When asked why they put up with his highly irascible temperament, friends of D.H. Lawrence almost always said that the way he made them see things — freshly, deeply, from a perspective they’d never considered — was worth any amount of irritation. I don’t have any idea whether Andy Sturdevant has a dark side — if so, it doesn’t show up in the book — but after reading “Potluck Supper With Meeting to Follow,” I’d be willing to put up with anything short of kicking babies to keep basking in the glow of his quirky, speculative, resonant lessons in seeing.
“Potluck Supper With Meeting to Follow” centers on visual culture and meaning making: Essays consider train-car graffiti, neon liquor store signs, airport shoeshine kiosks, “circle me, Bert” signs and the portraits of the governors in the Capitol. (Minnesota was trendy with the French symbolists of the 1890s? Who knew?) And these are only a few of the vehicles through which Sturdevant explores the urban landscape and the meanings of the Midwest: an “empty” landscape that is “a testament to constant improvisation and a compulsive need to renew and reinvent.”
Continual renewal, of course, entails a lot of demolition: “One has to grab whatever might seem like heritage and hold on to it so that it’s not carried away in the next cycle.” So a number of essays pay tribute to things that aren’t there anymore — galleries, arts-and-culture publications, concert venues, even the soon-to-be-gone Metrodome.
A particular favorite of mine is “A Field Guide to the Vacant Storefronts of East Lake Street,” but the early essay on the Buffalo Wild Wings that has taken over a former music venue is also lovely in its self-deprecating honesty about what has been lost and what — maybe? — might have been gained.
As a relative newcomer to Minneapolis, Sturdevant is in many ways a quintessential local — that is, a transplant. “Minneapolis is where the drama queens and burnouts and weirdos and misfits of the rural and suburban Upper Midwest wind up,” all secretly suspecting that they’re “not Minneapolis enough.” But “wherever they came from, Minneapolis is their home now, and it belongs to them. It belongs to us.”
This sense of ownership — this stake in the city — makes Sturdevant an especially fitting guide to the city.
More than anything, “Potluck Supper With Meeting to Follow” feels like a long ambulatory conversation with an exceptionally interesting friend. Sturdevant’s voice — inquisitive, witty and intelligent — invites us in at every turn. The book’s material presence reinforces that invitation; it’s a lovely artifact, beautifully designed and charmingly illustrated. It would make a great gift for anyone interested in visual culture, Minnesota, the Midwest, Minneapolis, art, good writing, offbeat information … oh, heck, why not just say everyone? And get a copy for yourself while you’re at it.
Patricia Hagen teaches English at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.