Talk of the Town

"I READ SOMETHING not long ago about the character of Minnesotans," recalls Two Cities editor Kevin Fenton, "that said our greatest fault was our humility. I don't agree--I think we're arrogant about being second best. Our real fault is that we don't like discussing things. I don't know why that is, exactly. I suppose it might have to do with our roots as a rural state. In the 1850s, if you disagreed with folks, you didn't get help during harvest time."

Fenton--who recently launched the nonprofit quarterly Two Cities with $7,000 of his own, and takes no salary as editor--seems committed to both discussion and disagreement, harvest be damned. In the quarterly's debut, currently on newsstands, two essays launch new salvos into the debate over the (identity) politics of arts funding: one by former Center for Arts Criticism director Patrice Clark Koelsch, a white critic looking at the dubious relationship between art and "community"; the other by novelist David Haynes, who writes of the mind-boggling condescension that often greets artists of color in the world of arts and letters. There's also a scathing "Letter From Gettysburg" by Peter Stitt, former Minnesotan and founding editor of The Gettysburg Review, whose reflections on our town make Fargo look like a promotional piece for the Minnesota Office of Tourism.

Here's Stitt on our state spirit: "[It is] the mean Lutheran spirit of conformity, the spirit of 'We're not much, no not us. We don't put on airs and drink that thick, bitter coffee, we don't read those fancy books and eat that rabbit food. We don't go to your movies. And (now talking to the children) you aren't going to either. You are going to be like us. You are going to go to church, and eat at Perkins; you are going to drink 3.2 beer. And if you don't do what we say, we are going to sell you your death; we will Murderopolis you, you and your heart, your filthy, perverse, bastardized, art-loving heart. Oh ya. You betcha. Oh gee. Gosh. It's no trouble: the pot's already on. Uffda. We say it in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen."

Fenton notes that the writing in Two Cities doesn't necessarily reflect the opinions of its editor, and his editing style, as he describes it, seems pretty laissez-faire. At times it shows (as with state Rep. Myron Orfield's wonkish report on economic polarization in the Twin Cities and its suburbs). But so far, the journal's mix of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays, memoir, criticism, and photography (here, an especially handsome portfolio of urban alley shots by Doug Beasley) feels smart and spirited--and well-suited to Aaron King's elegant, airy graphic design.

Still, isn't it folly to launch yet another printed journal in the Age of the Internet? Maybe. But Fenton hopes for the best--which at this point means 2,000 subscribers at $15 a head. That would help him break even on Two Cities, and avoid having to rely on ad revenue and/or arts funding organizations. "As [local art critic] Vince Leo wrote in the essay we excerpted, the agenda of art is in danger of becoming the agenda of arts funding organizations," Fenton notes, undoubtedly figuring there's more than one way to bring in a harvest.

 
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