The students in the American Indian Women course that I teach, both Native and non-Native, have sometimes struggled to understand (and to reconcile with some preconceived stereotypes) the manifestations of female power and position in cultures unfamiliar to them. As their teacher – a storyteller and an older Ojibwe woman – I thought that they might find it helpful to apply their own experience and knowledge to their questions by stepping back to their childhood days through an examination of Native children’s literature. Diverse though our experiences may be, we were all children once, and I believe that reading children’s literature helps us to see and learn through the lens of that commonality. Continue Reading

Writing toward hope: How New Yorker Sherrie Fernandez-Williams found her voice in Minnesota

Sherrie Fernandez-Williams was a child of few words. That’s surprising since words are now her stock-in-trade. “I was slow to speak,” says the author of the new memoir, “Soft.” “I used to create an imaginary world in my room, and I actually came to story before I came to words.” Her mother, a single parent raising eight children in a housing project in the Brooklyn section of New York City, was pretty happy that her youngest child was content to play in silence. But Fernandez-Williams is no longer silent. She discovered the joy of words as a third-grader when she was assigned to write a short composition. Continue Reading