ROBERT BLY Before Iron John, before wild men retreated for chest-beater weekends in the woods, this guy was a pretty good poet. No, not just good--he was a decent poet. His many poems against the Vietnam war in The Light Around the Body (National Book Award, 1967) mattered. The cool and deeply sexual poems in Sleepers Joining Hands moved. His translations, over the years, of Neruda, Vallejo, and like poets otherwise lost to readers of English are essential. If one mark of fine poetry is its staying power, Bly's has it. Don't tell us these lines from the early 1960s aren't still apt today: "If we are truly free, and live in a free county/When shall I be without this heaviness of mind?"
IGNATIUS DONNELLY Donnelly wore many hats: author, eccentric, politician, and historian of Atlantis. A three-term U.S. congressman of the Progressive Era and a devoted rider of white elephants, Donnelly also produced voluminous writings on Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, and the lost continent, as well as a few utopian novels. At least one of the hats of this intellectual oddball must have been cutting off circulation.
MICHAEL DORRIS We cannot excuse what we do not know. And so, at the least, Dorris deserves elegy for his writing: A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (his first novel and among the finest literary debuts of recent decades); The Broken Cord (an account of his family's struggles with fetal alcohol syndrome, and a 1989 National Book Critics Circle Award winner); and many children's books, essays, and stories. It should be said that at the time of his death by suicide last year, at age 52, Dorris was one of the most esteemed Native American writers at work, and not as some kind of mascot safe enough to make it in the Anglo mainstream. He was better than that: more ambitious, more talented, more alive.
JOHN ENGMAN His is not a death you get over. What made it worse is how unfinished Engman was in December 1996, at age 47, dead of a brain aneurysm on the floor of his Minneapolis apartment. Unfinished as a poet, with only two books under his belt, both superb devotions to the art; and as a human, still wrestling demons, still being forged by irony, grief, and immense solitude. No way now to know the man but through his writing--a mission aided by the recent publication of a posthumous collection, Temporary Help.
WANDA GÄG In 1928, New Ulm-native Gäg wrote a very simple children's story about an old man and woman who wanted a cat to keep them company. Illustrated by Gäg, Millions of Cats was heralded as an instant classic, and a groundbreaking title in children's picture books. Millions of Cats has now sold millions of copies in languages ranging from Hebrew to Japanese to Afrikaans.
PAUL GRUCHOW Open country wasn't always hemmed in by superstores. Rice County writer Paul Gruchow recollects the days of family farms and true wilderness in his thoughtful essays found in recent collections Grass Roots and Boundary Waters. If we heed his warnings, these places might stay more than memories.
SIRI HUSTEVEDT The literary riddles of this Northfield-raised author are perhaps even more mesmerizing than those of her more famous husband, the author and filmmaker Paul Auster. Her first novel, The Blindfold, follows a New York graduate student through a series of precarious relationships with men, the image, and the written word; The Enchantment of Lily Dahl is more of the same, and also intriguingly pulpy in parts.
GARRISON KEILLOR Banal one moment, mordant the next, this freakishly prolific radio writer and novelist can no more be loved than denied.
MAUD HART LOVELACE The semiautobiographical Betsy-Tacy series, based on Lovelace's lifelong friendships with her own Tacy and Tib, follows Betsy's adventures from childhood in "Deep Valley" (Mankato) to maturity, love, and the "Great World" (Minneapolis). This is a girls' series in the canonical league of Anne of Green Gables and the Little House books, with a timelessness those wannabe American Girls will never attain.
KARAL ANN MARLING This UM professor's academic interests have ranged from Norman Rockwell and WPA post-office murals to mall design, Disneyland, and the American Mecca, Graceland. A lucid, engaging prose style and a combative personality make Marling one of the most powerful (and sincere) proponents of the aesthetics of the marketplace.
ALEXS PATE Pate's first two novels, Losing Absalom and Finding Makeba, are sensitive but not overly sentimental dramas about the hard choices of contemporary black families. He's also the author of a book based on Steven Spielberg's Amistad and a professor at the University of Minnesota.
GARY PAULSEN As a troubled 14-year-old, Paulsen took refuge one night from a cold Northern Minnesota winter inside a library and came out with a book--a fortunate accident. Today, Paulsen's books have filled in a cavernous gap in the Young Adult bookshelves--literary books for boys. Author of preteen favorites Hatchet, Nightjohn, and The Rifle, Paulsen has created many acclaimed outdoor adventure fables based on his own experiences hunting and trapping in the North Woods.
OLE E. ROLVAAG Northfield usually offers the gun-totin' tourist Jesse James as its celebrity connection, but Ole E. Rolvaag stayed longer and left behind a better story. In his saga Giants of the Earth, this Norwegian immigrant captured the turn-of-the-century Midwestern experience in its grim, hungry reality.
ERIC SEVAREID Sevareid's essays of sound and words for CBS Radio News during World War II lifted the network's coverage beyond the basics of who, what, where, and when. One of radio's greatest moments: Sevareid's story about Brits dancing through a London Blitz blackout, delivered live from a ballroom, couples swaying next to him in the dark. His books include memoirs, essays, and Canoeing with the Cree, a travelogue of his journey as a teen from Minnesota to Hudson Bay. As a commentator later for CBS-TV, Sevareid devolved from fiery liberal to Cranky Old Guy, paving the way for Andy Rooney.
BRENDA UELAND Ueland preached living optimistically and with gusto. Her 1938 book If You Want to Write reads as much like a New Age self-help tome as it does an instruction manual for would-be scribes. Fans include Carl Sandburg, Andrei Codrescu, and Paul Westerberg.
THORSTEN VEBLEN Turgidly written and syncretically conceived, Veblen's Theories of the Leisure Class, composed at the front end of a string of abortive teaching posts, remains one of the most original contributions to American sociology and economics.
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