Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune, where she has worked since 1996. She is the author of "News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist," winner of a Minnesota Book Award.

Posts about Talk of the Stacks

Lorrie Moore and Francine Prose coming for Talk of the Stacks

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel Updated: January 15, 2014 - 12:04 PM

Lorrie Moore. New York Times photo by Mokoto Rich

The spring lineup for Talk of the Stacks has been announced: Just four writers, but big names, all. Here's the schedule:

Feb. 18: Jennifer Senior, New York Magzine contributing editor, will talk about her new book, "All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting."

March 7: Novelist and short-story writer Lorrie Moore will discuss "Bark," her first story collection in 15 years.

April 3: Poet Ron Padgett will read from his collected poems, published by Minneapolis' Coffee House Press.

May 12: Francine Prose--poet, novelist, essayist, critic--will discuss "Lovers at the Chameleon Club Paris 1932," her new novel.

All readings are free and open to the public and will take place at the Central Library on the Nicollet Mall. Doors open at 6:15, readings begin at 7 p.m., and each program is followed by a book sale and signing.

Amy Tan packs the house

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel Updated: November 14, 2013 - 4:51 PM

Amy Tan When Amy Tan was a girl, her mother warned her to stay away from boys. “She said, Don’t let a boy kiss you because maybe you can’t stop. And then you’re gonna have a baby.”  Her mother went on to enumerate all of the terrible things that happen to a girl when she has a baby, ending with, “You want to kiss a boy? You might as well just kill yourself right now!”

“And I thought, What was so good about it that you couldn’t stop?” Tan said.

It was a funny story, but one tinged with darkness, as were so many of the stories that Tan told on Wednesday night at Talk of the Stacks at the Central Library in Minneapolis.  “When she told me this, I didn’t know that had had a first husband,” Tan said. “I didn’t know that she had three daughters living in China.”

Self-deprecating, elegant and fascinating, Tan mesmerized the crowd with her stories of family drama. And it was a true crowd, for sure--Pohlad Auditorium was filled, and guests packed into two overflow rooms, where they watched her on movie screens, and a handful more stood out in the atrium, listening to her on the speakers. Nearly 450 people showed up, one of the biggest crowds yet for the library’s popular program.

Tan read only briefly from her new book, “The Valley of Amazement,” and instead told stories about her mother and her grandmother--familiar figures to anyone who has read her novels. Her new book travels from China to the United States, following the lives of a courtesan and her daughter in the first half of the 20th century

While writing “Valley,” Tan kept two photographs on her desk: One of her mother, and one of her grandmother. Her mother left Shanghai in 1942 on a student visa, leaving behind an abusive husband and their three daughters. Tan never knew if her mother meant to abandon her children, but she was not allowed to return to China for 30 years. “My mother was impetuous, and passionate, and suicidal,” Tan said. “She taught me that I must always be independent.”

Tan’s grandmother was, she said, “a tragic figure. Spoiled. She married late, at 24, and her husband died in the 1919 Pandemic.” According to Chinese culture, she was supposed to remain a widow the rest of her life, but one night, when visiting a friend, she awoke to find a man in her bed. “There are two versions to the story,” Tan said. In one version, the man holds a knife to her grandmother’s throat and says, “If you don’t marry me, I will kill you.” In the other version, he holds a knife to his own throat and says, “If you don’t marry me, I will kill myself.”

Tan’s grandmother married him and worked out a deal: If she bore him a son, he would buy her a house in Shanghai. She bore him a son, he reneged on his part of the bargain, and she killed herself, leaving behind Tan’s mother, who was then 9 years old.

When writing “Valley,” Tan said, she entered the world of her grandmother, but the book is not about her grandmother. “It does have a lot to do with the themes in my family--betrayal, abandonment, passionate women, suicidal women, impetuous women, and love, love, love.”

“Valley” is her first novel in eight years, and Tan joked that “the best thing about finishing it is people no longer ask when’s your book going to come out. The worst thing is they ask why it took so long.”

The wonderful wealth that this fall will bring

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel Updated: August 1, 2013 - 5:00 PM


Nicholson Baker will be in the Cities in October for the Rain Taxi/Twin Cities Book Festival

Nicholson Baker will be in the Cities in October for the Rain Taxi/Twin Cities Book Festival

Over the last few weeks, news has dribbled out about the authors who are coming to town for the state's most significant writers series: Talking Volumes; Talk of the Stacks; Good Thunder: Pen Pals; and Club Book.This doesn't even include the lineup for the Rain Taxi Review Twin Cities Book Festival, which will be announced next week. (They did announce today that Nicholson Baker will be one of the guests.)


All of the lineups are so impressive that it seems worth recapping them for you. There's a little overlap--Tracy K. Smith, for instance, will be here twice, once for the Good Thunder Writing Series in Mankato, and once for Pen Pals in Hopkins. And Luis Alberto Urrea will be here twice as well -- again, once for Good Thunder, and once for Pen Pals. But it's an impressive list just the same, with novelists, poets and masters of creative nonfiction. 

A person could go to an event nearly every week between now and spring--and sometimes twice in one evening--and that doesn't include the impressive lineup coming to indie bookstores (including, I hear, Jhumpa Lahiri in October) or the University of Minnesota (Bonnie Jo Campbell and Katherine Boo later on this fall).

Talk of the Stacks, Good Thunder, the Twin Cities Book Festival and Club Book are all free.

Pen Pals and Talking Volumes require tickets. Both offer tickets for the entire series, and individual tickets. (For Talking Volumes, series tickets are available now, and individual tickets will go on sale tomorrow. Call 651-290-1200 or visit the Fitzgerald Theater Website. Individual tickets are $25.) (For Pen Pals, individual tickets will go on sale Aug. 12. Call 612-543-8112 or download a form from Individual tickets are $40.)

So here's the list:

Aug. 17, Will Alexander, Club Book.

Sept. 12: Larry Watson and Jon Pineda, in conversation with Milkweed Editions publisher Daniel Slager, Talk of the Stacks


Sept. 12: Tracy Kidder. Good Thunder Reading Series, Mankato.
Sept. 17, Emily Rapp, Club Book
Sept. 25, Edwidge Danticat, Talking Volumes
Sept. 26, Eric Schlosser, Club Book.
Oct. 1, Margaret Atwood, Talking Volumes
Oct 3-4: Swati Avasthi and Rachael Hanel, Good Thunder, Mankato.
Oct. 9, Atina Diffley, Club Book.
Oct. 10 and 11, George Saunders, Pen Pals
Oct. 12, Nicolson Baker, Rain Taxi Twin Cities Book Festival
Oct. 15, Rick Riordan, Talking Volumes
Oct. 15, Sarah Stonich, Club Book
Oct. 24: Alicia Catt and Alan Davis, Good Thunder, Mankato
Oct. 24, Erin Hart & Paddy O'Brien, Club Book.
Oct. 25: Dessa, in conversation with Rain Taxi Review editor Eric Lorberer. Talk of the Stacks.
Nov. 4 and 5, A.S. Byatt, Pen Pals
Nov. 4, Andy Sturdevant, Club Book
Nov. 12, Pat Conroy, Talking volumes
Nov. 13: Amy Tan, Talk of the Stacks
Nov. 14-15: Angela Duryee and Luis Alberto Urrea, Good Thunder
Dec. 2, Ed Bok Lee Club Book
Dec. 12: Nikki Giovanni, Talk of the Stacks
Jan. 30: Sarah McKinstry-Brown and Christopher Howell, Good Thunder
Feb. 6 and 7, Luis Alberto Urrea, Pen Pals
Feb. 18-21: Pete Hautman and Alex Lemon, Good Thunder.
March 20: Matt Rasmussen and Tracy K. Smith, Good Thunder.
April 10: Jesmyn Ward, Good Thunder.
April 24 and 25, Art Spiegelman, Pen Pals
April 24: Candace Black, Good Thunder.

May 8-9: Tracy K. Smith, Pen Pals


Good Thunder events are held at the Minnesota State University at Mankato.

Club Book events are held at various venues around the metropolitan area; check the Web for specific locations.

Talking Volumes is held at the Fitzgerald Theatre in downtown St. Paul.

Pen Pals is held at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hopkins.

Aren't you glad you live here?

Fall Talk of the Stacks lineup includes Amy Tan and Nikki Giovanni

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel Updated: July 29, 2013 - 1:24 PM

Novelist Amy Tan.

Novelist Amy Tan.

The next season of Talk of the Stacks will see writers in conversation with each other, and with editors, and also writers alone, reading from their work.

Novelist Amy Tan and poet Nikki Giovanni headline a series that also includes Minnesota writer/singer/songwriter/rapper Dessa and two winners of the Milkweed Fiction Prize, Larry Watson and Jon Pineda.

Here's the lineup:

Sept. 12: Larry Watson ("Let Him Go") and Jon Pineda ("Apology"), in conversation with Milkweed Editions publisher Daniel Slager.

Oct. 25: Dessa, in conversation with Rain Taxi Review editor Eric Lorberer. They'll be discussing her new, as yet untitled chapbook of poetry.

Nov. 13: Amy Tan, discussing "The Valley of Amazement," her first new novel in nearly 10 years.

Dec. 12: Nikki Giovanni, reading from "Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid," her upcoming collection of poetry.

Talk of the Stacks is a free reading series of the Friends of the Hennepin County Library. All events will be held in Pohlad Hall of the Central Library on the Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and talks begin at 7 p.m. and are followed by book signings.

McCann lets his great stories spin at Talk of the Stacks

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel Updated: June 25, 2013 - 11:59 AM
Author Colum McCann at Talk of the Stacks.

Author Colum McCann at Talk of the Stacks.

He started with a story about Frank McCourt and ended with one about Don DeLillo. In between, novelist Colum McCann read aloud, answered questions with wit and humility, and pretty much charmed the packed room at Minneapolis’s Central Library last night.
McCann, winner of the IMPAC Dublin Award and the National Book Award, was in town to promote his latest novel, “TransAtlantic,” three overlapping tales of real people mixed with the fictitious. And what is fiction, McCann said, but to “shape,” not necessarily to “invent.” It’s hard, he said, to explain the book when people ask him what it’s about. “You never know what it’s about until much, much later.”
But he made a stab at it: His book, he said, is about “men who tried in different ways to take the war out of the machine.”
“TransAtlantic” opens with two British World War I aviators, Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown, attempting to fly from Newfoundland to Ireland in order to reclaim flying as a joyous thing rather than a deadly one. (This was an amazing achievement, McCann said, “akin to putting a man on the moon.”)
Other sections in the book tell of Frederick Douglass’ trip to Ireland during the beginning of the Great Famine, and of U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who flew to Northern Ireland repeatedly to forge what became known as the Good Friday Agreement.
Writing about Mitchell, who is still very much alive, was quite different from writing about Alcock, Brown and Douglass, who are not, McCann said. He tread carefully. “I wrote a letter to him—he happens to live in New York, near to where I do—I dropped this letter to him and his wife Heather and said I wanted to write about him. I promised them if they didn't like what I’d written, I’d nix it all. It was a complete and utter lie, of course.” When he eventually heard back from Heather Mitchell, it was to let him know there was one grievous error in McCann’s depiction of her husband: “She said, the Senator never wore brown brogues.”
McCann made very clear his deep admiration for Mitchell and what he did for the Irish people, hammering out the peace agreement over years and years of tedious and contentious meetings. “The Irish never shut up, you know,” he said. “They just keep going and going. Clinton had asked him to go over for two weeks. Three years later, he looks up and says, ‘That was a long two weeks.’ That’s because we tend to prattle on.”
McCann also talked about why fiction—and any art, all art--is important. Living in New York, he said, he can no longer remember precisely what it looked like to see the twin towers of the World Trade Center defining the skyline. But he can look in that direction and see in his mind's eye Philippe Petit (the subject of McCann’s “Let the Great World Spin”) walking across his high wire. “I can always see the memory of a man walking. It’s a powerful reminder of how art survives.
“I only met my grandfather one time—in London, in a nursing home. I didn't really know him. But I read a novel like ‘Ulysses,’ [which follows characters through one day, June 16, 1904] and on that day, my great-grandfather was alive, and my grandfather was alive, and when I read that novel I know him. Literature can fill up all those gaps of memory and time.”
This is one reason why, he said, he prefers Bloomsday to Paddy’s Day as the true Irish holiday.
With the great sky behind them, readers line up to get McCann's autograph after his talk.

With the great sky behind them, readers line up to get McCann's autograph after his talk.

He writes fiction, he said, to get away from himself. “I love the ability to become other, to step away from my own skin and write in the voice of someone else. It’s an adventure; I like it. If I wrote about myself, I’d bore myself. That’s why people love books—they want to be somewhere else for a while.”
In the beginning, “TransAtlantic" was only about Frederick Douglass. It didn’t seem enough. “And then I started thinking about other transatlantic journeys, and I came across Alcock and Brown,” whom he had never heard of. “And then it was still not working.” And finally, out for a run with a friend, “It’s Mitchell, it’s Mitchell,” and the book was off and soaring.
Don DeLillo spoke at one of McCann’s college classes a couple of years ago, casual and low-key, in a baseball cap. “The class was grilling him on the beauty and the structure of his novels, and they asked, ‘How did you do it?’ and DeLillo said, ‘I dunno. Sometimes I seem to be the benefactor of an occasional revelation.’
“And that’s what I feel like,” McCann said, “the benefactor of an occasional revelation.”
[Note: For those of you who expected a Frank McCourt story, too, here it is: “I was with him in his last week—he wasn't able to speak anymore, so he wrote things down,” McCann said. The McCourts and the McCanns used to go out dancing together, and in the hospital room McCann asked him, “When are you going to dancing now?” And McCourt scribbled a note—possibly the last thing he ever wrote, McCann said.
It read, “Every Sabbath, with the great JC and Mary M and the 12 Hot Boys. And in the morning, all will be forgiven.”



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