John Berryman Leapt Here

Mapping the literary landmarks of the Twin Cities

In 1919, after Zelda broke off their engagement, Fitzgerald retreated to his parents' home at 599 SUMMIT AVE., where he finished his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which was accepted by Maxwell Perkins at Scribner's in September 1919. Fitzgerald's St. Paul social life revolved around W. A. FROST'S PHARMACY at 374 SELBY AVE., where he would retreat for cigarettes and caffeine, and KILMARNOCK BOOKS at 84 E. FOURTH ST.. Kilmarnock was owned by writers THOMAS AND PEGGY BOYD. Thomas Boyd, a World War I veteran, was the author of Through the Wheat, which Fitzgerald called the "best war book since Red Badge of Courage." Boyd was also the literary editor at the St. Paul Daily News, and his downtown bookstore was the longtime meeting place for local and visiting literary figures, including Sinclair Lewis.

MARY MCCARTHY spent many of her formative years in Minneapolis, and they were largely unhappy ones. In 1918, days after the family's arrival by train from Seattle, both of McCarthy's parents died of Spanish influenza, leaving behind four young children. Mary was six at the time, and the oldest child, and she recounts the horrors of those years in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. After the death of her parents, McCarthy and her siblings were packed off to live with her grandmother's sister, Margaret Shriver, and her abusive husband Myers. The family lived at 2427 BLAISDELL AVE. S. and Mary found refuge at ST. STEPHEN'S CHURCH AND SCHOOL (22ND STREET AND CLINTON AVENUE SOUTH), where she won first prize in a statewide contest for her essay "The Irish in American History." Six years later McCarthy's three brothers were sent away to boarding school and Mary went to Seattle to live with her maternal grandparents. She went on to become a prolific and influential novelist (The Group), critic, and literary celebrity (she was married for a time to writer and critic Edmund Wilson).

"It's easy enough--perhaps too easy--to memorialize the dead," Stephen King wrote in 1981's Danse Macabre. "This book is for six great writers of the macabre who are still alive." Included in that list of very select company, alongside Jorge Luis Borges and Ray Bradbury, was St. Paul's DONALD WANDREI. Master of the occult H.P. Lovecraft called the work of Donald's younger brother HOWARD "the greatest fantastic art ever produced." On and off through much of the 20th Century, the Wandrei brothers lived in the family home at 1152 PORTLAND AVE. in St. Paul, where they produced a sprawling repository of work that stands as a monument to the glory days of weird science and pulp.

John Vogt

Donald, born in 1909, was a year older than his brother, and attended the University of Minnesota, where he served on the editorial board of the Minnesota Daily and published his first story, "The Red Brain," in Weird Tales. He continued to publish in all the influential pulp magazines of the time--Astounding Stories, Argosy, and Black Mask, among others--and also produced volumes of poetry, screenplays, and collaborations with his brother. Howard was convicted of burglary--he was allegedly doing research for a writing project of his own--and spent three years in the St. Cloud Reformatory (1928-1930), where he took extension classes through the university and worked on his art. In 1939, along with August Derleth, Donald founded Arkham House, the first publishing company in the country devoted solely to fantasy, with the purpose of publishing the works of Lovecraft.

The brothers left behind thousands of pages of letters, drafts, contracts, report cards, grocery lists, circus programs, receipts, greeting cards, legal papers--they kept everything, it seems, and the Minnesota Historical Society archive contains an irresistible trove that reveals two of the most fascinating and eccentric characters in the annals of literature. In a classic case of profiling, Donald's University of Minnesota report cards show an A-and-B student who nonetheless received a C in physical education and a D in hygiene. Howard was a clock repairer, alley scrounger, and mushroom obsessive, whose usual breakfast, he reveals in one letter, consisted of dill pickles and milk. Included in Donald's papers at the Historical Society is the handwritten manuscript of a story detailing a sexual union between six eunuchs and a giantess, and later between a woman and a lascivious pony named Snowman.

The unsolved murder of his father haunts the work of writer GERALD VIZENOR, who studied at the University of Minnesota and was the director of the AMERICAN INDIAN EMPLOYMENT AND GUIDANCE CENTER in the 1960s. Vizenor won the American Book Award for his novel, Griever: An American Monkey King in China, but he has returned to his father's 1936 murder often in his poems and writings. On June 28, 1936, CLEMENT VIZENOR was murdered in AN ALLEY BEHIND A BUILDING AT 425 WASHINGTON AVE. S. in downtown Minneapolis (now, apparently, the site of a large parking garage). The death certificate lists Vizenor's race as white, and his occupation as "wallpaper hanger." The cause of death, as recorded by coroner Gilbert Seashore, was "homicide--deep laceration of throat."

In Interior Landscapes: Autobiographical Myths and Metaphors, Gerald Vizenor writes of his father's death: "He was a house painter who told trickster stories, pursued women, and laughed most of his time on earth. He was murdered in a narrow street in downtown Minneapolis."

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