Saint Paul, MN—Meridel LeSueur, one of the great voices of the 20th century, was born on February 22, 1900. On the anniversary of her birth, local poets, musicians, and family members of Meridel LeSueur will gather for a public celebration at East Side Freedom Library in Saint Paul. Drawn from LeSueur’s work, the themes of this gathering—Resistance, Resilience, Renewal—continue to resonate with today’s artists and activists.

LeSueur’s writings were grounded in the grassroots experiences and stories of women, working people, the disenfranchised and the dispossessed. Her immense love and respect for the power of the people and the power of the word were ever present in her poetry, novels, and essays. Meridel’s work touched generations of artists and activists, from Minnesota and the Midwest to the wide expanse of this country and this world. At this celebration, established and emerging poets and musicians will share work by Meridel LeSueur, as well as original writing and song.

Participating artists include: Jayanthi Kyle, Barb Tilsen, Gayla Ellis, Amoke Kubat, Ben Weaver, Tish Jones, Desdamona, Shanai Matteson, Louis Alemayehu, Ed Bok Lee, Colleen Casey and SisterTree. This gathering is hosted by Peter Rachleff and Beth Cleary of East Side Freedom Library, and Saint Paul Almanac. More information about presenting artists and organizations can be found below.

Join us to celebrate LeSueur’s long and inspiring life as a witness, a chronicler, and a defender of people’s lives and struggles!


PRESS CONTACT: Peter Rachleff at 651-230-3294 /

Meridel LeSueur’s poetry, short stories, and novels are a beloved part of the cultural and political fabric of our times. She was one of the great women’s literary and communal voices of the 20th century, which her long life—from February 22, 1900, to November 14, 1996—spanned. She was a chronicler, a witness, a defender of people’s lives and struggles, touching on the deepest truths. Meridel believed her writing could be a bridge making connections across many different communities and cultures. The diverse readers and fans of her work are a moving testament to the depth and power of her writing.

Poet, musician, educator, and community elder Louis Alemayehu believes that poets are accountable to their communities. Through his ability to educate, mentor, and connect with young people, Louis is a leader in cultivating the next generation of community-engaged artists here in the Twin Cities.

Colleen Casey is an activist, community organizer, writer, artist, educator, and student who strives to be the change she hopes to see in the world. A proud granddaughter of one of the 10–11,000 striking truck drivers who made the Minneapolis Truckers Strike of 1934 possible, she hopes to honor and keep alive the memory of that strike, and how positive change is possible through individual and collective action.

Desdamona is an international award-winning artist who has taken her distinct lyrics, sounds, and artistic stylings to audiences from Minnesota to Hawaii to Puerto Rico to Germany and has graced some of Hip Hop and poetry’s most illustrious stages.

Barb Tilsen and Gayla Ellis create musical slide shows that combine the stunning imagery of Gayla’s photography with Barb’s powerful songs. In this evening’s performance, their musical slide show features Barb’s adaptation of Meridel LeSueur’s moving poem “Arise.” Inspired by Meridel’s poem, the visual art in the show was created by artists Ta-coumba Aiken, Deborah LeSueur, Miranda Bergman, Robert DesJarlais, Marilyn Lindstrom, Ricardo Levins Morales, Mac and Lorraine LeSueur.

Tish Jones is a poet, educator, and organizer from Saint Paul. The founder and executive director of TruArtSpeaks, Jones has performed on multiple stages in the Twin Cities and beyond, presented at TEDxMinneapolis, directed the international Brave New Voices youth poetry slam festival, and had her work published on several platforms. A true lover of Hip Hop culture, Black people, and water, Tish Jones is here to shake things up!

Amoke Kubat is a teacher, artist, and writer who partners with community artists, activists, and organizations to bridge African/African American culture for healing and building sustainable families and communities. She is the creator of YO MAMA and The Art of Mothering Workshops.

Jayanthi Kyle is a songstress dedicated to singing from the heart. She collects songs that speak to her struggle, empowerment, and ability to be, change, and move forward while honoring the unremembered changers and movers of the past. She has been in a number of bands and projects in the Twin Cities, including Gospel Machine, The Give Get Sistet, Miss Pennie’s Microphone, Bain, Romantica, Passed Presents, Black Audience, and Jayanthi Kyle and the Crybabies. She continues to work with The Million Artist Movement to dismantle white supremacy and support Black liberation.

Ed Bok Lee is the author of Whorled (Coffee House Press), winner of the 2012 American Book Award, and the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry.

Shanai Matteson is a writer, public artist, cultural organizer, and mother. She is one of the founders of the public art collective Works Progress and a collaborative director of the environmental arts organization Water Bar & Public Studio. She loves working on collaborative artistic projects that are rooted in place, and which grow cultures of reciprocity and care.

SisterTree (Dee Brust and Kerri Jakola) renders radiant, expansive harmonies for strings and voices, and kicks it back with old favorites and downright far-fetched selections grounded in Celtic and Americana traditions. Roving over the wild and storied landscapes of life, they envibe with the rhythms of sugarplums dropped in the forest. From lilt to throttle, they are Gaia’s sirens atop the scrape of a mountain ridge, awash in an avalanche of symbiotic energies hauled up from the bones of earth to the starlight.

Ben Weaver is a songwriter and poet who travels by bicycle. He uses his music as a tool to strengthen relationships between people and their local ecosystems, with a focus on protecting fresh water.

Hosted by Peter Rachleff and Beth Cleary of East Side Freedom Library
Peter Rachleff and Beth Cleary founded the East Side Freedom Library in 2013, and they continue to serve as co-executive directors. Peter is retired from Macalester College, where he taught labor, immigration, and African American history for 32 years, while Beth continues to teach in the Theater and Dance Department and direct plays at the college and in the community. Peter was honored to bring Meridel into his Macalester classes in the 1980s; a decade ago, Beth created a performance piece based on Meridel’s “Women on the Breadlines,” which was performed at Macalester and also at the Bread and Puppet Circus in Vermont.

The ESFL’s mission is to inspire solidarity, advocate for justice, and work toward equity for all. The library houses non-circulating research collections that appeal to interested general learners as well as scholars, with innovative databases and finding aids that make using the collections fun and vital.

Saint Paul Almanac is a literary-centered arts organization. We share stories across cultures and cultivate dialogue to promote understanding, relationships, and collaborative action.

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