Writing Minnesota


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What does it mean to be a Minnesota writer? It means obsessing over the sound of the Mississippi River. It means writing about small towns. It means you're a refugee who refused to speak as a child.

It means writing about butter. It means New York might find you provincial. It means you're not as stressed out as New York writers about your status. It means you write about Chicago. It means you grew up on a farm and saw your dad kill a cow with a pitchfork. It means your characters have secrets.

It means watching a girl flirt with your husband in a St. Paul wine bar — and wishing she'd flirt yet more.

These are some of the many ways writers define their relationship to Minnesota. Host Annie Baxter invites you to hear these writers' reflections and their creative works on "Writing Minnesota."

“Location is destiny”

Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter says he has come to believe that location is destiny. "I think any writer is finely influenced by the places he or she grew up, the kind of people the writer has known and lived with," he said. "And when you close your eyes and think of your imagination's home, it has to look like something. For me it looks like Minnesota."

Read more, including Baxter's "The Winner" »

“I grew on the page”

Kao Kalia Yang

Kao Kalia Yang is a Minnesota writer with a story that stretches across the globe. The daughter of Hmong immigrants to Minnesota, Yang was born in a Thai refugee camp, Ban Vinai, in 1980. Her family came to Minnesota when she was seven.

Read more »

“It's not just me”

Nicole Helget

Writer Nicole Helget says her dark stories about farm life have not drawn complaints from state boosters, but, she jokes, she also hasn't gotten any job offers.

Read more »

“Two places at once”

Philip Bryant

For poet Philip Bryant, you can't talk about what it means to be a Minnesota writer without a trip to Stearns County.

Read more, including Bryant's poem "Polka Dancing Televised Live from Mankato on Saturday Night" »


Steve Healey

Steve Healey's new book of poetry, "10 Mississippi," marks his unabashed plunge into the local landscape. But something used to keep him back from unlocking the poetics of a particular place.

Read more, including Healey's poem "2 Mississippi" »

“The river boiled with light”

Robert Hedin

Born and raised in Red Wing, Minnesota, Robert Hedin spent decades living in places like Alaska, France, and North Carolina. "Like a lot of Midwestern writers, I needed to get away before I realized that my real subject was where I had spent a great portion of my life," he says.

Read more, including Hedin's poem "The Wreck of the Great Northern" »

“I'm not making this up”

Katrina Vandenberg

Katrina Vandenberg's poem "Consuming Desire" uses a St. Paul wine bar as the setting for a loaded interaction: a young woman appears to be hitting on Vandenberg's husband, or, more specifically, on his cake.

Read more, including Vandenberg's poem "Consuming Desire" »

“Evening inside the refrigerator”

Matt Rasmussen

Matt Rasmussen's poem "Land O' Lakes" offers a whimsical take on the phrase that defines Minnesota and that is, of course, also the name of a butter product.

Read more, including Rasmussen's poem "Land O' Lakes" »


Host Annie Baxter is an MPR reporter, fiction writer and poet. Her fiction writing won her a slot in the competitive Mentor Series program at the Loft Literary Center in 2009 as well as writing residencies at the Anderson Center and the New York Mills Cultural Center. She has a master's in rhetoric from UC Berkeley and a master's in comparative literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Producer: Curtis Gilbert
Additional production: Chris Roberts, Johnny Vince Evans, Jacquie Fuller
Editor: Mike Edgerly
Actors in radio adaptation of "The Winner": Michael Booth, Charles Fraser, Leigha Horton, Tena May Gallivan and Patrick Coyle
Web producer: Than Tibbetts

The Loft Literary Center was a partner in this project. Many thanks to Jocelyn Hale, Chris Jones and Jerod Santek for their excellent counsel.

Thanks to Nick Leitheiser, Eric Ringham, Steve Nelson, Marc Sanchez, Julie Siple, Carolina Astrain, Alana Ronningen, Delia Kuczmarski, Sasha Aslanian, Larissa Anderson, Stephanie Colgan, Nikki Tundel, Jeff Thompson, Alex Kolyer, Rachel Riensche and Mitzi Gramling for their assistance in the production.

Thanks also to Random House, Coffee House Press, Milkweed Editions, Holy Cow! Press, the Minnesota Historical Society Press, New Rivers Press and Kitchen Press.


Writing Minnesota is supported in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.


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