John Berryman Leapt Here

Mapping the literary landmarks of the Twin Cities

After leaving St. Paul, Wilson would go on to international renown (and two Pulitzer Prizes) with such plays as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, and The Piano Lesson.

On May 5, 1973, the Minnesota Opera staged the world premiere of Transformations, adapted from the poems of ANNE SEXTON. Sexton, who made a career of blunt, corrosively confessional poetry, wrote the libretto working closely with composer Conrad Susa, and was on hand for the premiere in Minneapolis's CEDAR VILLAGE THEATER (416 CEDAR AVE. S.). Of the production, Sexton told the Minneapolis Star, "The page came alive, and I've never seen that before in my work...I feel I get no credit for this at all. It was just dirt, and they turned it into statues."

A year later Sexton was dead, a suicide at age 46. No connection was established between the Minnesota Opera production of Transformations and her despair.

In the close-but-no-cigar category, we have the story of ERIC BENTLEY, the world-renowned translator, theater scholar, and Bertolt Brecht authority, who while a professor at the University of Minnesota in the 1940s tried repeatedly, with no success, to convince the university to stage a production of Brecht's work. Frustrated, Bentley eventually took his translation of The Caucasian Chalk Circle to CARLETON COLLEGE in NORTHFIELD, where on May 4, 1948 the play had its world premiere in the NOURSE LITTLE THEATER, under the direction of Henry Goodman.

In May 1998, during the Brecht centenary, the University of Minnesota staged a two-day commemoration of the playwright's work, "Revisiting Brecht at the End of the 20th Century," at the RARIG CENTER, 330 21ST AVE. S.). A world Communist uprising did not ensue.

The universities of the Twin Cities have obviously produced more than their fair share of the literary history of the region, turning out writers and providing employment for scores of writers both celebrated and undeservedly obscure. The UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA (53) has the most impressive roster of alumni and distinguished professors. Journalist HARRISON SALISBURY was a onetime student and Minnesota Daily editor who was expelled for challenging a campus rule. From the 1930s through the 1960s the university's English and journalism departments were nationally acclaimed, attracting first-class faculty and churning out writers who would go on to make international reputations of their own.

During the Sinclair Lewis and Robert Penn Warren years, GORDON DICKSON and POUL ANDERSON, who would become science-fiction icons, were students at the university and together formed the Minneapolis Fantasy Society. Legendary journalist and Murrow Boy ERIC SEVAREID was a reporter at the Daily, and HARRY REASONER was also a journalism student. MAX SCHULMAN (Barefoot Boy With Cheek) and TOM HEEGEN (Mr. Roberts), two writers who went on to success in films and on Broadway, also passed through the university. Among the other celebrated faculty were poets ALLEN TATE, HOWARD NEMEROV, and JAMES WRIGHT. Tate and Nemerov were both United States poet laureates, as was Penn Warren. Tate lived at 2019 IRVING AVE. S., while Wright made his home in Minneapolis at 2414 COMO AVE. SE (55).

The Twin Cities were a presence in the work of Wright in particular; several of the poems in his volume Shall We Gather at the River provide a clear-eyed and frequently bleak look at the Minneapolis landscape, with acknowledgments of recognizable landmarks, ranging from the Mississippi to the Walker Art Center. In "The Minneapolis Poem," he writes:

MACALESTER COLLEGE (1600 GRAND AVE.)--the St. Paul bastion of liberalism that is indebted to the beneficence of that journal of radical consciousness Reader's Digest for its endowment--produced novelists TIM O'BRIEN and CHARLES BAXTER. O'Brien, a Worthington native, was a 1968 Macalester graduate, and was the senior student-body president. He was drafted into the army out of college, and his Vietnam experience would provide the very raw material for a number of his most celebrated and memorable novels, most notably 1978's National Book Award-winning Going After Cacciato.

Baxter (The Feast of Love) grew up in Excelsior and had a high school job at ABBOTT HOSPITAL, where he once tended to John Berryman during one of the poet's numerous stays there. Baxter attended public school in Mound and graduated from Macalester in 1969. His first two collections of poetry, Chameleon and South Dakota Guidebook, were published by C.W. Truesdale's NEW RIVERS PRESS (then located on SELBY AVENUE IN ST. PAUL), which was the first publisher in the country to obtain nonprofit status.

The mother of St. Paul writer PATRICIA HAMPL--the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant--was also a onetime librarian at Macalester.

The man who stole one of Jack Kerouac's many ill-contented girlfriends in The Subterraneans, GREGORY CORSO, ended his tour of the world in the Twin Cities at NORTH MEMORIAL HOSPITAL (3300 OAKDALE AVE. N.) in Robbinsdale. He died of cancer on January 17, 2001. Corso had moved to the Twin Cities to live with his daughter after falling into convalescence.

Minneapolis native BRENDA UELAND, whose If You Want to Write has been a primer for aspiring writers for generations, spent much of her life amid what Sinclair Lewis called the "white trash" of Linden Hills, at 3820 W. CALHOUN BLVD.. She is likely the only writer on the Twin Cities literary map who was knighted by the King of Norway, and she also set an international swimming record while in her 80s. She died at the age of 93 in 1985.

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