Artists of the Year

Latisha Jones & Patricia Hampl

By Jocelyn Hale

Last January I found myself trying to avoid sloppy boot drippings as I sat on the floor in a back corner of Open Book's packed auditorium to hear Patricia Hampl read from her soon-to-be-released memoir, The Florist's Daughter: "Even more wonderful than the renewal of life that the refreshing Minnesota change of seasons bestowed on us was the urban farm of the greenhouse where he seduced and betrayed the calendar and the clock and of course the climate, timing blossoms as if with a stopwatch for the holidays, Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies hoodwinked and hustled, duped and drugged, depending on their growth cycles, so that all bloomed for his customers exactly on the dot."

When Trish finished her reading, a moment of silence—even reverence—was followed by a roar as the audience jumped to its feet and cheered. I knew the book would be a masterpiece. These are simple yet complex stories about her parents and her St. Paul upbringing. The Florist's Daughter has since garnered rave reviews nationally, including a New York Times Notable Book award. Hampl reads her work with the precision of a poet and the skill of a highly trained actress. Throughout the year I saw her experiment and expand the performance of her readings, which were often accompanied by the lyrical piano playing of Dan Chouinard.

Later in 2007, I headed to the same auditorium at Open Book. As I waited for the performance to begin, I became mesmerized by a young woman dancing her way through the crowd, pausing to talk to fellow writers and fans. Tish Jones, Queen of the B-Girl scene, is a mere 20 years old. Her meteoric rise to local stardom has brought her a 2007 "On the Verge" mention in the Star Tribune, feature stories in City Pages and The Rake, and performances in New York City. She is a powerhouse, and her performance is flawless: Her spoken-word poetry dives into conflict and flows upward to survival and hope. Her work is political and personal: "10:00 a.m.—Breakfast made by sore hands and a room engulfed in silence, and yet, here I stand."

At first glance, Tish and Trish have nothing in common. They are of different races, different generations, and different styles. As you compare Patricia Hampl's elegant website to Tish Jones's raucous MySpace page, you know you have two writers who are miles apart. And yet these two women—both emerging from St. Paul—share a fierce commitment to the craft and style of their writing. The work of both is riveting yet accessible. Both have mastered performance, grounded in poetic language. Most important, their pairing represents the diversity of Minnesota's extraordinary and yeasty writing scene.

Jocelyn Hale is executive director of the Loft Literary Center.

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