Garrison Keillor says opening an independent bookstore wasn't the smartest move.
"I lost an obscene amount of money, but it's all fine. It's all good," he said, standing in the large, empty space a couple of days before the arrival of the shelves for his new bookstore at the corner of Snelling and Grand in St Paul.
"It was a choice in between going into the bookstore business or having a party in the parking lot burning $20 bills. Bales of them. It would have been fun but wouldn't have lasted long."
At least he got a few years out of his first store.
Keillor was in the new store to chat about the upcoming opening. He said the first Common Good Books in Cathedral Hill wasn't right: too small, in the basement and invisible.
"I sort of opened it and walked away from it," Keillor said. But he's ready to give it another go.
"If you are an author and grew up in the stacks of the Anoka Public Library you owe it to the people to try one more time," he said.
The new store will be double the size of the first store and, much to the delight of the staff, has large windows. Keillor, who has been helping with the ordering of new stock (some John McPhee and Updike, along with books on Midwestern architecture), expects to expand the number of titles by about a third, although he says the numbers aren't crucial.
"This sort of store can't be a bookstore of record," he said, rolling the leg of his eyeglasses round and back. "You want to have a representative, interesting collection," he continued. "Books that Macalester students and faculty deserve to know about."
Keillor says he has insisted on a long shelf to allow for the display of as many as 200 books laid flat so customers can see their front covers.
"Even with e-books, they are still designing book jackets," Keillor said. "They are very compelling."
He also wants to have many tables, and maybe even a desk where he can work. He says he intends to spend more time in the store, although there is the problem that he has been unable to master working the till.
The new Common Good Books will have a soft opening on Monday, April 9, but will celebrate in a grand style for three evenings beginning May 1. That night, a "Spring Poetry Free-for-all" in the Macalester chapel will let members of the public select poems to perform at the open mike, with a jazz trio as backing.
On May 2, in the space adjacent to the new store, Keillor will be joined by Prairie Home Companion regulars Sue Scott and Tim Russell for a dramatic reading of Keillor's new book, "Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny."
Finally, on May 3, Keillor will invite people to join him on stage and tell him a story. Then, he says, he gets to ask some questions. "Like a little master class," he said. He wants to guide them to the interesting part.
All three events will start at 7 p.m.
Keillor said after the Guy Noir novel he thinks he may be done with writing fiction.
"People don't want that anymore," he said, staring out into the traffic on Snelling. He says he's been writing essays instead. He talked about an essay on cheerfulness, which started as a newspaper column and somehow was now around 11,000 words.
"My people were cheerful people at heart," he said. "And I have misrepresented them in the News from Lake Wobegon."
He mentioned his mother, who is 96 and has always made a point of trying to be cheerful, unlike his own generation and those that have followed. He's not sure where these essays might be published, however. He says he needs a magazine for which to write, noting that he hasn't written for the New Yorker since Tina Brown became editor, and while she has now moved on, he's inclined to let it lie.
He has been rewriting the screenplay for his Lake Wobegon movie. He says it got too dark, and he needed to lighten it up. "People don't want to pay to go see a Lake Wobegon movie and get bummed out," he shrugged.
But in the meantime there is a bookstore to open. Keillor seems pleased by the idea.
"It's important for people to hold books in their hands," he said. "Who knows what will happen to books in the next 20 years?"
(All photos are MPR images by Euan Kerr)(5 Comments)
Two hours later I left Penumbra, determined to read everything he's ever written.
Image source: PBS
Such was the power and infectious enthusiasm of the St. Paul company's "Let's Talk Theatre" series, which this week focused on the life and work of the acclaimed author and playwright. James Baldwin's play "The Amen Corner" is up next on the Penumbra's production calendar, and will be performed on the Guthrie Theater's mainstage.
Penumbra Associate Artistic Directors Sarah Bellamy and Dominic Taylor led the conversation, with actors occasionally reading works that shed light on the man and his deeply intellectual and analytical take on race, homosexuality, religion and American culture.
Sarah Bellamy and Dominic Taylor on stage at Penumbra Theatre
Photo by Michal Daniel
The author of numerous books and essays, Baldwin spent much of his life as an expat in France. From there he felt better equipped to analyze American society, and analyze he did, fearlessly.
The Penumbra event included the playing of this clip from Baldwin's documentary "Take this Hammer" which aired in 1963:
During the course of the evening Dominic Taylor expressed his frustration at times with young writers and playwrights who aspire to write something "new and different" without first having studied the works of those who came before them. Without that sense of history, Taylor said, it's difficult to move ideas forward.
Taylor said Baldwin's writing was so illuminating because it captured both your head and your heart. "In reading Baldwin's words I don't just begin to understand Baldwin - I begin to understand myself," said Taylor. Many of Baldwin's writings dating back to the '50s and '60s seem just as pointed and relevant today, he added.
In 1987 Baldwin died of stomach cancer in France, and was later buried in Harlem. Before his death he was given the highest honor one can receive in France, and named a Commander of the French Legion of Honor. In a tribute to her mentor, Toni Morrison wrote:
In your hands language was handsome again. In your hands we saw how it was meant to be: neither bloodless nor bloody, and yet alive...It infuriated some people. Those who saw the paucity of their own imagination in the two-way mirror you held up to them attacked the mirror, tried to reduce it to fragments which they could then rank and grade, tried to dismiss the shards where your image and theirs remained - locked but ready to soar. You are an artist after all and an artist is forbidden a career in this place; an artist is permitted only a commercial hit. But for thousands and thousands of those who embraced your text and who gave themselves permission to hear your language, by that very gesture they ennobled themselves, became unshrouded, civilized.
I'm going to head over to the library later today and pick up a few of Baldwin's books; I'm curious to see how my better understanding of his work will shape my own view of the present, and the future.
Better late than never.
On this November's ballot, Minnesotans will be asked if they want marriage written into the state constitution, defined as being between one man and one woman.
But when it comes to artists and arts organizations, the majority appear to be in favor of gay marriage. The Minnesotans United for All Families Coalition is made up of approximately 250 organizations working to overturn the amendment; of them, more than 40 are directly involved in the arts, including among them the Guthrie Theater, Springboard for the Arts, Intermedia Arts, and Pillsbury House Theatre.
In addition, Minnesota Artists for Equality has put together a video message asking artists to use their creative know-how to help overturn the marriage amendment:
So why do so many artists and arts organizations support gay marriage? I put the question to Twin Cities artists and arts administrators on my Facebook page; here are just some of the responses I heard:
Sam Bergman, violist with the Minnesota Orchestra:
Assuming you're defining "artists" broadly here: a) the number of conservative artists can be counted on one hand; b) many of us are either gay ourselves or grew up watching how horribly gay friends were treated by American society; and c) artists are by nature questioners of authority and agents of progressive social change.
Laura Zabel, director of Springboard for the Arts:
For me, this amendment is about what it means to be a Minnesotan. Much like the Legacy amendment, we have a chance to say, "Here's what this place means. This is who we want to be." I believe Minnesota's identity is about beautiful environment, incredible cultural opportunity and a proud tradition of progressive openness and welcoming attitude. Those are the things that make Minnesota a place I want to live. There are also compelling arguments that link GLBT and creative populations as drivers of economic success...but for me it's about identity.
Actor and writer Dean J. Seal:
Artists, by trade, put themselves in other people's shoes, see through other people's eyes, walk a mile in their moccasins. They don't see this issue in terms of philosophy or religion- they see it in the stories of people who love each other.
Photographer Dean Riggott:
Interestingly, I'd estimate 75% of the artists (mostly photographers)I know to be very conservative with strong biblical beliefs and opposed to gay marriage. But often times artists and musicians are very rebellious and anti-establishment by nature and opposed to rules of any kind.
Actor Charlie Bethel:
I am an artist who loves rules, but I also know that rules are made to be broken. As a human being, I know that my highest purpose is to love and be loved by another human being. Marriage fosters this, so I support marriage. For everyone.
Screenwriter Marvin Joel Rubin:
I don't believe artists are a monolith. Artists come from different classes, races, religions, political views etc. Sometimes despite the differences they come together.
Dancer John Munger
I notice that a large majority of the artists I know, including myself, give serious thought on a regular basis to the hard work of empathy. And it's very hard work. Lots of people just don't want to do it. They just want to be "right," so what's wrong with everyone else? But a large number of artists do it all the time. We have to. We're trying to communicate. Any motivational speaker, social theorist, psychologist, counselor, therapist or genuine spiritual guru will tell you that, in order to communicate, you have to listen, and that's how empathy begins.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts staffer Anne-Marie Wagener:
I think that art and freedom of expression go together fairly often and freedom, of choice, is certainly an issue that this amendment tries to deny.
and finally, from poet Paul Dickinson:
Because everyone has the right to be miserable...
Minnesota Citizens for the Arts is also a member of Minnesotans United for all Families. Executive Director Sheila Smith explains the MCA's stance this way:
Minnesota's creative community thrives because of the contributions of all kinds of creative people, including gay people. Passage of this amendment would hang a "not welcome" sign on our borders to a significant portion of the creative community and would cause damage to our image as a great place to be an artist. This amendment could limit our state's ability to recruit the best and the brightest to be a part of our state's future. Economist Richard Florida said in The Creative Class that regions with high concentrations of technology workers, artists, musicians, lesbians and gay men, or "the creative class" fosters an open, dynamic personal and professional environment, which in turn attracts more creative people, businesses, and capital. We believe in the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. That's the kind of place we believe Minnesota is, and the kind of place we want it to be in the future.
So what for you is the connection between artists and the marriage amendment?(1 Comments)