Thursday, July 20, 2017

Writers Read: Going Coastal at Zenith Bookstore

(L to R) Marie Zhuikov, Max Reagan, Judy Budreau, Phil Fitzpatric
The flowering of our arts community these past 20 years has been a thrill to behold. Last year I overheard Barton Sutter say that several decades ago the public poetry community consisted of he and Louis Jenkins meeting for coffee at a local restaurant and sharing their work. Today the burgeoning poetry scene is now seeding a whole range of events from Duluth Dylan Fest to Homegrown, which itself is a showcase of the incredibly vast array of music talent here in the Northland. Then there's theater, and the symphony, ballet and even opera, along with the outstanding exhibitions in the visual arts. And then there are the writers, pecking away on their myriad keyboards, pilfering personal experiences and observations to create hard-hitting stories, gentle uplifting tales, insightful essays, novels for youths and adults, and more. Let's not forget the gardens and the culinary arts. It's hard to believe that in 1999 some people were wondering if we were on the threshold of the end of the world.

What a resurgence this region has seen since the mid-1980's when Canal Park was a patchwork of abandoned buildings, bars and restaurants, as was our Lincoln Park community.

So much for introductions. Last night we were treated to a reading at the newly opened Zenith Bookstore by three writers whose stories were included in the recently published volume called Going Coastal. The event, which included a silver tray of cupcakes courtesy Beaners next door, opened with a welcome by the store's co-owner Bob Dobrow, began by saying, "I'm overwhelmed by the support from our community." I believe the mutual sentiment of everyone present was an extravagantly warm-hearted, "Welcome to Duluth!"

Dobrow then introduced Marie Zhuikov, on behalf of the Lake Superior Writers group. This book was produced as a fund raiser for the organization. It developed out of a contest they had last year. Writers from around the lake submitted stories with nine writers included in this anthology, the winners of the contest. Going Coastal is the fourth anthology published by Lake Superior Writers. For more complete details on the book read Ryan Swanson's review at Zenith City News. Last night's event featured Phil Fitzpatrick, Judy Budreau and Max Reagan reading excerpts from their stories.

What made the panel of readers especially interesting was that two -- Phil Fitzpatrick and Judy Budreau -- were experienced, published writers later in their careers with the third being something of an emerging writer. In point of fact, Max Reagan stated that "The Lake Effect" was his first published story. It's also a very good read.

Fitzpatrick became the first reader, which coincided with his story being the opening story in the book, a story about an Anishinabe man, who leaves the Twin Cities and returns to Grand Portage. It's a wonderful read about an elderly man making his way back home, remembering the places and spaces of his life as he travelled North along the shore, revisiting meaningful places along Highway 61. In addition to being an author and poet, Fitzpatrick is also a Dylanophile, so I can't help but hear a measure of his parallel passion woven into the subtext at certain points. (In addition to making a Dylan-themed presentation during Duluth Dylan Fest this spring, he also attended his 50th anniversary reunion at Harvard where he made an hour long presentation to classmates of his alma mater. It was there in 1963 that he first saw Bob Dylan, who was opening for Del Shannon at the time, and there that he was comforted by The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan when JFK was assassinated.)

Judy Budreau was next introduced and she read from her story "Superior Mordant." Like Fitzpatrick, this wasn't her first rodeo. Both writers were excellent readers as well. She introduced her story with this observation: "Like all fiction, my story begins with a piece of something real." Naturally I thought of a number of my own stories, and guessed that other writers present Tuesday evening were weighing this thought as well. Budreau's lodestone in this story was, "when all is uncertain, everything is possible." Beginning here she wove a story around it about how Lake Superior becomes a reference point for a life.

Max Reagan was third to take a turn, selecting a fragment from his story of a 1919 shipwreck. His writing had all the drama and vividness of an "as if you were there" kind of experience. He's looking to pursue a career in writing, and winning a contest like this will be a nice starting point.

In an unpremeditated moment of naked self-promotion, I will mention here that I won the five-state 1991 Arrowhead Regional Arts Fiction Competition when I myself was a fledgling short story writer. It provided a tremendous boost to my confidence at the time. Two decades later I published it with five other stories as an eBook, but you can also read it here for free on my original website.

Though I'd obtained a copy of Going Coastal several weeks earlier, I purchased a second so as to have a pass around copy. I've lost a number of books over the years by loaning them out, so having an extra to share feels alright. You might want to pick up a few for Christmas gifts for family members who wonder what its like to live on the shores of the largest freshwater lake in the world. I recommend buying local, here at Zenith Bookstore, but if you're reading this from a distance of more than 100 miles, I won't blame you none if you get it on Amazon or here at North Star Press. All proceeds are being designated for Lake Superior Writers.

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Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light. 
–Vera Nazarian

Thank you to the Dobrows for hosting this event, to Jason for bringing over the cupcakes and to all those who shared a bit of themselves with us Tuesday evening.

Meantime, life goes on all 'round us. Engage it...

Photo Credits: All photos here courtesy Bill Swanson except the picture of Judy Budreau reading her story on the left middle of the page.

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