Monthly Archives: April 2016

Sources and Stories Blaze the Trail for Older Americans Month

There’s a bit of irony in the fact that President Kennedy designated the first Senior Citizens Month in 1963.   Kennedy was a young man then, the nation’s youngest president. If today’s seniors were even around, they were also young, facing an uncertain future and a far distant war.

“Senior Citizen” was still politically correct, not that the world was yet into political correctness in 1963. For the record, it was 1980 when President Jimmy Carter changed the name to “Older Americans Month” and who, incidentally, redefined the image and role of 21st Century older Americans.

Theme of Older Americans Month 2016 is “Blaze a Trail.” The idea is to challenge older Americans to take action, to give back to their communities, to start new careers or hobbies, basically to put a contemporary face on aging.

At the national level planners of OAM have provide a robust digital library of excellent resources created by a host of federal agencies and nonprofits including USDA, NIH, National Institute of Aging, the National Center for Creative Living, the Office of Justice Programs and others.   The basic resource themes include Wellness, Securing Your Finances, Reinvention and Civic Engagement. All of these are readily accessible online –

For the statistically enchanted, the U.S. Census Bureau has also just issued a great guide (CB16-FF.08) It’s actually a great introduction to a world of numbers that tell the story of a rapidly changing demographic shift in this country and the world.

It may not be too late for community groups, churches, nonprofits, book clubs and others to build on the “Trailblazer” theme with an interesting Story Competition also prepared by OAM organizers. The idea is to launch a “trailblazer” story competition to encourage older adults to share their stories – stories of their careers, time in defending the nation, their advocacy work, whether for the arts of early childhood education or services for those who are physically or mentally challenged. Again, there’s an excellent guide for organizers.

“Eat My Shorts” Celebrates the Art and Elegance of a Powerful Genre

Back in the day, when the printed word reigned as a prime mode of communicating information and ideas – and academic institutions offered electives that were not finely tuned to career goals – I spent a semester mesmerized by Catherine Lupori who taught a most exceptional course on The Short Story. We devoured with awe the artfully crafted words of Flannery O’Connor (still my favorite), Virginia Wolff, Alan Tate, Franz Kafka and scores of other short story writers. (The elegance of the short story allows for many voices to be heard.)

Thus I rejoice at the launch this week of “Eat My Shorts: Short Story Theatre”, the brainchild of Scott VanKoughnett, proprietor of Eat My Words Bookstore. The opening event, 7:00 p.m. on Friday, April 29, is first in the series that features a robust mix of short fiction, performance, and audience participation. The performance reading will be led by Applause Community Theatre whose members will lead with a performance reading followed by opportunities for audience participation.

Featured author for the premiere is Sherman Alexie ( whose work includes poetry, fiction, comedy and film, much of which reflects Alexie’s experience as a Native American.

Eat My Words bookstore is at 1228 2nd Street in Northeast Minneapolis. To learn more about this most extraordinary bookstore check this recent blog post — file://localhost/(https/

To read or reconnect with some favorite short stories you might want to start here:

To learn more about Applause Community Theatre on FaceBook click here:



In Pursuit of Preservation as a Public Agenda Priority

A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance. ~~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Last Friday our guest on the “Voices of Northeast” series (

was Richard (Dick) Kelly, retired University of Minnesota librarian. Dick spoke eloquently of his work curating a number of major personal papers and libraries, including the John Berryman collection, sharing delightful stories of marginal notes and even the way that Berryman’s books were shelved in his home. Though Dick was quick to remind me that he is indeed a librarian not an archivist, as I listened to his wise comments and his breadth of experience I kept thinking of how complementary – and interdependent. The symbiotic relationship of professions committed to preserving our culture heritage is more than ever essential. The information/communications revolution determines that information and ideas, stored in ever-evolving formats, flow freely through an ever-expanding network of channels. As a society we face the challenge to craft a mix of rules and responsibilities, formats and functions that assure preservation of this “heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge.”

And so my thoughts in recent days have tended to revolve that challenge – to explore as a concerned human just how we can assure that this vast resource – the recorded knowledge of humankind – can achieve status as a public priority. Preservation of our heritage must thrive, never languish, in the complex netherworld of “everybody’s business and nobody’s business.”

My pondering and probing soon led me to the inevitable digital dive where I found rich resources, human and recorded, that offer comfort and inspire the compulsion to act.

First, I learned that my timing is spot on – We are midweek of Preservation Week 2016, sponsored by the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, the Library of Congress and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. ( There I learned that the first comprehensive national survey of the condition and preservation needs of the nation’s collections, conducted over a decade ago, revealed that U.S. institutions hold more than 4.8 billion items, 63% of which are housed in libraries. Forget tomes and Hollinger files, these are moving images, maps, paintings, sound recordings, apps and countless other formats that were not yet envisioned a decade ago. Given the enormity of the treasures, experts assess that 630 million items cry out for attention – while 80% of the institutions, from county historical societies to corporations to academic libraries and museums, have no paid staff responsible for care of the collection.

Needless to say, the history of the nation is yet to be explored, much less interpreted. More than ever, understanding our heritage demands access to the records of the globe. At the opposite end of the continuum, one need only turn on the TV to learn of individuals’ and families’ passion to know more about their roots.

As I dug more deeply I learned that May 1 is MayDay, a complementary event spearheaded by the Association of American Archives/. ( Though the message may be subliminal, MayDay is not your ordinary distress signal but the annual grassroots initiative to build public awareness of the complexities and critical state of preserving our cultural heritage.

Clearly, this modest blog is something short of a blip on the archival radar.   My hope is that this grassroots call to action, a hope that readers will pause to ponder the imperative to pay heed to the recorded legacy of this nation – a narrative told by millions of individuals in vast formats.   Much like the narrators themselves, these archival records face the challenge of age, obsolescence, vulnerability, and, above all, inattention.

Let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident. ~~ Thomas Jefferson


FitzFirst@Four Welcomes Fitzgerald Readers to Unique Tour

Sincere kudos to the serious Fitzgerald readers of FitzFirst@Four for a truly original – and inspiring – program.   Just when we may think we have read and heard everything there is to read and know about F. Scott Fitzgerald this devoted discussion group is sponsoring a program on the theme “Finding the Center of Fitzgerald’s Catholic Faith.” The program is unique because it offers a Fitzgerald-themed tour of the Cathedral of Saint Paul led by Cathedral archivist and local resident Thomas Flynn.

The free and open event is set for Sunday, May 1, 2016, 2:00 p.m. at the Cathedral.

As described in promotional materials, the program “will weave together the common themes found in Fitzgerald’s works that reflect his Catholic heritage and upbringing.” Tour leader, Tom Flynn, a Fitzgerald scholar and collector, has served as archivist of the Cathedral of Saint Paul for fifteen years.

Event planners advise attendees that, “although the format will not allow for a discussion of Fitzgerald’s many Catholic-themed works, attendees may wish to review three related stories as examples of his writings on the subject.” The recommended stories include these:

  • “Benediction,” first published in 1920 in Flappers and Philosophers, tells the story of a young woman who, on her way to a tryst with her lover, stops to visit her much older brother who is soon to be ordained a priest.
  • “Absolution,” published in 1924 and later in All the Sad Young Men, focuses on a young Catholic boy who confesses to the priest what in his mind is a mortal sin.
  • “Thank You for the Light”, written in 1937, was originally held from publication by The New Yorker, then finally published in August 2012. The narrative relates the tale of a travelling sales rep who stops into church just for a what she expected to be a quick visit.

FitzFirst@Four is a monthly discussion series about Fitzgerald’s short stories and their historical counterpoints. Each event focuses on a different short story with a presentation from a guest expert on events, locations and history referenced in Fitzgerald’s work. Regular FitzFirst@Four program are at 4:00 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month at Common Good Books in St. Paul.

To learn more about the discussion group or to view and listen to video and audio reports of past FitzFirst@Four events check, their lively website at For a quick refresher on the history of the life and work of Fitzgerald, check this handy “Fitzgerald Capsule History”:


Historian explores intersection of gender and disability at ESFL

Writing some months ago about the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act raised my awareness – and a host of related questions. ( Monumental federal legislation such as ADA comes with history. It was my quest to trace the history of ADA that led me to the first significant comprehensive study of the history of disability in the US, published in 2013 Kim E. Nielsen, Alexandria, Minnesota native – and 1988 Macalaster graduate.(

Nielsen’s monumental work covers the history of disability in the U.S. from 1492 to the 21st Century. One reviewer of the historical study wrote:

A Disability History of the United States is the first book to place the experiences of people with disabilities at the center of the American narrative. In many ways, it’s a familiar telling. In other ways, however, it is a radical repositioning of US history. By doing so, the book casts new light on familiar stories, such as slavery and immigration, while breaking ground about the ties between nativism and oralism in the late nineteenth century and the role of ableism in the development of democracy.

Clearly, it was the source I had sought to learn about the foundations of the movement that shared ADA.

Nielsen, now on the Disabilities Studies faculty at the University of Toledo, has focused further research on the lives of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy. Her publications include The Radical Lives of Helen Keller, Helen Keller: Selected Writings, and Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller.

It is a joy to learn now that Kim Nielsen will be back in her home state next week. Nielsen will be sharing the results of her extensive research and her thoughts on Wednesday, April 27, 7:00 p.m. at the East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, on St. Paul’s East Side. Her presentation at ESFL grows out of her research on the intersection of gender and disability history in the 19th Century.

For more information about the event contact ESFL at 651 774 8687 or ESFL is on the site of the former Arlington Hills Branch of the St. Paul Public Library — There’s a map on the home page

The event is free and open to the public.  For more information about ESFL check this earlier blog post: (


Independent thinker? Think independent bookseller!

When legendary philosopher and social critic Jerry Seinfeld reminds fans that “a bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking” he refers to thinking about something more than “books about nothing.” I’m sure he’s also not thinking about chains but about the thinking possibilities that thrive in the atmosphere that only an independent bookstore can create.

Often nestled in quiet neighborhoods, indies reflect, shape and create vibrant communities of individual and collaborative thinking about ideas, stories, what’s been and what has yet to be.

This past few days I’ve been so busy hanging out in my neighborhood indies that I nearly overlooked the fact that next Saturday, April 30, we celebrate the second annual Independent Bookstore Day.   In 2015, the inaugural year of Independent Bookstore Day, at least 400 indies participated. Sponsors of IBD have made special efforts this year to reach lesser known and possibly more remote indies that enrich the lives of countless readers who yearn for more access to the written word.

For Twin Cities thinkers Mary Ann Grossman, renowned book editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, provides some great tips to local happenings. (  She describes the ten TC’s bookstores that have joined forces to introduce a Bookstore Passport that encourages readers to travel the indie route for intellectual and economic gain.  She also notes the local authors who will be participating at indie bookstores. There will no doubt be further coverage in the local and neighborhood press in the days to come.  Bookstores are also working together and with supporters to create maps and guides to the fascinating mix of indies that the intrepid seeker can find on some unexpected sites ranging from rehabbed commercial enterprises to strip malls.

My recent time spent thinking in and about the atmosphere of two very special indie bookstores inspires my enthusiasm for IBD.    It’s interesting to observe that both of my Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood bookstore favorites, Corner Books and Eat My Words, feature used books. For me, used books somehow enhance the reading adventure – maybe because of the time spent with thinkers who have are inclined to  leave their indelible mark on the volume – by way of margin notes, bookmarks and/or coffee stains. I wonder as I read just what that reader was thinking as she thought about these same words.

One of my most frequent bookish haunts is Corner Books (, in the St. Anthony Village mall.  This past week proprietor Carol Urness celebrated her rich life of books with a most wonderful event.  In a three day celebration of eighty years of life Carol  shared a wealth of treasures – etchings, atlases, objects d’art and other fun stuff – with long-time friends, customers, scholars, birders, writers, and librarian colleagues. I couldn’t resist dropping in each of the three days of this unique tribute to the life of the mind.  I will happily share more about Carol and Corner Books when I can corner this unique dynamo for a long conversation and, as soon as she recuperates from the celebration, she will find an hour to guest star on Voices of Northeast. (

My other neighborhood indie favorite is Eat My Words where proprietor Scott Vankaughnett has built a community of thoughtful readers not with written words alone but with a rich agenda of creative programs designed to pique the fancy of any thinker. More about Eat My Words on an earlier blog post ( – or view a delightful interview with Scott on the Voices of Northeast site. (

Saturday, April 30, 2016 — Independent Bookstore Day

Support this community of thinkers built by independent booksellers, bibliophiles and discerning book buyers





Poetry opens minds and memories for elders challenged by Alzheimers

One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Elders who are fortunate enough to be engaged in the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project understand Goethe’s thought.   They both read and share a good poem, and perhaps hear a little song in the reading and sharing.

Today marks the first day of National Poetry Month, a springtime event that reminds the world that, even in this digital age, poetry matters. ( It is worth noting that, before data ruled, poets had a grip on meter….)

My recent awareness is of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project (, a national and local initiative of which I was unaware and which gives me joy to share.

The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project affirms the basics.   Poet Gary Glazner founded the project in 2004 in Santa Fe; the project has morphed over the years to what politicians would deem a movement. Glazner’s vision was to “bond together as a community build on shared words, passions, and discoveries through the performance and creation of poetry.”

It’s a beautiful vision, made real in this community by those who share a commitment to the power of poetry to evoke the thoughts and strength of Minnesota seniors.   Since 2012 the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project Minnesota (www.alzpoetryorg) has shared the beauty and power of poetry with Minnesota elders and their families, friends and caregivers. The goal is to evoke and share the untold stories of many whose voices have yet to be heard.

On Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23, the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, will celebrate the power of poetry to unlock stories for loved ones challenged by memory loss. The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project will hold a benefit reading on Saturday, April 23, 2:00 p.m. at Homewood Studios, 2400 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis. Poets Raachel Moritz, Dian Jarvenpa, Julie Landsman will share their words and wisdom.  Incredibly, there is no cost to attend, though donations will be gratefully accepted. Limited edition letterpress broadsides of an original poem created by the Alzheimers Poetry Project poets, will be available.