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A Minnesota Kid: In search of heroes and ghosts
Self-published, 2012 / Former Minnesota Daily sports editor David Butwin creates a vivid word picture of growing up in St. Paul in the late 1940s and '50s. His memoir is a trip through a series of vignettes that will evoke memories for anyone who grew up during those years. Here's a sample: The St. Paul Saints and Lexington Park; Mel Hime of the Saints and hated Sal Yvars of the Minneapolis Millers; the polio scare that shut down the Minnesota State Fair; Geraldine Mingo's unsolved murder and Carol Thompson's solved murder; the death of Twin Cities streetcars; Dick Nesbitt; Marty O'Neill; Red Mottlow; Ray Christensen; Bob Blakeley; Judge Dickson; Bill Diehl, and Ed Gein. Not only does Butwin present a well-researched picture of what life was life, he uses the reporting skills he learned in Murphy Hall and honed as one of the top travel writers in the nation to track down the characters and tell us how everything turned out. These fascinating stories are sure to reignite additional memories of some of the characters that dominated dinner conversations some 50-60 years ago.
Butwin, B.A. '61, journalism, has written widely on travel, sports, lifestyle and humor for Esquire, Gourmet, and Sports Illustrated. Reviewer Dave Mona, B.A. '65, journalism, is chairman of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul office of Weber Shandwick public relations agency.
Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community
Brenda J. Child
Viking, 2012 / In this concise, readable history, Brenda Child tells the story of the Ojibwe in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan from the women's perspective. She details their physical and spiritual identification with the earth and its seasons -- from giving birth to harvesting maple syrup and life-sustaining wild rice -- and how it followed that the confiscation of Indian lands by whites shattered the women's lives, families, and communities. She describes how Ojibwe women adapted as circumstances changed: they engaged in the fur trade, they made and sold food and clothing to settlers. When they lost their men, they hunted and fished. In recent decades they have labored in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis to promote the well-being of one of the nation's largest urban Indian communities. Most striking is Child's portrait of the traditional independence of Ojibwe women, who retained personal and legal rights upon marriage. And, giving rise to the book's title, she pointedly notes that the term for older Ojibwe women denotes status, strength, wisdom and authority: "mindimooyehn" -- "one who holds things together."
Child, chair of the Department of American Indian Studies, is a member of the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation. Reviewer Mary Pattock is the editor of Reach.
Racing for Innocence: Whiteness, Gender, and the Backlash Against Affirmative Action
Jennifer L. Pierce
Stanford University Press, 2012 / While working as a paralegal in a corporate in-house legal department in 1989, Jennifer Pierce witnessed the backlash against affirmative action firsthand. A policy intended to even the playing field in higher education and employment for women and minorities was turned on its head, as claims of reverse discrimination against white men (nearly all later proven specious) were given center stage in national newspapers. The issues are still relevant today, as seen in the October 2012 Supreme Court hearings on affirmative action related to Fisher v. University of Texas. Racing for Innocence revisits affirmative action battles of the 1980s and '90s through interviews with attorneys from her legal department, analysis of news coverage, and reviews of the most popular films of the time. You'll never look at Mississippi Burning or Ghosts of Mississippi the same way again.
Pierce is a professor of American Studies in CLA. Reviewer Kelly O'Brien is staff for CLA's Office of Media and Public Relations.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012 / What would you do if your left hiking boot fell off the side of a mountain 38 days into a solo 1,100-mile sojourn along the Pacific Crest Trail? If you're Cheryl Strayed, you'd throw the right boot off the mountain, too. After all, she writes, "What is one boot without the other?" So begins Wild -- and her story is, indeed, wild: from the reasons that pushed her into the woods alone at 26, to events that transpired there. Her true achievement is that she never lets the reader forget how difficult the journey was. Her steady and quotidian narration of this most extreme physical and emotional adventure begs empathy. It's impossible not to put yourself into her boots. Would you, could you, have finished the journey under similar circumstances? Would you have been as brave? Strayed hiked to repair brokenness, to make a safe place for her young woman-self in the world. There's a lesson in that for all of us.
Strayed, B.A. '97, English and women's studies, lives in Portland, Oregon. Wild topped The New York Times Best Seller list, and was an Oprah's Book Club selection. Reviewer Clare Beer works for CLA's Office of Undergraduate Programs.
Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012 / You may not think you have much in common with Hildegard of Bingen. She was one of the 12th century's foremost European intellectuals, a mystic and politically savvy Benedictine abbess; she spent most of her youth bricked up with a masochistic "holy woman" in a monastery annex in Germany. But in this deeply researched and lyrically written historical novel, only the trappings are exotic. Hildegard meets with love and abandonment, torn loyalties, dim-witted superiors and jealous coworkers, even the anorexia of a friend -- situations not unfamiliar to us in the 21st-century. Eventually escaping her confinement, Hildegard founded a Benedictine community based on humane values, and wrote books on natural science and mysticism. She composed the West's first signed music -- ecstatic, soaring chants (hear a sample at z.umn.edu/hildegard) and its first musical drama. None of this was "normal" female behavior, so along the way she had to outwit numerous powerful men, including two popes and Frederick Barbarosa, the Holy Roman Emperor. Some things never change.
Sharratt, B.A. '88, German, lived in Germany for 12 years and now lives in Lancashire, England. This is her fifth novel. Reviewer Mary Pattock is the editor of Reach.
Harper/Harper Collins, 2012 / In Coplin's debut novel, a turn-of-the-century orchardist, William Talmadge, lives alone, tending apricots and apples through the seasons with meditative zeal. Then two runaway pregnant teenagers stumble onto his land, and Eden goes to heck -- in wondrously detailed slow motion. Talmadge's care of his ripening fruit is mirrored in the rare attention Coplin pays to the characters' shifting moods, the pace of change in early 1900s Washington State, and the interplay between childhood pain and adult behavior. Violence unfolds matter-of-factly. But the evil in this garden is more particular: it stems from men's attempts -- out of lust but also love -- to control women's bodies and minds. The choices women make in response are tragic too, yet in the end the story feels less depressing than searching: how can we truly nurture the world and each other?
Coplin is a 2006 MFA alumna in creative writing. Reviewer Terri Sutton is staff for the English department.
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011 / In World Tree David Wojahn seems able to inhabit any and every style. He writes his own versions of sonnets and villanelles, and a quicksilver free verse. He builds novelistic narratives and modernist montages. He employs a sophisticated, even baroque range of diction that accommodates the King James Bible as well as rock lyrics. And he can speak with the disarming directness of the plain style. To read a poem by David Wojahn is to feel how consciousness itself can hold and shape various and often contradictory experiences, perspectives, and feeling tones. I love, for example, the sonnet, "August, 1953," which describes the poet's own birth in Saint Paul, even as, in the manner of a film montage, the focus pans out to show various events occurring at that very moment, all around the world. This collection is filled with such wonders. Wojahn, who grew up in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, has won many honors; World Tree has garnered the $25,000 Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He's a world-class poet, and this is his best book.
Wojahn, B.A. '76, English, directs the creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Reviewer Peter Campion, assistant professor of English, has won a Guggenheim Fellowship, Pushcart Prize, and Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize for his poetry.