Writers can handle the truth.
When I started as a journalist, as the police reporter for the Minnesota Daily, I absolutely hated making calls for stories. I would screw up my nerve, hesitantly dial, and hope the callee wouldn’t answer. Be at the grocery store, I said to myself. Be in the shower. If I reached voicemail, I left a long message that explained in excruciating detail what I wanted, with the goal of scaring the person to death so I’d never hear back.
I gained a lot at the U’s J school and the Daily, but the most valuable acquisition was the confidence that comes with having a mission. In my case, that was fulfilling the public’s right to know. Digging for information that was hard to find or that had been intentionally concealed was endlessly appealing and I threw myself into it.
Other writers answer different callings—exploring life’s excruciating emotional terrain, nourishing reader imaginations, or generally making people feel less alone. Still others write for entertainment. Writers have always been the culture’s analyzers and seers, the people who can’t be duped or who can explain things in a way nobody knew was possible. These are the people who pour their hearts and brains out and then put their names on the results.
This issue is dedicated to writing and writers, books and stories. We’ve included a profile of biographer and Pulitzer Prize finalist William Souder, a poem from Ph.D. student and native Honduran Roy Guzman, a piece about the U Crime Family of mystery and murder writers, and a review of rapper and writer Dessa’s new essay collection. You’ll also find an intriguing story about storytelling itself and how it’s being deployed in new ways.
So, after a little while at the Daily—once I realized what I was doing and why—I became more than confident. Being a journalist gave me a potent context for understanding and operating in the world. In short, I was drunk with power. One day, my editor received a letter from the U Board of Regents, complaining that I had barged into a meeting and interrogated members for a story. (Thank you, Regent Chair David McMillan, for speaking with me voluntarily for my profile of departing President Eric Kaler, also in this issue.)
If there is any doubt that the U values writers and storytellers of all stripes, let me point to the nearly-century-old University of Minnesota Press, one of the most innovative academic publishers in the country. You’ll find a story about it in the pages ahead.
And, if that’s not enough to convince you, look no further than the castle being prepared for the English Department on the Minneapolis campus. Pillsbury Hall, which was built in 1889, will be revamped at a cost of $36 million—mostly from the Legislature, with the U footing a third of the bill. Construction on this regal mass of Hinckley and Fond du Lac sandstones will begin in 2019, with the goal of opening in summer 2021. It’ll house English, the Creative Writing Program, public event spaces, and collaborative study areas.
Pillsbury stands between two main University Avenue entrances like a fortress. Well into the future, it’ll stand tall for words, critical thinking, and expression. Of that I am confident.