Kimberly Nightingale is a woman who is following her passion and living her dream. The key to her success: Commitment. “Ask if you are committed to your community, are you committed to caring for and listening to your community,” she advises on the topic of starting a datebook/ story collection. Kimberly Nightingale is the editor of the Saint Paul Almanac whose mission is to create opportunities for understanding, learning, and building relationships through sharing people’s stories. She values each person’s contribution to what the Almanac terms “a literary campfire,” whether they are an emerging or a professional writer.
The Saint Paul Almanac as a literary organization is in its seventh year. “We support writers, readers, artists, and audiences through our annual book, reading series, Lowertown Reading Jams, Soul Sounds Open Mic, community editor apprenticeship project, writer’s workshops, and through our partnership with Saint Paul Public Schools.” states their banner. We met at the Black Dog Café so I could ask her about her work and her dream for the Almanac.
Q: What is the hardest thing about being the editor of the Saint Paul Almanac?
KN: The hardest thing is raising money. It’s so much fun to think of good ideas about building community and about writing and readings, but raising money is tough.
Q: What is the easiest thing about being editor of the Almanac?
KN: The easiest thing is to call or email someone to tell them their work has been selected by the community editors, that someone else wants to hear or read their story. It’s so much fun sharing each other’s stories, seeing people published and reading their work aloud. Being published is a powerful, transformative experience in everyone’s life. Your thoughts on the page, read by thousands, matter. Your words and thoughts have a permanent space in the world and may influence others who can relate to what you have to say.
Q: Why did you start the Saint Paul Almanac?
KN: That’s a complicated question. When I first moved to Saint Paul, I had lived in Tokyo, Taiwan, Taipei, Los Angeles and northern California. I was struck by how difficult it was to meet friends here and to feel connected. I thought if it’s that hard for me, a white American born in Minnesota, how hard is it for people of other cultures, older people, much younger people, to really feel a part of society here. I read somewhere that 80 percent of Minnesotans attend religious institutions—higher than most of the country—and most Minnesotans as a whole are very dedicated to their families. To some extent that might create “Minnesota Nice” but it may make it difficult for people to have time for new friendships. Also, to my dismay, I heard a lot of stereotypical ethnic generalizations, particularly about African Americans and new immigrants from people of European ancestry who considered themselves well educated. This deeply concerned me, that ignorance, that extraordinary lack of education. I thought the best way to combat that was to have people read each other’s stories and to read them in the context that we’re all in this together within the geography of Saint Paul. We’re all together as a family as residents of Saint Paul.
Q: What makes the almanac different than other datebooks or other collections of stories?
KN: It’s different in many ways. For one I don’t choose what goes into the book and that’s one of its strengths. We have 24 community editors, all ages, all ethnicities, and they decide what goes into the Almanac. There are no names attached when the writing is presented. Another big thing is we’re not looking for the most literary pieces, we’re looking for the best stories. We can work on strengthening the language if the story is a good one.
Q: How has the Almanac changed your life?
KN: Oh my. I’m a busy person! It has transformed my life in very positive ways. It’s frightening to create something so new. There are a lot of failures that you can see looming ahead of you as you keep taking baby steps and then bigger steps. But the transformation in my life is witnessing the great love of human beings to each other. One of the big things I’ve experienced in being able to hear people’s stories is the profound wisdom that most people bring to the table. I’d say all of that makes me deeply conscious and grateful to be alive today, participating in our human journey. I think sometimes in the context of our bloated capitalistic system, our mega-corporations, our bureaucracies, and our big organizations, we’ve lost track of the language to express the depth of our humanness in many everyday interactions. One thing about good writing—good novels, good poetry—it connects us to that complex core of humanness we all share. I’d like to see a resurgence of focusing on quality of life rather than GDP through serious conversations on the global, national, and state levels of what truly makes for a good human life from birth to death: healthcare, education, cities where residents thrive, a healthy food system, honored elders and respected youth. How do we work together to support each other in making those terrifically important and doable things happen? It is a big question, with tough changes we need to make around power and our current unhealthy cultural addiction to fear that results in our engagement in constant war. To me, changing those bigger dynamics through our own actions is the true challenge each of us as human beings owes some responsibility to.
Q: What advice would you give to someone trying to start a similar datebook?
KN: I’d say look deep into yourself and ask if you are committed to your community, are you committed to caring for and listening to your community.
Q: What have been the benefits of the Almanac to the community?
KN: My dream was that where there was racism or stereotypes, some pieces of the Almanac might change people’s views. I don’t know if that has necessarily happened but it has brought together people of different cultures as a group—in our books and our readings, the Lowertown Reading Jam, our Soul Sounds Open Mic. What is writing but talking about the depths of our souls? I think that the Almanac has been successful in bringing writers together in community, especially people who don’t feel accepted by traditional literati. We’re proud to be creating safe spaces for people to tell their stories.
Q: How do you fit all the activities into your schedule, do you ever stop thinking about the Almanac?
KN: I never stop thinking about it! I sometimes wish I could turn it off— but there are pros and cons to all that thinking. You start working hard in one area, you get new ideas and new connections and more people collaborating. My true love is getting people together to try new things. I turn it off when I’m sailing, especially when we’ve got winds at 35 miles an hour and the sail is almost parallel to the water and I’m hanging on! And when spending good time with my husband and family.
Q: What are the future plans, anything coming up that is unusual?
KN: Our big new project is Almanac on Wheels: What Moves You? It’s a solar powered, bike powered safe space where people can come and tell their stories. Residents can record their stories online. We can have them filmed, have performances, sell CDs and chapbooks. We’d bring it to light rail areas, libraries, and festivals, to give options for people of Saint Paul to tell their stories. We’re working hard on making sure that we’re strengthening all of our projects and documenting how we do them and creating chapbooks that show how to do the work we do.
To find out more about the Saint Paul Almanac, calendar of events, or to watch videos of the Lowertown Reading jams or read samples from past almanacs go to www.saintpaulalmanac.org