It's cold outside but it's warm inside--inside bookstores and colleges, libraries and coffee shops and performance spaces, and if you can make it out of your alley and not spin out at those icy intersections you might want to check out some of these spring literary events coming up in the Twin Cities. And yes, I am using the word "spring" very loosely. And yes, I am bitter.
The list is long and I am not pretending to be comprehensive. Please feel free to add any missing events in the comments, so send me an email and I'll update this. Events are free unless otherwise noted. Here goes:
Talk of the Stacks with Lorrie Moore: 7 p.m. March 7, Central Library, Nicollet Mall
You know the drill--doors open at 6:15 and people start lining up ahead of time. Get there early. Some late arrivals might have to go into an overflow room, which was the case when Amy Tan spoke here last fall. The hour-long reading/q&a will be followed by a reception and booksigning.
Club Book with P.S. Duffy, 7 p.m. March 11, Merriam Park Library, St. Paul
P.S. Duffy, who lives in Rochester, is the author of "The Cartographer of No-Man's Land."
Birchbark Books Reading Series: 7 p.m. March 12, Bockley Gallery, Minneapolis
William Bearhart, Sun Yung Shin, Cole Bauer, and Margaret Hasse will read their poetry.
Poetry Out Loud State Competition: 11:30 a.m. March 13, Pohlad Hall, Central Library, Minneapolis
One high school from this competition will go on to represent Minnesota at the national finals in Washington, D.C., in April. Yes, poetry is a competitive sport! (Shouldn't it have letter jackets? With lots of letters?)
University of Minnesota "First Books": 7 p.m. March 13, Weisman Art Museum
This is a spring tradition at the U, a reading by new authors. This year, the three authors--all of nonfiction--will be in conversation with Chris Fischbach, publisher of Coffee House Press (which published two of the books).
Authors are: Kate Hopper ("Ready for Air," University of Minnesota Press), Andy Sturdevant ("Potluck Supper with Meeting to Folow"), and Joshua Ostergaard ("The Devil's Snake Curve: A Fan's Notes from Left Field").
Minnesota Book Awards Nominee Readings: 7 p.m. March 14, The Loft, Minneapolis
This is always a fun event, with most of the 30 or so finalists for the Minnesota Book Award reading from their nominated works.
Normandale Community College Writing Festival: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., March 19
This is the fifth annual festival, which is free and open to the public. Keynote speeches will be by Sarah Stonich ("Vacationland") and Benjamin Percy ("Red Moon"). Other speakers include Swati Avasthi and Ed Bok Lee.
Club Book with Nikki Giovanni and Dave Zirin, 7 p.m. March 19, Southdale Library, Edina
Dave Zirin is a sportwriter and the author of "Game Over: How Politics Have Turned the Sports World Upside Down." Nikki Giovanni is, of course, a poet, winner of an American Book Award.
North Hennepiin Community College Meet the Authors Reading Series, March 20 and April 21
I'm sorry that you've already missed the first two in the series--Kao Kalia Yang and Matt Rasmussen. But YA author Pete Hautman will read at 11:30 a.m. March 20, and Heid Erdrich will read at 10 a.m. April 21.
Echoes Across the Pond--Voices Irish & American: 7 p.m. March 26, The Loft at Open Book
Poets Joyce Sutphen, Tim Nolan, Patricia Kirkpatrick, Anne-Marie Fyfe, and C.L. Dallat.
Cracked Walnut Reading Festival: April 2-May 1, various spots around the Twin Cities and Duluth
The second annual spring series from this group will hold readings at coffee shops, community centers, and other neighborhood locations for most of April. The list of readers is long (and full disclosure, I will be one of them), and is still in the works, but it includes Margaret Haase, Mona Susan Power, Ryan Vine, Pam Schmid, and Anika Fajardo.
Talk of the Stacks with Ron Padgett: 7 p.m. April 3, Central Library, Mpls.
Poet Ron Padgett, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in poetry and also an editor and translator, has published his collected works this year with Coffee House Press.
Minnesota Book Awards Gala: 7 p.m. April 5, The Historic Union Depot, St. Paul
The glittering event of the season. Dress up (in black, of course, and maybe a hat with a jaunty feather? Or some jet beads? Go nuts), enjoy some jazz, have a glass of wine, and find out who wins the trophies this year. Tickets are $45 and you can register online here.
Club Book with Brian Freeman: 7 p.m. April 7, Rum River Library, Anoka
Minnesota writer Brian Freeman is the best-selling author of the Jonathan Stride mysteries.
David Mitchell: 7:30 p.m. April 9, Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota
Part of the notable Esther Freier Endowed Lectures, a continuing series that brings in significant authors to speak at a free event. Mitchell will discuss "Cloud Atlas," and will give a few peeks into his sixth novel, "The Bone Clocks," to be published in September. These lectures tend to fill up fast; go early.
Lawrence O'Shaughnessy Award for Poetry: 7 p.m. April 11, University of St. Thomas
This year's winner is Irish poet Catherine Phill MacCarthy, from Dublin. Go for the accent, stay for the poetry.
Club Book with Peter Geye and Amy Greene: 7 p.m. April 15, Roseville Library
Geye, who lives in Minneapolis, is the author of "Safe from the Sea" and "The Lighthouse Road," chosen as a 2014 World Book Night selection. Greene, a novelist, is the author of "Long Man," published this month by Alfred A. Knopf.
Poetry readings: 7 p.m. April 22, the Loft at Open Book, Minneapolis
Kate Green, Jane Yolen and Susan Deborah King read from their new books.
World Book Night: April 23, all day long, everywhere
This will be the third year for World Book Night in the United States (it's been going on longer in the UK), a day (and night) during which volunteers hand out free paperback copies of selected books to random folks. This year's titles includes books by Minnesota writers Garrison Keillor, Peter Geye, Eleanor Brown, and Cheryl Strayed. Try to hang out in a place where you think a giver might happen by. Good luck nabbing a free book.
Club Book with Amanda Coplin: 7 p.m. April 24, Stillwater Public Library
Amanda Coplin, who earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, is the author of the highly acclaimed novel, "The Orchardist."
PenPals Lecture Series with Art Spiegelman: 7:30 p.m. April 24 and 11 a.m. April 25, Hopkins Arts Center
Artist and illustrator Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, "Maus," an illustrated history of the Holocaust (told by a mouse). Tickets are $50-40 and available here.
The Great Twin Cities Poetry Read: 7 p.m. April 26, Augsburg College, Minneapolis
Thirty poets will each read one poem. Names? Here's all thirty, in groups of five:
William Waltz, Elisabeth Workman, Sarah Fox, Christopher Bolin, Chay Douangphouxay.
Katrina Vandenberg, Kate Shuknecht, Patrick Werle, Jessica Welu, Heid Erdrich.
Paula Cisewski, Chris Martin, Dobby Gibson, Angela Mason, Jenny McDougal
Patricia Kirkpatrick, Dessa, Mary Austin Speaker, Sun Yung Shin, Kate Green
Betsy Brown, Kavi Jointe, Seth Abramson, Matt Mauch, Brad Liening
Steve Healey, Matt Rasmussen, MC Hyland, Emily Fedoruk, Tai Coleman
Children's and Young Adult Literature Conference: April 25-27, the Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis.
Register online here for the conference, which will feature workshops, lectures and panel discussions with Anne Ursu, Pete Hautman, Brian Ferrey-Latz, Molly Beth Griffin, and many others.
PenPal Lecture Series with Tracy K. Smith: 7:30 p.m. May 8 and 11 a.m. May 9, Hopkins Center for the Arts
Tracy K. Smith's "Life on Mars," published by Graywolf Press, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. Tickets are $50-40 and are available here.
Talk of the Stacks with Francine Prose: 7 p.m. May 12, Central Library, Minneapolis
Francine Prose is a novelist and essayist; her new book, "Lovers at the Chameleon Club," will be published March 1.
And let's not forget all of the authors who will be coming through your neighborhood bookstores--Common Good Books, Once Upon a Crime, the various Barnes and Nobles, Magers & Quinn, Chapter 2, Valley Booksellers, Excelsior Bay, SubText, the Bookcase of Wayzata, Micawber's, Wild Rumpus, Red Balloon: check their websites for events.
And by the time you've gone to all of this events, it really and truly will be spring.
The women weren't exactly sedate, but they read from printed scripts--poetry, book excerpts, essays--and they mostly kept to the time limit. Within those constraints, though, there was much room for laughter and poignancy, as Heid Erdrich read poems that she had "sneaked into" her new cookbook, "Original Local," and Mary Lou Judd Carpenter read from a memoir she has written about her parents, "Miriam's Words: The Personal Price of a Public Life." (Her father was congressman Walter Judd, and the memoir draws heavily on the letters of his wife, Miriam.) Eleanor Leonard read an essay about lighting the candles on a tree and singing "Silent Night."
But the men! Whoa! Less reading than performance art, spoken word, with props.
Last night's Readings for Writers (holiday edition), coordinated and emceed, as usual, by St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly, was unexpectedly raucous and, at times, side-splittingly funny. Not what you might expect for a literary evening at the sedate and dignified University Club.
Poet Mike Finley, blue-eyed and cherubic, pulled a tinsel-bedecked hat out of a bag, placed it solemnly on his head, then pulled out a big gold Christmas stocking and began fishing around inside of it, drawing out slips of paper at random and reading them. Not poems, exactly, but more than jokes, they first startled, then amused the audience. (The first one: "Why / is that frisbee / getting bigger? / and then it hits me....")
Poet and memoirist Ted King pulled on a Santa hat, claimed that Ted King couldn't make it and had sent Santa in his place, and then began spinning fantastic stories, seemingly off the top of his head, about the original Santa giveaway (which involved theft).
Baker-poet Danny Klecko never opened his prop bag, just pounded it on the podium dramatically as he read a poem about urging one of his pastry chefs to steal Garrison Keillor's salt and pepper shakers. Was that what was in the bag? The last line of the poem tells us that the contents "I'm not at liberty to discuss."
At 9 p.m., just as Tim Nolan, the last poet of the evening, approached the podium, a dozen or so people screamed, "Snow emergency!" and fled to move their cars. Nolan looked wryly at Connolly and said, "You mention my name and people head for the door."
He carried only a sheaf of paper with him, but it turned out that he, too, had props: As he read his final poem, "Shoes," he removed his shoes and placed them on the podium in front of him. He made it almost all the way through the poem before stopping, sniffing the air, and saying, "Oooh, my shoes stink." And then, "That's not part of the poem."
The annual event is free but passes the hat for Public Art St. Paul.
He is not angry anymore, no longer a rabble-rouser. There was no sitar accompaniment, no drums, no rubber masks, no embroidered vest. Robert Bly is old now, and a wee bit forgetful, but he still knows how to put on a show, and he still comes deeply alive for poetry. On Wednesday evening, he launched his latest book, "Stealing Sugar From the Castle: Selected and New Poems 1950-2013," at the University of Minnesota in front of about 250 people.
After a tender and lengthy introduction by writer Michael Dennis Browne (who recalled helping to jumpstart Bly's blue P lymouth after a night of poetry in Minneapolis in 1967, and who also recalled how Bly once damned-with-faint-praise a poem written by one of Browne's students, saying it was as exciting as the phrase "I almost went to Hawaii once"), Bly and his friend and fellow poet Thomas R. Smith took the stage.
With Smith holding the microphone and occasionally offering a gentle prompt, Bly read. Twenty-five poems, some of the lines and stanzas read more than once, in the way that Bly does, for emphasis. He was playful and sly, joking after a couple of poems that he had no idea what they meant. He beat out a rhythm with his hand, he sometimes lapsed into funny voices, taking on characters. ("One day a mouse called to me from his curly nest: / 'How do you sleep? I love curliness,' " and giving the mouse a squeaky voice.)
He turned serious with "When My Dead Father Called," and then deliberately broke the mood afterward by saying, "Did I really write this? My memory's so bad every time I read one of my own poems I think I've never read that before."
But he had of course proved that wrong just a few minutes before, reciting--not reading--"Poem in Three Parts," looking out at the crowd with those blue blue eyes of his, never glancing down at the page.
While it might be early poems such as that one that are imbedded in his brain, his newer poems, dealing poignantly with aging and dying, were deeply affecting. In "Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat," he says: "It's hard to grasp how much generosity / Is involved in letting us go on breathing, / When we contribute nothing valuable but our grief." And then he stopped, and looked up. "I didn't always believe that," he said; he used to believe we were valued for happiness and fun. And then he read the stanza again.
The poem ends, "Each of us deserves to be forgiven, if only for / Our persistence in keeping our small boat afloat / When so many have gone down in the storm."
"When you get to be my age, you notice that," he said. "How many have gone down in the storm."
Such a poignant evening, watching this 86-year-old white-haired man read from fifty years' of poems, watching him grow animated at the sound of his own remarkable words. In the end, of course, thunderous applause, and an uncharacteristic modesty. "It's good of you to clap," he said. "It makes an old Norwegian happy."
Jhumpa Lahiri had requested no photographs, so you will just have to imagine the scene last night: Two lovely, intense women, both with long dark hair and wearing skirts and boots, seated side-by-side in comfortable armchairs in the front of the beautiful old sanctuary of St. Pau l's Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, a wooden table between them, set with mugs of water. A table lamp cast a warm glow.
The two women were powers of American letters: Louise Erdrich, winner of the 2012 National Book Award (and many other significant awards), in conversation with visiting writer Jhumpa Lahiri, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and currently in the running for both the National Book Award and the Man Booker Prize for her new book, "The Lowland." (Strib review here.)
No photos, no video, the talk would be "old school," Erdrich said. "Hard-cover books. An event in present-time. You, us, and this wonderful book--graceful, full of heart."
Lahiri, who reportedly is not fond of book tours, has not only forbidden photographs but has canceled all interview requests for the rest of her tour. "Thank you, Louise, for talking to me and sitting with me tonight," she said. "I think it will be just what I need on this long road, this long march of mine."
She read an early passage of "The Lowland," a powerful section in which the two brothers in the book--Subhash and Udayan--are still young and are caught trespassing in the exclusive Tolly Club and are caught by a policeman, who steals from the boys, beats one of them, threatens both.
"Where did this place come from for you?" Erdrich asked. "It's so powerful."
The place is real, Lahiri said.The Lowland is "the area of Calcutta where my own father was raised, a neighborhood I have come to know quite well. Tolly Land was built by the British, a place for them to retreat and ride horses and play golf and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city."
In her research ("In spite of the fact that I know it well and can conjure it," she still needed to find out the history of the area), Lahiri learned that the area had once been a flood plain, later drained by the English. "That gave me some sort of working metaphor for the story," she said.
The story itself also sprang from memories of her childhood. Lahiri grew up in Rhode Island, but her family traveled back to India every other year to visit relatives. And during those visits, she became aware of the Naxalite Movement, a sometimes-violent rebellion that one of the brothers in her novel becomes involved in.
"There was a family who lived very close to my grandparents," she said, "that had two boys who became involved in the movement." One evening when the police raided the neighborhood, the boys ran and took refuge in the lowland. But they were captured and were executed in front of their family.
"That was the most upsetting thing," she said. "It just shook me. I found it bewildering and confusing that something like that could happen in the neighborhood where I passed time reading books, visiting friends and family. That triggered something in me. I didn't know what to do with it, but when I began writing seriously, the idea would float in and out, and I became aware of the desire to shape this and do something with it."
It was years before she wrote down that scene, but even then it remained just a scene for a long time. "I coudln't do anything more with it. I set it aside for a decade," and finally went back to it in 2008.
Erdrich asked her about the origin on the main characters, and Lahiri replied that she was interested in understanding what leads people to violence. In the case of political movements, "It's often what they see as the greater good," she said. "They did believe in violence as a way to achieve these means.
"I really wanted to examine violence in many forms--not just physical, but emotional. So much of writing begins with these questions, with wanting to understand." And Erdrich, whose latest novel, "The Round House," also involved an examination of violence, nodded in agreement.
Lahiri took no questions from the audience, but at the end of the hour agreed to sign books for the sell-out crowd of 350 people. As Erdrich noted in her opening remarks, the book is on the long list for the National Book Award (the short list will be announced next week) and on the short list for the "extremely prestigious" Man Booker Prize. She hoped, she said, that Lahiri wins both, and that "you can use the same acceptance speech for both of them."
Alice McDermott's new novel, "Someone," long-listed for a National Book Award, is a quiet, rich book, the story of an Irish-American woman named Marie who lives in Brooklyn. Last night at Macalester College, in an event sponsored by Common Good Books, she read passages from the novel to a rapt crowd of about 100 people.
She chose three passages that traced Marie's romantic life--from the first time her heart was broken, to the first time she met her future husband, to a frightening but ultimately reassuring and loving incident in middle age. These same passages are the ones she suggested to her jazz musician son, Will Armstrong, when he told her he was interested in setting parts of her book to music.
(The result is a soundtrack for "Someone," issued by McDermott's publisher Farrar Straus & Giroux. You can listen to, or buy, the haunting, Irish-tinged tunes at www.willarmstrongjazz.com)
But back to Will's mom.
After her reading, McDermott took questions--no, she said; her books are not terribly autobiographical. "I couldn't write autobiography to save my life," she said. "I'm a fiction writer to the bone. The impulse to lie is strong."
That said, she added, her own experiences of the world are reflected in her books--that world of Irish-Americans in New York, their traditions and faith, the soda bread, the language and diction.
She wrote "Someone" partly to preserve some of that. "I wanted to get some of the language of the time, the phrases," she said. Not history--the history is easily knowable--but the attitude and vocabulary.
She also wrote it because "I wanted to go against the trend and give an entire novel over to a female character who didn't have much voice in her own life," she said. Her protagonist, Mary, is a nearsighted quiet woman who came of age in the 1930s and married after World War II. Her older brother, Gabe, was the golden boy who her parents were sure was going to become a priest; Mary's role as a child was to sit quietly and listen while he recited poetry at the dinner table.
"She came of age at a time when people said, 'Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses,' " McDermott said. "That was not a joke. Yes, hers is an ordinary life. But what life is ordinary? I wanted to undermine the idea of an ordinary life. None of us is ordinary.
"Detail. That's how we distinguish. The specficity by which we define lives."
And "Someone" is rich, rich in sensory detail--not just sounds and sights, but textures and, especially, smells: the cold smell of winter and the mothball smell of fur coats and the homey smell of soda bread baking. (Which, by the way, McDermott does not bake. She said she doesn't cook; she writes stories about people who do, and that's just as good.)
Literary fiction, McDermott said, is more about language than it is about plot. "The duty of literary fition is to take language to the point where we only intuit the meaning, to the point we have no words for."
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