Moved to Minnesota two months shy of 10 years ago, in a warm and humid August. Moving for work because, well, what other reason does one move to the Midwest? But also because Macalester College hired me to teach creative writing full-time for one year. That job interview took place months before, in Philadelphia, a city I also did not know. A city that I took the bus to from New York, after flying in from Jamaica. An interview for a job I did not get. In fact, Macalester calling me back in the nick of time saved me from a near miss with Iowa. Because I was not one of their final candidates, I never came out to visit, and because I never came out to visit, the first time I saw Minnesota was the first time I showed up for work.
So back to work. But first a backtrack to Jamaica. I was supposed to leave the country for one year, but I packed as if leaving for good. This is a slightly different thing for a writer, meaning that when my friends saw that I was leaving behind all the furniture, appliances, and most of the clothes, but packing all my books, they knew I was never coming back.
Not that I planned to go off the grid, but I knew I was walking out of one life into another. But that makes this essay far too melodramatic far too early, and as I say to my students all the time, don’t confuse melodrama with drama. But the point I’m making is that it wasn’t so much that I was running to Minnesota, as I was running from Jamaica.
But many who run to Minnesota are running from something, and we date back even before the great migration, when black Americans ran from the Jim Crow South. It means that for many, myself included, summer in Minnesota means escape. And not always with drama attached.
Sometimes escape means a final reprieve from winter. We learn quickly that it never comes with spring, not with snow always threatening to fall, all the way into May. We are never truly in the clear until summer. You only really escape once, and if that was all there was to Minnesota I would have left years ago. We stay because summer promises something far greater and more enduring than escape: renewal.
Renewal happens on every level. Nature rewiring itself, regreening and regrowing itself, with everyone involved in a sort of statewide coming out. Summer is a bunch of specifics for many, lots of parks and lots of recreation, but it’s a sum of abstractions for me. Themes, motifs, things that resonate on a deeper level, like renewal, growth, an annual, renewable second chance, or maybe just a chance to cycle 40 miles and soak up badly needed vitamin D.
It makes sense to me that I would finally come out, and live my most real self in Minnesota. That as summer opened up and showed itself, so would I. That it’s not our infamous winters but our summers where Minnesota shows the truest version of herself.
And if you live here, you always feel as if you cheated into something wonderful you didn’t quite deserve. The most beautifully green urban center, or the most cosmopolitan wildlife showcase you can encounter on two legs or two wheels. Or four, when I con my friends into driving me around.
Summer is when I remember why I live here, and why I could never live anywhere else.
Marlon James is the author of “The Book of Night Women,” winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” winner of the Man Booker Prize. He teaches at Macalester College in St. Paul. His new novel will be published in fall 2018.