Literary arts flourish in “Greater Minnesota”

Having just participated in the Rural Arts and Culture Summit at the beautiful U of M-Morris, I am overwhelmed with what I have learned about what’s happening and the people who are celebrating the arts in small towns and communities throughout Minnesota and the nation. Representatives of seventeen states shared their experiences and wisdom – any hint of whining eclipsed by emphasis on collaboration and the power of the arts. Much more on this in forthcoming blog posts – when I get it all sorted out in my head.

In the meantime a couple of additions to a recent post on literary events happening in our midst: (Original post –

  • Bemidji, which sports the tagline “first City on the Mississippi, First City of Arts”, is planning three days for Studio Cruise ’15, October 16-18. The event features tours of open artists’ studios where artists will demonstrate techniques and share their creative processes. This creativity midst the fall scenery of Minnesota’s Northwoods. Contact or call 877 250 5959.
  • The following week, October 23-24, is the Fifth Annual Prairie Gate Literary Festival at the University of Minnesota-Morris. The event features writers including John Hildebrand (creative nonfiction), Eric Smith (YA fiction/non-fiction and literary agent), Emma Bull (sci-fi and fantasy), Vandana Khanna (poet) and Ebba Segerberg (translator). More

My hope is that this list will grow as reticent Minnesotans get up and do what needs to be done to promote the incredible wealth of literary efforts that reflect, shape and enrich the arts and culture profile of the state.

As events rise to the surface they will appear here – meanwhile I will be thinking about how to make the case that writers, illustrators, indie presses and bookstores are essential, if shy, players on the arts and culture scene.




On the road with Minnesota’s writers and readers

Minnesota’s robust community of the book is thriving and sharing this summer.   It’s likely that there is a book-related event within reach – geographic and financial – of every Minnesotan.

One highlight, the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards (NEMBA), now in its 27th year, has become an honored tradition. The awards were announced a week ago, so though it’s too late to attend the gala event, it’s not too late to enjoy the great reads.

Following is an incomplete smattering of what’s happening around the state in weeks to come – just enough to give the flavor…

On June 1 Chel Anderson and Adelheid Fischer, authors of North Shore, will offer a book talk, slide presentation and signing of their book. It’s at 7:00 at the Hartley Nature Center, 3001 Woodland Avenue, Duluth. North Shore is described as “a comprehensive environmental history of one of Minnesota’s most beloved places.”

The Minnesota Association of Library Friends (MALF) and their community partners in Ely will dedicate the Sigurd Olson Literary Landmark on Friday, June 5. This, the sixth and newest Literary Landmark in the state, honors the renowned conservationist; the official site of the Literary Landmark will be housed at Vermillion Community College, Olson’s academic home. The program includes reflections and memories of Olson shared by his close personal friend Chuck Wick. Doug Wood, president of the Listening Point Foundation, Shawn Bina, Vermilion Community College provost and representatives of MALF will are share remarks. Organizers encourage attendees to “make a weekend of it.” The Ely-Winton Historical Society invites all to a free exhibit on the life and career of Sigurd Olson while local Friends will host a tour of the new Ely Public Library. On Saturday, June 6, guests are invited to attend Author!Author!, a local literary showcase sponsored by Ely Greenstone Public Art.

The week of June 8-13 features the Bemidji Library Book Festival sponsored by Kitchigami Regional Library system. It’s a star-studded week that features a multi-generational musical show with the Ross and Bart Sutter, a book presentation with Heid Erdrich, programs from the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, an evening of poetry, writing workshops and more! Most programs are held at the Bemidji Public Library and all are free and open to the public. More information at http://bemidji, or

If you move fast you can make it to the Jon Hassler Festival, June 14-15 in Brainerd. There’s a slide tour of Hassler’s art, a panel discussion on “Teaching Jon Hassler,” opportunities to tour the Jon Hassler Library, and much more. There is a $100 registration fee for the full program.

Then it’s back to Brainerd for Wine and Words, August 13 at Grand View Lodge. The gala event is sponsored by Friends of The Brainerd Public Library. Emcee Lorna Landvik will host a program that includes several authors – Jenna Blum, Peter Geye, Kathleen McCleary, William Kent Krueger and Nadia Hashimi. Find author bios and more about their works at!untitled/mainPage

As the new school year starts and you plan your autumn reads, you’ll want to check out Marshall Festival ‘15, October 22-24 at Southwest Minnesota State University. The “celebration of rural writing and culture” features Susan Power, Gordon Henry, Philip Dacey, David Allan Evans and Bart and Ross Sutter.

These are just a few of the literary possibilities that invite Minnesotans and tourists alike to sample the rich resources that reflect Minnesota’s writing and reading community of the book. If you know of others, please share here in a comment. These literary events are not always listed on tourism calendars so take time to check out what’s happening along the roads you will be traveling. Stop by or call ahead to the local library to find out what’s happening in town – you will probably be amazed by the wealth of opportunities for bibliophiles and bibliophile wanabes. Don’t miss the chance to learn more about the town, the region, and the writers who call the community home!





Shared stories shed light on the horrors of Vietnam

Several weeks ago Minnesota leaders of Veterans for Peace began a conversation that continues to engage vets and concerned others in discussions of the power of stories to inform and engage storytellers and listeners alike. ( The discussion continues on Friday, June 5, with an evening of story circles focused on stories being intentionally left out of the current commemoration of the War in Vietnam.

The lively sharing of stories will be at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, June 5, at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Avenue South. The evening will open with a couple of short stories, one told by Plymouth minister Gary Smith, about the 60’s involvement with Clergy and Laity Concerned. Gary Gilson, journalist, veteran, and former head of the Minnesota News Council, will tell a story and comment on the importance of not omitting parts of the narrative.

Later, small story circles will interact, with each participant deciding whether to share or listen to the stories of others. Planners say that “the intent is to surface and empower many people to tell the stories being left out of the massive PR effort shaped to lead people to conclude that what happened in Vietnam in the 60’s and early 60’s and early 70’s “was a wondrous thing.”

For more information or for a compilation of related resources contact Larry Johnson at








May is Asian Pacific AmericanHeritage Month – So much to celebrate, so little time

Late in the month as this post may be, the celebration of Asian Pacific Americans Heritage Month cannot be limited to one short month. There is too much to celebrate to cram it all into 31 days…..

Asian Pacific Americans Heritage Month has its roots nearly four decades ago when Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California introduced a House resolution that called upon the president to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian/Pacific Heritage Week. The following month Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Passed by both houses of Congress the joint resolution designating the annual celebration was signed on October 5, 1978 by President Jimmy Carter. The commemoration was expanded in May 1990 when President George H.W. Bush designated the entire month of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Month.

The month of May was chosen to recognize the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. in 1843.   Masses of Chinese immigrants soon followed, in large part to work on the Transcontinental Railroad, which was completed in May 10, 1869 with the famous golden spike at Utah’s Promontory Summit.

Today the month is a time set aside to celebrate all of the Asian Pacific Americans who are now part of mainstream America – people from a host of countries including New Guinea, Fiji, the Marianas, Guam, New Zealand, the Hawaiian Island and many others.

There are countless resources to assist independent learners, teachers and groups that want to expand their understanding of the role of Asian Pacific Americans – not just this month but throughout the year.   Among these are the following: – The Library of Congress, in collaboration with the Smithsonian, National Archives and other federal entities, offers a robust library of audio and video as well as print materials and information about related events. The Center for Educational Telecommunications provides an extensive listing of materials in all formats; many of the listed items are in fact links to additional resources.

Closer to home, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights links to several resources including these:

  • Becoming Minnesotan, Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees, Minnesota Historical Society Museum.
  • Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans
The Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans (CAPM) is a state agency created by the Minnesota state legislature to: advise the governor and members of the legislature on issues pertaining to Asian Pacific Minnesotans; advocate on issues of importance to the Asian Pacific community, and; act as a broker between the Asian Pacific community and mainstream society.
  • Asian American Press 
Asian American Press is the first Asian American publication in Minnesota. Founded in 1982 as Asian Business & Community News, and renamed to the Asian American Press in 1990. This publication covers local, national and international news and information related to Asian American culture.

*   *   *

I met a woman who told me that she wasn’t attracted to Asians. “No worries,” I said. “I’m not attracted to racists” ― Simon Tam







Venture forth to celebrate Indie Bookstore Day!

Today’s the second day of May

First-ever Indie Bookstore Day

So browse the shelves, explore the nooks

Talk with folks about the books

Not just the books that grab the news

But those with fresh ideas and views.

Get to know the friendly clerks

Who know the authors and their works.

Today’s a day to celebrate

What makes each indie bookstore great!

Yes, this is a bit tardy, but it’s not too late – because your indie is likely to be within walking distance. And there will be a warm welcome, possibly a cup of tea, waiting for you. There may also be special Independent Bookstore literary gifts available only at indies, gifts including signed prints by graphic novelist Chris Ware and Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey, a Roz Chast tote bag, a signed collection of essays by Roxanne Gay, or a set of tea towels with sayings by Lemony Snicket and Pat Conroy – stuff you won’t find online.

Over 400 stores around the country are participating in this new national holiday – each with its own unique panache, of course. The media offer some good points of entry to the many local options — MPR heralded Indie Bookstore Day with a lively discussion on Kerri Miller’s show and nice profiles and photos of some of the area’s indie’s by Tracy Mumford (

Meanwhile, the Strib’s Laurie Hertzel provides an informative post about what’s happening at some of the TC’s indies. ( Laurie offers a gentle suggestion that readers might want to spend the day visiting all of the area’s indie treasures. It’s a fun – if overwhelming – idea.

I’m thinking of an opposite approach – spending a few hours exploring the nooks and crannies –physical and intellectual – of just one neighborhood gem.   Either approach offers a lovely way to learn more about the creative ways in which independent bookstores enhance and expand this community of the book.

The Disabilities Rights Movement – Celebrating the impact of ADA, embracing the challenges that remain

The history of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) did not begin on July 26, 1990 at the signing ceremony at the White House. It did not begin in 1988 when the first ADA was introduced in Congress. The ADA began a long time ago in cities and towns throughout the United States when people with disabilities began to challenge societal barriers that excluded them form their communities, and when parents of children with disabilities began to fight against the exclusion and segregation of their children.

Writing in 1992, Arlene Mayerson knew well the stories and the struggles of the thousands of people who turned personal challenges into a movement. As Directing Attorney of Disability Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) she was in the thick of it all. As lecturer at Berkeley Law School she continues the good fight.

Every American, able or challenged, has experienced the impact of ADA. In fact, ADA has is so imbedded in our daily lives that it is difficult to realize that it is just a quarter century since passage of that federal law. Still, on July 26, 2015 the nation will celebrate the changes wrought in our society over the past 25 years.

It is not too soon for organizations and institutions, schools, the faith community, children’s groups, social service and government agencies, health care providers, senior groups and families to start thinking ahead about how to best join in the celebration.

The good news is that leaders of the disabilities rights cause have gathered and produced an awesome selection of resources, events, and tools to spark interest and support local initiatives.

For those of us who may have experienced but never fully realized the societal changes of which we were a part, Arlene Mayer’s brief history, written in the wake of passage of ADA, offers an informative – and highly accessible – review of the roots and growth of the movement.   (

The ADA Legacy Project ( is a major initiative to honor the progress that has been made while reminding us that much remains to be done.   One of the goals of the ADA Legacy Project is to honor the contributions of individuals with disabilities and their allies who persevered in securing the passages of this landmark civil rights legislation. There is an ADA Anniversary Tool Kit, suggested themes, a media kit, proclamations, pledges and more. (

My personal favorite of the ADA Legacy Project resources is a collection of “Moments in Disability History” selected from the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities website and archives. ( The collection of “moments” includes audio and video clips, historical documents, images and slides covering the decades that led up to the passage of the ADA. “They are the ‘moments’ every self-advocate, parent and professional advocate should know and be literate about in order to create future policy. The collection of “moments” creates a common ground for study of the disability movement. The prime mover behind the “moments”, Ed Preneta, notes that “the events, or aftermath of the events, changed history and their impact resonates with us today.”

Though I have not yet plumbed the depths of the Disability History Museum ( it is intriguing and inviting. The Museum is actually a virtual project “designed to offer people with or without disabilities, researchers, teachers and students with a wide array of tools to help deepen their understanding of human variation and difference, and to expand appreciation of how vital to our common life the experiences of people with disabilities have always been.” The virtual museum includes over 300 primary source documents and images, many designed to show young people who take access for granted the challenges that faced people with disabilities before the movement.   The virtual museum also features information about the situation in developing countries with special reference to the UN Convention on Disability Rights. (

As we celebrate ADA we must be mindful of 21st Century challenges and possibilities. In the past quarter century technology has changed the nation and the world –and the options for people with disabilities. Today’s challenge is to assure that we capitalize on the potential of technology to expand – not limit – opportunities for everyone. The 25th anniversary offers an opportunity to honor the triumphs to date with a clear eye on future possibilities. An earlier blog post focused specifically on efforts to expand access to government information for people with disabilities.

The story of the Americans with Disabilities Act is long, complex and inspiring. It is a story of individuals and families, institutions and organizations that saw a need and summoned the strength to create and sustain a movement. This is a story we all need to learn, remember and emulate. What better time than the celebration of ADA at 25!   More to follow…

Related Poking Around posts:






Listening to Ruth Myers as we address 2015 challenges

Note:  This is a revision of an earlier post, reposted because of the current discussions of the education, health and nutritional needs and the rights of American Indian Minnesotans:

“Weaving the stories of women’s lives” is the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month.   The story of the life of Ruth Myers is – and must be – woven into today’s fabric of the education and health of American Indian youth and families. Though Myers is no longer with us, her spirit and her political force continue to shape the educational and political ideology of the leaders she helped to form.

For decades, Ruth  Myers, known as the “grandmother of American Indian Education in Minnesota”was the driving force and voice for American Indian children and their families.  Though she died in 2001, Ruth left a legacy that might well serve as the model for Governor Dayton and the educators who are struggling with the same issues today.  Her spirit, ideas, courage, and unstinting commitment to American Indian learners set a standard to be emulated.  Her spirit can infuse and thus help shape today’s efforts.

Ruth was not a professional educator but a concerned parent, citizen and a proud member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  Ruth was sent at an early age to an Indian boarding school, a sad fact that shaped her life and fueled her fervor.  Though she spoke little of those sad experiences, it was easy to feel her pain and the ways in which she harnessed that pain to inspire positive change.

Her accomplishments are legendary.  An elected member of the Duluth School Board, Ruth was appointed by the Governor as the first American Indian member of the Minnesota State Board of Education. Though at times she chaired that Board, she always ruled it by her presence and her persistence.

At the University of Minnesota Duluth where she worked for many years, she remains a legend.  She is credited with starting sixteen of seventeen UMD programs for American Indian students.  Colleagues there recall that, in 1973, she saw a notice in the newspaper that the UMD Medical School was developing a program for American Indians and, in the process, was organizing a committee of community members.  She knocked on the office door of the Dean of the Medical School and asked, “What Indians do you have on that committee?”  The rest is history….

Ruth’s position at UMD before retirement was Co-Director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health at the School of Medicine.  There she tended not only to recruitment and academic coaching but to life’s details; she regularly stopped at a legendary purveyor of low-cost fresh produce every time she had a meeting in St. Paul – which was often.  Often I think of how proud Ruth would be of the students to whom she offered a gentle helping hand at the most unexpected moment.

Not one to bow to academic measures, Ruth was truly pleased when UMD named the Ruth Myers Endowed Chair in American Indian Education; though she cared little about the honor she knew it would convey status and support on her beloved program.  She was also touched deeply when the Fond du Lac Community College Library was named for her; that library continues to reflect her influence in many ways.  Ruth understood well the power of the record; she often expressed a conviction that American Indian students should be encouraged to pursue professions in museums, libraries and archives so they could correct, complete and basically set the historic record straight.

Though the list of honors for Ruth is nearly infinite, possibly the most inclusive is the Minnesota Indian Education Association Elder of the Year – it says it all.

My introduction to Ruth was as a member of the State Board of Education.  On the first day, she reminded me that I was as much a member as any of the older and, I presumed, wiser members.  She also declared that, from that day forward, I was to watch out for women’s issues so she could concentrate on American Indian and other minority students.  Ruth was the mistress of gentle delegation.

Though her accomplishments as a member and Chair of the State Board of Education are inestimable, a few stand out in my clear memory of those days:

  • Ruth advocated unceasingly for review of the image of American Indians in textbooks, library materials, the core curriculum.
  • She fought for preservation of American Indian languages in the schools.
  • She insisted that every Minnesota student must know something about Indian culture.
  • She regaled education professionals about their indifference to the nutritional needs and dietary threats (e.g. milk products) for American Indian youth.
  • Ever open to change, Ruth examined every proposed rule from the perspective of how it would affect Indian kids and their families.
  • And she would frequently point to the American Indian origins of the U of M Morris campus – and the rights of American Indian students who should be encouraged to exercise their inalienable right to attend UM-Morris.

Often a body of writing conveys the thoughts of an academic who wants to have a voice in the future.  For Ruth, the voice was so strong, the commitment so staunch, the vision so clear and the passion so fervent that it is her voice that speaks to those who will but hear.  My hope is that this includes those who are shaping the future of American Indian education in Minnesota.  As with other great leaders, the vision outlives the individual and must inspire those who would seek to accomplish similar goals – if they will just listen.