Everything Interesting About Minneapolis, Somali Stories, and More
It's Minnesota Alumni's quarterly books roundup
Minneapolis is known for its surfeit of excellent writers, so it’s not surprising that a collection of writing about the city by the writers who know it best would turn out to be a reader’s delight.
In Under Purple Skies: The Minneapolis Anthology (Belt Publishing), editor Frank Bures pulled together 57 essays and poems about the North Star metro—half written for this anthology and the rest reprinted from elsewhere. In doing so, he made the book stronger by ensuring that it represented Minneapolis in its full modern-day multicultural incarnation, incorporating works by Hmong, East Asian, First Nations, black, and Somali authors, as well as white writers. Ten of the group are University of Minnesota alumni, including prolific, well-known authors William Souder (B.A. ’77) and Neal Karlen (M.A. ’09).
In its nearly 200 pages, Under Purple Skies includes contributions from familiar, award-winning writers such as Kevin Kling, Marlon James, and Sarah Stonich, along with equally delightful entries by lesser known writers such as Rae Meadows (who evocatively reflects on her first frigid Minneapolis winter); J.D. Fratzke, a veteran chef who remembers his earliest Hennepin Avenue cooking job and the mentor who molded him; and Sofia Burford, a Mexican-American who explains the abiding weirdness of being a Hispanic person in what remains an overwhelmingly white city.
The range of topics is broad, moving from the Seward neighborhood home of writer Kao Kalia Yang (The Latehomecomer); Minneapolis as seen from Segway by former tour guide Doug Mack; and the city’s magical sidewalk gaps, where as a child, Kelly Barnhill (Newbery medal-winning writer of The Girl Who Drank the Moon) found wildness could still creep in.
Naturally, given its title, three Prince pieces found their way into this anthology, the most unlikely and enjoyable of which was written by Wisconsinite Michael Perry (best known for writing about farm and small-town life in books such as Population: 485). In “Prince of the Midwest,” Perry describes viewing the iconic film Purple Rain four times, then draping his teenage bedroom with purple scarves and fishnet in an attempt to evoke some Prince magic in rural Wisconsin. “In a box in my barn there are snapshots of me reporting for skateguard duty at the roller rink in 1986 wearing pink hair dye and a satin magenta head scarf. Goofy as hell and so short of the mark, but further proof that Prince precipitated profound change.”
A less successful but no less impassioned musician, Eric Dregni (M.F.A. ’07) writes in hilarious detail of the “squalid rental houses full of sketchy musicians” that made up his 20s, from which he and a handful of friends attempted in vain to join the city’s burgeoning indie rock scene (The Replacements, Husker Du, The Jayhawks, etc.). Although their reality turned out to be less Rolling Stone and more mouse-ridden kitchens, Red Owl creamed corn, and used clothes purchased by the pound, Dregni fondly recalls his rocker youth, and readers will enjoy it, too.
With such a wealth of Minnesota writers, it’s easy to forget that as recently as the ’60s, most people considered our state to be literary flyover land. In a fascinating introduction to this anthology, Star Tribune books editor Laurie Hertzel recalls the summer of 1966, when her UW-Superior English professor father organized a workshop about North Country writers. He brought together such luminaries as Robert Bly, Sigurd Olson, and J.F. Powers, “all solid Midwestern writers,” as Hertzel puts it, but also all white men.
In the years since, Minnesota—and Minneapolis—writers have become far more diverse, and the city has grown, as Hertzel writes, “quietly, steadily, and rather stupendously… into one of the most sophisticated literary centers in the country.”
For one varied, top-notch taste of that literary splendor, don’t miss reading Under Purple Skies.
And the rest….
Much farther from Minnesota, yet an inextricable part of it now, are the Somali people. In The Lion’s Binding Oath and Other Stories (Catalyst Press), Ahmed Ismail Yusuf (M.P.A. ‘09) tells compelling tales covering many recent experiences of his beleaguered people, from toiling as sheepherding nomads to cheering at thronged soccer stadiums to surviving the violence, desperation, and resulting diaspora of their country’s civil war.
Another group of people vital to Minnesota—and indeed its original and rightful occupants—are American Indians. To read the often painful but—argues the author—sometimes beneficial story of their relocation to U.S. cities, look for Indians on the Move: Native American Mobility and Urbanization in the Twentieth Century (University of North Carolina Press) by Douglas K. Miller (B.A. ’06).
A quieter journey, yet significant in its own right, was the one made by Minnesota’s Ann Bancroft and Norway’s Liv Arnesen and told in the newly reissued book, No Horizon Is So Far: Two Women and Their Historic Journey across Antarctica (University of Minnesota Press). In three months of 2001-02, Bancroft and Arnesen became the first two women to cross Antarctica, doing so via foot, ski, and ice-sail, all the while towing 250-pound supply sledges.
Another brave female groundbreaker was Minnesota politician Eugenie Anderson, who served as the first woman ambassador for the United States—to Denmark in 1949. Her story and long political career are thoroughly and compellingly told by her granddaughter Mary Dupont (B.A. ‘89) in Mrs. Ambassador: The Life and Politics of Eugenie Anderson (Minnesota Historical Society Press).
When it comes to women’s bravery, few life events require more fortitude than giving birth. When things go wrong, and a birth must take place surgically, the experience is often both physically and emotionally painful. For a thoughtful consideration of this all-too common experience, pick up a copy of My Caesarean: Twenty-one Mothers on the C-Section Experience and After (The Experiment Publishing), edited by Amanda Fields (M.F.A. ’05) and Rachel Moritz (M.F.A. ’06).
A U of M creative writing student of the same era, Alex Lemon (M.F.A. ’04) has written a very different, but no less moving, volume. In Another Last Day, award-winner Lemon’s fifth book of poetry, he has created a book-length celebration of a natural landscape both dark and thrumming with life.