Writers hone their craft around the Twin Cities

Laura Brandenburg at the Riot Act 
Laura Brandenburg at the Riot Act 
Photo by Sharyn Morrow

The Twin Cities may not be known as the place to go if you want to become a famous writer, but if you want to develop your craft? Well, there are worse spots. With lots of opportunities to perform, and a strong institutional support network in the form of nonprofits and funders, Minneapolis and St. Paul offers a lot for the permanently struggling artist. 

Tons of readings, storytelling nights, poetry jams, and literary events happen every week in 
Loft Literary Center's "Inroads" readers. 
Loft Literary Center's "Inroads" readers. 
Courtesy Loft Literary Center
the Twin Cities. Tonight alone, you could go see the Riot Act at the Turf Club, or check out TalkingImageConnection at the Soap Factory, where Saymoukda Vongsay and Alison Morse co-curate an evening of works responding to the "Resonating Bodies" exhibition at the space. Also this evening, the Loft Literary Center's Inroads program presents its final reading and chapbook release featuring Robert Karimi and a host of other poets, and Poetry for Thought is presenting performers/poets Katie Hae Leo, Fres Thao, and Donte Collins in an empty lot at 515 Lafond Avenue in St. Paul. 

All of these events are either free or a very low cost, and it works as a win-win situation for audiences and writers alike. For the audience, you get a cheap evening out experiencing some entertainment, often with opportunities for socializing. For poets, hip-hop artists, comedians, and other performing writer folk, it's a chance to test out how their material works with new ears. 

Mary Mack, one of the Twin Cities' best comedians, who spends much of each year in Los Angeles, will be playing the main character in a cartoon featured in the new ADHD network, owned by Fox, starting in January. But to hone her craft, Mack works out her material at none other than the Riot Act. 

"I like performing at the Riot Act Reading Series because it forces me to put full sentences on paper, leading to somewhat full stories or essays," Mack says. "It makes me use my brain in a different way, and it's incentive to create something new for a crowd of mostly regulars." 

Curiosity also brings in plenty of newcomers, Mack says, and whenever someone attends the show for the first time, "they seem to have fun and come back." 

Paul Dickinson, who co-hosts the Riot Act with Laura Brandenberg, calls it a zen exercise that "helps writers hone their craft in a showbiz-like setting." 

Though Dickinson's comment is perhaps tongue in cheek, it also carries a truth. It's the consistency that is so impressive in this town, at the Riot Act, and a dozen other venues, where artists are working out their pieces in front of a friendly audience who both supports them and, ultimately, are entertained. 

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