Tag Archives: minnesota

Bemidji Book Festival 2011

You’d think that being in rural Minnesota wouldn’t bring much in the way of industry happenings, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  My Midwest visit just so happened to coincide with the Bemidji Book Festival, a 6-day marathon of events with local authors, poets and illustrators.  Kudos to the Bemidji Library and the MN Legacy Fund for making this all happen!

I stepped off the plane and immediately headed to a presentation by Catherine Friend, author of both children’s stories and the adult books, Hit By A Farm, Sheepish, and The Compassionate Carnivore.  With a humble, witty voice on her 1 1/2 memoirs and a great perspective on local farming (and sheep), she’s like a lady Michael Pollan with a personal touch.  I’m thinking it’s time to take a closer look her kids’ books, and also take up knitting!

The next morning, I accessed my inner child by attending Thursday morning’s library event with author/illustrator Lynne Jonell.  While Jonell got her start in picture books, she’s now known for her middle-grade novels, like Emmy And The Incredible Shrinking Rat.  I think the design (by Amelia May Anderson) and art (by Jonathan Bean) for Emmy is impeccable – the hand-drawn type is seamlessly integrated to the limited-color line drawings, which carry over into a flip-book style interior. Plus, it was a pleasure to listen to Lynne’s story and watch her graciously field questions from aspiring picture book authors with just the right answers (five letters: SCBWI) and some kind inspiration.

On Friday night, we headed to the high school for an author’s fair.  While most of the authors were of the niche, poetry or self-published variety, I did discover Erik Evenson, a graphic novelist/illustrator who is – get this – originally from New Hampshire!  His Gods of Asgard and autobiographical web comic, Erik’s Sketchbook Diary, were easily the best-designed finds at the fair.  Definitely check out his work if you’re interested in comics.

But nothing at the festival could top Friday’s keynote speaker, Roxana Saberi.  Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist who was imprisoned in Iran and falsely charged of spying in 2009, now speaks about her life, Iran, and the book she wrote about her experiences (Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity In Iran).  She talked eloquently and powerfully about the human rights movements in Iran and the Middle East, and it certainly encouraged me to get more involved.  Can’t wait to finish reading her book!

It’s been an action-packed visit here in Bemidji, and while I’m always happy to return to Brooklyn, I could still use another week or two relaxing in the country and soaking up all that Minnesota has to offer.


It’s Not As Simple As It Seems – Singer/Songwriter Neal Hagberg stirs up new thoughts

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop led by singer/songwriter Neal Hagberg.  Hagberg, who Midwesterners and folksy NPR listeners might know better as one-half of Neal and Leandra, came to my dad’s library here in Bemidji, MN last night to share his solo project.  This new venture focuses on social issues, putting a human perspective to global issues through song and story.

I was blown away by the way that Neal allowed the audience of 50 to experience his point of view.  Each song brought up every hot-topic issue through a different set of eyes – war, religious fundamentalism, poverty, intolerance, abortion, homophobia… you name it.  I assumed that the ensuing discussion would stir up controversy and debate, but Neal encouraged the audience to stick to “personal experience”… and I don’t know whether it was the power of the music or the openness of Minnesotans… but they started sharing!

After each song, Neal asked us to speak to “what the song brought up in us”.  So what did it bring up in me?

One song in particular made me think about something that I struggle with back in BK – how to deal with homelessness and beggars.  If you live in New York, the accepted theory is that if you give money to beggars, you are either A) a tourist getting scammed or B) fueling their drug habit, so the best thing is to just ignore them and carry on your day.

It’s easy to say, when you’re sitting in a group of middle-class white people in some small town, that you’ll be a good Christian and carry on a conversation with them, buy them a meal, etc.  That’s what I would’ve said if you’d asked me at 16, when my view of homelessness in NH was restricted to the Salvation Army soup kitchen.  But when you’re approached with the same “pity stories” day after day, when you’re trying to buy groceries or get to work in the morning, it’s hard not to simply avoid eye contact and breeze by them.

The dilemma is… how to you maintain their humanity – and your compassion – in an urban area like this?  Is it realistic to think that one should engage with the homeless and the beggars… or is it inhumane to think that one wouldn’t??  I don’t know.

I have a lot of thoughts about how Neal’s approach to addressing world issues through story and song could be translated into my own work and children’s books… but I think it merits a second post.  Stay tuned.


photo by Ann Marsden

Greetings from Minnesota

On the shores of Lake Bemidji, Home of Paul Bunyan and Babe, and the Curling Capital of the World…

Temperature right now: -6°

Low Tonight: -19°

High Tomorrow: 9°

Note: There are ice houses!!!