John Berryman Leapt Here

Mapping the literary landmarks of the Twin Cities

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:

    By Nicollet Island I gaze down at the dark water
    So beautifully slow.
    And I wish my brothers good luck
    And a warm grave.

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.

John Vogt

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.

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'S 21A, 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).

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