One of the things that I love about Saint Paul is its wealth of authors, poets and storytellers. As much time as I spend basking in the solitary glow of my screen, I love to break away, get out, and hear real people tell real stories and read from real books. We are so lucky here in Saint Paul. Maybe it’s something in the water…we have so many good writers and an audience that loves and supports them. Tonight was just one of 25 coming nights of literary treasure.
The Saint Paul Almanac Literary Festival is a live and fresh airing of writers and their words that will continue for the next 24 days. The festival featuring writers published in the 2014 Saint Paul Almanac has been organized this year by Satish Jayaraj, founder and director of the Cracked Walnut Reading Series. He keeps it real by scheduling readings at friendly neighborhood cafes and bookstores and there is no reservation or admission charge required. The line-up mixes some of the Twin Cities most recognized names in lit with first-time authors.
Last night’s reading at J&S Bean Factory on Randolph Avenue took place in the courtyard with the smell of cedar chip mulch underfoot and misty lavender twilight overhead. Five Saint Paul authors read work from the 2014 Almanac (now on sale at local bookstores, cafes and coops throughout the city) and from other published works.
First up was the soulful Ethna McKiernan, author of several books of poems and who is as Irish as they come in Saint Paul. It was a thrill for me to hear her read her poem The Invitation because I worked on the editing of this edition. I remember reading the poem last winter with my community editor colleagues. The words about a daughter who comforts her mother at Sholom Home moved me deeply. The process of selecting a work for publication is so amazing in this way. The poem travels from hand to hand, to the type and illustration of the book, and somehow it becomes complete when I can sit in the audience and hear Ethna read it out loud.
Next up was Mike Finley, prolific local author and co-editor of LIEF Magazine. He gave a lusty performance of a story about the thrill of witnessing an ice calving in Alaskan waters. He tag-teamed with his frequent collaborator Danny Klecko (conveniently planted in the crowd) when he ran out of bluster reading his final poem.
Maryann Corbett read her Almanac piece A Mozart Mass with Orchestra in the Cathedral. She also has a new book coming out with the wonderful title, Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter (Able Muse, 2013).
The “X Factor” in the crowd was Keith Hollihan, a Canadian author who is fairly new to Saint Paul, but one who quickly found where the ice rinks are located for his hockey-loving kids. He read from his new book Flagged Victor, a boys and bank robbery thriller.
The final reader was Mary Virginia Winstead, author of the Minnesota Book Award-winning Back to Mississippi: A Personal Journey Through the Events That Changed America in 1964 (2003). She read Mary Dear, her piece about Sister Immaculata, a nun at St. Cate’s who offered her cookies, tea and kindness on a day when she sorely needed it.
The festival continues on Thursday, Sept. 19 6:30 p.m. at Coffee Bené, 53 Cleveland Avenue South. Visit the Facebook event page for more information.
For the entire schedule of events, visit the Saint Paul Almanac web page. Don’t you love Saint Paul?
ALL PHOTOS BY JACK STEINMANN, 2013