January 2015 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

Minnesota's Literary Moment

Minnesota is having a cultural moment. Proponents are pushing to have the state redesignated as part of  "the North," a region separate from the Midwest, whose hardy and industrious inhabitants are molded and inspired by its extremely cold weather. Rugged Red Wing Shoes, Duluth packs and Faribault woolens are suddenly chic, now selling in trendy Manhattan boutiques. (The Wall Street Journal recently examined Minnesota's new, hip image.) 

Alongside the surge in popularity of Minnesota-made cold-weather commodities, the state has long supported a strong literary scene, due to a winning combination of a well-read populace and strong public funding for arts programs.  At least ten independent bookstores call the Twin Cities home: Minneapolis has the progressive, left-leaning May Day Bookstore and Boneshaker Books, a volunteer-run bookstore that also houses the Women's Prison Book Project, an organization providing free reading material to women incarcerated throughout the country. Subtext Books in Saint Paul is a welcoming literary oasis that specializes in promoting local authors and hosts regular poetry readings. Over a dozen literary magazines and journals call Minnesota home too, and in something of a literary trifecta, independent publisher Milkweed Editions shares space in Minneapolis's Open Book Building with the Loft Literary Center and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.  (The Winter 2015 issue of FB&C explores the MCBA book arts program for children in depth.) 

A writing activity at the Literary Loft in Minnesota. Image courtesy of Chris Jones at the Literary Loft.

From April 8th through the 15th, the state will host the the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It's the first time the conference has ever been held in Minnesota, and as the largest literary convention in North America, it is expected to draw 12,000 attendees. 

The Literary Loft will be hosting a series of events in conjunction with the conference, such as a presentation hosted by Margaret Cho and coordinated in collaboration with Bust Magazine, and tours of the Open Book Building. 

Second Story Banned Books book signing-smaller.jpg
Open Book Center's Second Story Banned Books Reading Series. Image courtesy of Chris Jones at the Literary Loft.  

In May, the Loft hosts its annual Children's and Young Adult Literature Conference, featuring Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Molly Beth Griffin, Loretta Ellsworth, and many other writers. 

Minnesota-born writers, especially children's book authors, are plentiful. The Minnesota Authors and Illustrators project lists over 150 contemporary, traditionally published children's book authors and illustrators, from Nancy Carson to Kelly Barnhill. Barnhill mentioned during a phone conversation in November that for a state of only 5.4 million inhabitants, Minnesota's literary scene packs a serious punch. "We have such a vibrant writer's community, it's extraordinary. Minnesota's not a very populous state, but writing and literacy are important to people here."