John Berryman Leapt Here

Mapping the literary landmarks of the Twin Cities

In the early part of the 20th Century, Wayzata's CHUTE SISTERS were the closest thing we may ever have to a Minnesota version of the Brontës. MARCHETTE CHUTE was a prolific writer of literary biographies and biblical histories; she was also a Shakespeare scholar of international renown (Shakespeare of London and Stories From Shakespeare are a couple of her titles). Her sisters ELIZABETH and B.J. were also writers. B.J., under the cloak of her sexually ambiguous nom de plume, wrote dozens of popular sports and adventure stories for boys, and she also penned the novel on which Frank Loesser's musical Greenwillow was based.

LAKE STREET has doubtless provided inspiration to scads of writers over the years, most obviously and memorably in actor and playwright KEVIN KLING'S21A, set aboard the MTC bus that travels the route daily.

We can only speculate at this point, because the details remain so sketchy and much of the evidence has disappeared, but it seems likely that more than a fair share of Twin Cities writers of the not-so-distant past sought entertainment and amusement of a sort in any number of Lake Street's vanished porn theaters. It's certainly possible that it was there, in the RIALTO THEATER (735 E. LAKE ST.), perhaps, or in the AVALON (1500 E. LAKE ST.) that poet and memoirist DAVID MURA saw such storied smut classics of the genre as Behind the Green Door and cultivated the sex addiction that would result in 1987's wrenching public exorcism, A Male Grief: Notes on Pornography and Addiction. The book seems to have vanished mysteriously from the collections of every library and bookstore--both new and used--in recent years.

Among the celebrated writers who are honored with themed rooms at the Sylvia Beach Hotel on the coast of Oregon--from Ernest Hemingway and Herman Melville to Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson--virtually every one would be familiar to even the most casually literate Minnesotan, with the probable exception of the one writer with a Minnesota connection, MERIDEL LESUEUR. LeSueur was a firebrand whose life and works reflected a lifelong commitment to leftist causes ranging from workers' and women's rights to the environment. A former actor and stuntwoman as well as a union organizer, LeSueur wrote prolifically for most of her long life, producing newspaper columns, novels, poetry, and essays. She lived at 2521 HARRIET AVE. S., and her work is being carried on even today at the MERIDEL LESUEUR PEACE AND JUSTICE CENTER (1929 FIFTH ST. S., IN MINNEAPOLIS).

Born Frederick Feikema, FREDERICK MANFRED was a huge and hugely prolific writer. He spent many of his younger years traveling and hitchhiking across America before taking a job as a sports reporter at the MINNEAPOLIS JOURNAL (427 SIXTH AVE. S.) in 1937, but he was eventually fired, allegedly over union organizing. Manfred later worked as a campaign manager during Hubert Humphrey's bid for Minneapolis mayor. From the mid-Forties on, he devoted his time to writing, and he produced a series of novels--including Lord Grizzly--that dealt with frontier and prairie life and history. It has been claimed that he was nominated for the Nobel Prize on several occasions. He lived for a number of years at 1076 18TH ST. SE in Minneapolis (now the site of a large, nondescript apartment building).

THE NICOLLET ISLAND INN on the river in Minneapolis was the site of a bit of accidental history in 1995 when author CAROL SHIELDS, lunching with a group of Twin Cities literati and a Canadian consulate official, received the telephone call informing her that she had won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Stone Diaries.

The Twin Cities' diverse and perpetually endangered independent bookstores have long been justly celebrated...and, sadly, just as often fondly remembered by the same folks whose patronage might have kept them alive. Foremost among the dozens of excellent stores that have been--and still are--is the godfather of indie survivors, David Unowsky's St. Paul monument, the HUNGRY MIND (now Ruminator Books), at 1648 GRAND AVE.. For decades the institution has been the focal point of the local book community, hosting visiting writers, supporting local presses and authors, and generally agitating for all things independent. The place has a rich anecdotal history all its own and over the years has spawned an influential book review and burgeoning small press. The offices of the now RUMINATOR REVIEW, behind the store, at 1653 LINCOLN AVE., have also been the site of historic and just plain odd convergences, such as the time that dandy QUENTIN CRISP showed up unannounced at the office one morning at ten o'clock and requested a glass of Guinness.

Among the other notable survival stories is that of AMAZON BOOKS (CURRENTLY AT 4432 CHICAGO AVE. S., MINNEAPOLIS), the worker-owned cooperative that has endured litigation (with the Internet behemoth that stole their name) and relocation to become the oldest independent feminist bookstore in the country.

SAVRAN'S BOOKS, at 301 CEDAR AVE. in Minneapolis, was a classic alternative, independent bookstore from 1965 to 1986, attracting students, professors, and West Bank regulars on a daily basis. Memorable events included an early reading by LOUISE ERDRICH and a late-Sixties appearance by poet and rocker PATTI SMITH.

Dinkytown, on the university campus, also had its share of legendary bookstores, from MELVIN MCCOSH's cluttered treasure trove of used tomes (at 1404 FOURTH ST. SE) to RUSOFF AND CO. BOOKS at 1302 FOURTH ST. SE. It was above Rusoff's that proprietor MARLY RUSOFF, along with Patricia Hampl and poet JIM MOORE, launched the original incarnation of the LOFT LITERARY CENTER. THE BOOK HOUSE (429 14TH AVE. SE) is another survivor, and a prototypical warren of wonders, an archaeological dig masquerading as an incomparable used bookstore.

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