Tag Archives: northern lights and insights

BookWomen at 20: Celebrating the elegance of thriving

Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant ~ Maya Angelou

Though survival may have been on their minds when they launched Minnesota Women’s Press in 1985, Glenda Martin and Mollie Hoben have thrived – elegantly! In fact, they have just launched a celebration of their more recent twenty years as founders and leaders of The BookWomen Center for Feminist Reading, which is both a part and an outgrowth of Minnesota Women’s Press. The best known project of the Center is publication and global distribution of BookWomen, a bi-monthly journal designed to create “a readers’ community for those who love women’s words”.

Glenda and Mollie continue to thrive through their unstinting and endlessly creative work to give voice to women – women who write great books, women who reshape the political landscape, women who merit a platform to share their pain, women who are redefining the world of art, women who simply have much to say about literature and living.

Their tradition of amplifying the voices of others lives on as Mollie and Glenda celebrate another milestone.   The next issue of BookWomen will mark the completion of twenty years’ publication to inviting readers to share their thoughts. Questions to readers affirm their sincere commitment to learn and share – and thus thrive:

  • How did you get connected to BookWomen, and why have you stuck with us?
  • How has your own reading; life changed in the past 20 years”
  • What memorable book or other have you learned about from BookWomen?

For  two decades BookWomen readers have learned about great reads, personal experiences of readers and writers, literary news and views, updates on Reading on the Road retreats that have attracted vagabonds and locals at significant literary sites from Taos to the Coast of Maine to Iceland to Oaxaca, Mexico and England’s Lake District.

As one fortunate enough to have known the trajectory of Mollie’s and Glenda’s thriving since MWP was still a dream it has occurred to me how important it is for younger and newer followers of these women to know more about the narrative. We need to learn or remember the times and the impact of their commitment to share a critical light on the words of women – through Minnesota Women’s Press, later BookWomen and The Bookwomen Center.

The good news is that the narrative is preserved in print and in oral and video interviews they have generously shared. My hope is that readers of this blog will learn for the first time – or recall – more about Mollie and Glenda as they have shared their story.

  • My favorite interview with Mollie and Glenda was conducted in 1997 by beloved Minnesota poet Joanne Hart as part of the Northern Lights and Insights video series.  The interview  incorporates stories of the day when the MWP entrepreneurs not only published the newspaper but also hosted several reading groups and operated a bookstore (on Raymond off University) and a unique library of feminist literature contributed by readers and supporters of the enterprise. It is a forever treasure!(http://reflections.mndigital.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16022coll38/id/80)

Helpful histories of Minnesota Women’s Press were published when founders celebrated significant anniversaries of the Press. Here are some good backgrounder or refresher reads:

Back in the day, decades before the birth of The BookWomen Center for Feminist Reading, Virginia Wolfe lamented that “women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.” (A Room of One’s Own, 1929)

In recent decades the “creative force” of women has indeed harnessed itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.” Through it all Glenda and Mollie have thrived by shedding light on the power of women’s words to “overcharge the capacity of bricks and mortar.”





Northern Lights & Insights: Conversations Come Alive as Videotaped Interviews Go Digital

Obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it’s just the beginning.

The words of Marshall McLuhan, guru of an earlier time, came to mind when I learned that Northern Lights and Insights, a library of videos produced in an earlier time, has been added to Minnesota Reflections, the Minnesota Digital Library collection. http://reflections.mndigital.org/cdm/search/collection/p16022coll38

Conversations with Minnesota writers, political leaders, publishers, athletes, activists and more are now accessible to researchers, readers, students and Minnesotans who just want to know more about their heritage. There are interviews with Bill Holm, Carol Bly, with Evelyn Fairbanks, resident historian of the Rondo neighborhood, and with Genny Zak Kieley, chronicler of all things Northeast Minneapolis. Patrick Coleman chats with Governor Elmer L. Andersen while Freya and Frederick Manfred interview each other. Jon Hassler enjoys a lively exchange with J.F. Powers. Preserved in digital format are conversations with Will Weaver, Kay Sexton, Julie Schumacher, William Kent Krueger, Anne Bancroft and Eugene McCarthy – plus dozens of other Minnesotans of today and yesterday.

The saga of Northern Lights and Insights is long and occasionally bumpy, marked by changes in technology and provenance of the project. Begun by cable advocate and pioneer Dave Carlson, then on staff at Hennepin County Library, NL was originally taped in the well-equipped studios of the HCL; tapes were distributed and cablecast on local systems throughout the County and on the Metro Cable Network, the regional system carried on all metro area cable systems.

When HCL discontinued cable production, NL was adopted by Metronet/Minnesota Center for the Book where Dave Carlson joined the staff and continued to produce episodes into the early 21st Century.   Lacking production facilities, Dave and his equipment went on location, met interviewees in their homes or offices, or found a quiet after-hours interlude to record in the Metronet office. In the late 1990’s the Legislature funded a program to distribute videotapes of selected interviews through the state’s regional public library systems.

Enter the digital age… Video formats were rendered obsolete, production and playback equipment languished, and Northern Lights video interviews were yesterday’s news.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota History Center retained its archival collection of the irreplaceable tapes. Tapes were cataloged, annotated and made accessible to users who still had video equipment in working order… It is the tapes from the Minnesota History Center collection that have now been digitized and made accessible through the Minnesota Digital Library.  

And it is through the diligence and generosity of a committed chain of willing interviewees and interviewers, producers, sponsors, funders and archivists that the taped conversations have stood the test of time.

Thought for a perfect winter afternoon:  Reserve time to browse the collection from the comfort of a favorite armchair, read the annotations, remember the personalities of the interviewers and the interviewees and the accomplishments of both. Slow down to appreciate the legacy captured in the conversations.  Then select one or two of the interviews, sit back, click on the “view” icon, remember, reflect and make a plan to read or  re-read the work of a favorite writer.



Northern Lights Videos Reflect Minnesota’s Literary Landscape

Every day in libraries, bookstores and living rooms throughout the state Minnesotans gather to pore over books by local authors, books about the state’s history, studies of the land itself, idiosyncrasies of Minnesotans and stories of their unique approach to life. Bibliophiles venture forth on lush summer days and blustery wintry evenings for readings and talks by Minnesota writers and illustrators, those who review Minnesota press, publishers and reviewers. In a word, Minnesota is a state of lifelong readers.

What many folks don’t know is that there is a rich heritage of interviews with Minnesotans who have left their words or continue to write for Minnesota readers. Northern Lights and Insights is a little known collection of videotapes that record interviews with well over 500 Minnesotans with ties to the written world. The videos were produced over a period of thirteen years, first by Hennepin County Library and subsequently by the Minnesota Center for the Book which, during the late 1980’s and 1990’s, was housed at Metronet. As Director of Metronet at that time I was and remain inordinately proud of having had a hand in the production.

Production of the series has ceased, though the need has not. Many of the interviewees have achieved great literary success in the intervening years; sadly, many have died. Over time I have developed an absolute compulsion to assure that those incredible interviews are known by Minnesotans who love the books and who may want to the authors, illustrators and publishers.

This post is a preliminary but determined step aimed at preserving and sharing one of the state’s literary treasures through the best means possible.

All of the Northern Lights videos, in a mix of formats including VHS and Beta, are available at the Minnesota Historical Society Library. With funding from the state Legislature we were able to make videos available through interested regional public library systems in 1999-2000. Many schools include Northern Lights videos in their collections. All of the videos are cataloged in elegant detail and posted on the Web. My fervent hope is that some day, if an appropriate agency or collaborative will take responsibility, this video legacy of Minnesota literature may be streamed on the Web.

Because the project was low key and low budget emphasis was on content, matching interviewees with the right interviewer, assuring that local cable, including the Metro Cable Network, carried the half-hour shows as they were produced. The low tech production involved the writer and willing interviewer (who had read the book) sitting down in a working office. Dave Carlson, a producer who could work video magic without a studio, top of the line technology, or fanfare captured the conversation, then edited the tape for distribution on cable.

In some ways this 20th century effort was a precursor of today’s quick and easy on-site video. Promotion of Northern Lights was far from a realistic possibility for our bootstrap system; having no resources for promotion freed us to focus all of our efforts on seizing the moment and preserving it for posterity.

Some samples of the Northern Lights and Insights offers the a taste of the richness of the video collection. To wit: The series includes interviews with Bill Holm, Robert Bly, Meridel LeSuer, Kate DiCamillo, Eugene McCarthy, John Sandford, Gary Paulsen, Patricia Hampl, Elmer L. Andersen, James Shannon, and some 700 others. Program episode lists can be found on the Minnesota Historical Society website and on the online catalogs of participating public, academic and school libraries through MnLINK . (Search “Northern Lights” and look for video recordings – you will find some entries that include the term but refer to books; just move on to the videos.) Many of the videos are available in several libraries around the state – or patrons may request interlibrary loan at any local library.