John Berryman Leapt Here

Mapping the literary landmarks of the Twin Cities

"In hospitals he found his society," Berryman's peer Saul Bellow wrote in the introduction to Recovery. "University colleagues were often more philistine, less tolerant of poets than were alcoholics or suicidal girls."

Berryman's funeral services were held at ST. FRANCES CABRINI (1500 FRANKLIN AVE. SE), and he is buried in RESURRECTION CEMETERY in Mendota Heights (2101 LEXINGTON AVE. S.).

In the 1929 St. Paul city directory, author, filmmaker, composer, and photographer GORDON PARKS is listed as a porter living at 702 OLD RONDO. During his formative years in the Twin Cities, Parks worked as a busboy at the LOWRY HOTEL ("St. Paul's Largest") at FOURTH AND WABASHA, and also at the MINNESOTA CLUB (WASHINGTON AND FOURTH). He also hung out and played piano at JIM WILLIAMS'S POOL HALL (560 ST. ANTHONY AVE.), and at CARVER'S PLACE, a juke joint/ whorehouse in a farmhouse on the outskirts of the city. Parks got his first big break as a fashion photographer for FRANK MURPHY'S women's clothing store (FIFTH AND ST. PETER) in downtown St. Paul.

When SIR TYRONE GUTHRIE first visited the Twin Cities in search of a site for his repertory theater, he was wined and dined by the local gentry, including publisher JOHN COWLES and lawyer PIERCE BUTLER. In his 1964 book A New Theatre, Guthrie recalls a gathering "in an upper chamber at the newspaper office, where Cowles had invited a distinguished and influential group to meet us. We made our pitch. The group expressed polite but guarded interest."

What sealed the deal, apparently, was a later gathering at a local watering hole, which Guthrie describes with great relish: "We assembled in one of those slightly sinful-looking bars which are prevalent in the upper Midwest, with very dim emerald green lighting like the Tunnel of Fear at a fun fair, a décor which flits uneasily between Tahiti (rattan chair and plastic orchids) and France (naughty murals in primary colors) and a staff of talkative, crew-cut teenagers earning money for 'further education.'" No one in the Twin Cities--including a few of the parties allegedly in attendance--seems to recall this particular klatch, but it's possible Guthrie was recalling Berryman's old haunt, THE WAIKIKI ROOM, or the NANKIN.

For a man making his first visit to Minneapolis, Guthrie proved remarkably prescient in another of his observations. It seems that more than 40 years ago the old sage had his eye on a future site for the theater of his dreams. "The river itself was what most charmed and amazed us," Guthrie wrote. "It had not yet frozen over and was flowing with a lively sparkle through winding gorges which are still beautiful, although here, as everywhere else, the convenience of the waterway has been exploited in the interests of trade. The banks are the usual mess of factories, coal dumps, freight yards, gas works, and power stations. Of course, it will not always be so. Eventually the Twin Cities will realize that their river can be, and ought to be, a wonderful and life-giving amenity without losing any of its utility."

In the fall of 1960 Anoka native GARRISON KEILLOR entered the UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA. During his years at the university Keillor worked at KUOM, the campus radio station, and published his first poem in THE IVORY TOWER, the college newspaper's literary magazine. That poem, "My Child Knew Once Who He Was," was an auspicious debut, including such memorable lines as these:

THE IVORY TOWER (10 MURPHY HALL, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA, EAST BANK) was a proving ground for a number of well-known Minnesota writers, including PATRICIA HAMPL and ROBERT PIRSIG, the Minnesota native and author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, who was a coeditor in the 1950s. Pirsig also would later help to found the MINNESOTA ZEN CENTER (425 FIFTH ST. SE) in Minneapolis.

Keillor would become the fiction editor of The Ivory Tower in 1963, and the journal would publish his first short story, "The Man Who Locked Himself In," in October of that year, in effect writing Keillor's own epitaph right out of the blocks.

After leaving the university, Keillor would intern at the newspaper with which he would later have a longstanding feud, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and would write a short-lived sports column for the old weekly TC Express. He would also sign on with "A Prairie Home Entertainment: Poems, Stories, Small Prose, and Items D'Art," a program that writers/artists Gregory Bitz and Robin Raygor were producing at WALKER ART CENTER (725 VINELAND PL..).

Years later, after Keillor had taken that concept and turned it into a cottage industry qua empire, he would feud with the Pioneer Press over what he saw as overzealous coverage of his personal life. The feud would culminate with the paper publishing the address of his new $300,000, four-bedroom St. Paul home (496 PORTLAND AVE.), after which Keillor temporarily abandoned the city--and the newly renovated FITZGERALD THEATER--for Denmark.

When AUGUST WILSON moved to St. Paul from his native Pittsburgh in 1978 he was still a struggling writer coming to grips with the racially charged subject matter that would shape his work for years to come. In St. Paul he worked for a time as a scriptwriter for the SCIENCE MUSEUM OF MINNESOTA (30 E. TENTH ST., ST. PAUL), cooked at the LITTLE BROTHERS OF THE POOR (1845 E. LAKE ST., MINNEAPOLIS), and received a Jerome fellowship from the PLAYWRIGHTS' CENTER (2301 FRANKLIN AVE. S., MINNEAPOLIS). The PENUMBRA THEATER (270 N. KENT ST., ST. PAUL) staged a production of Black Bart and the Sacred Hills, which Wilson had adapted from a series of stories he had written dealing with black people in the Old West. It was also during his Twin Cities stay that Wilson would write Jitney, the play that would bring him his first acclaim.

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