University of Minnesota Alumni Association

The Last Word

The Last Word

Why the Rebellion Began Here.

Su Hwang (M.F.A. ’16) is a poet, activist, and instructor with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, the cofounder of Poetry Asylum, and the author of Bodega (Milkweed Editions), which received the 2020 Minnesota Book Award in poetry.

Having grown up in New York, then spending much of my adult life seesawing from there to San Francisco and Oakland, I was an insufferable, bicoastal snob when I first arrived in the Twin Cities.

Back then, I complained a lot about seemingly endless winter months, shoveling so much snow, feeling landlocked, and Minnesota Nice. As an Asian American woman, I had trepidations about living in a flyover state because race is a constant companion I travel with, as it is for so many of us, and I really had no idea what to expect in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I vowed to return to the West Coast as soon as I was done with my U of M M.F.A. program in creative writing.

But then the socioeconomics of the Bay Area became untenable for a 40-something poet like me, and perhaps more surprisingly, I found community here. For the first time in my wayward life, I began setting down roots.

Many white Minnesotans are married to the state's squeaky-clean image of bikefriendly paths, being the home of Prince, pristine parks, Swedish meatballs, cheese curds and hotdish, and pontoons on shimmering, cabin-dotted lakes befitting those “The Best of” lists that get published every year, but the reality is far from these sanitized archetypes.

And yet, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, Minnesotans are finally waking up, some forcibly so. It’s hard to look away when there’s an enormous conflagration on your street, the literal burning down of centuries of apathy, willful ignorance, hoarded privilege, and misplaced entitlement. Citizens continue to fill the streets to protest, mourn, clean, paint murals, and plan for a better future. Even at the height of violence and raging fires, huge, diverse crowds spontaneously gathered at numerous sites with brooms and buckets to assist in the aftermath, day after day after day. Bleary-eyed, over-caffeinated bands of neighbors and community leaders continued to come together to offer mutual aid, mobilize supply drop-offs, and organize neighborhood patrols. In the embers, something truly beautiful seemed to be coming to life.

Many are calling this time an “inflection point” in American history, including myself, but the more I think about it, the less water it holds. Inflection implies singularity, of one musculature or a single stream of consciousness, when there have been multiple inflections since the looting of this land from American Indians to the founding of the country on the backs of Black lives. I believe we are truly at a point of convergence. Convergence or confluence implies multiplicity and cumulativeness—a cacophony of voices and perspectives. In this distinction, we honor the lingering ghosts of all our ancestors. We can no longer afford pivoting from one point to another and calling it progress or justice—the weight of our collective histories can no longer support these blatant disparities.

What we’re seeing and experiencing is a cavalcade of centuries of protest, of deaths and rebirths, the final heave for human decency for all.

Excerpted with permission from Literary Hub. Read the complete essay at