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Friday, July 20, 2012

Pulitzer-Prize Finalists and US Poet Laureate Coming to Fargo-Moorhead

Four prominent poets and novelists will be visiting Fargo-Moorhead for a symposium honoring North Dakota native, Louise Erdrich.  Entitled Four Souls: Stories from America’s Boarders, the event will feature keynote presentations by Robert Pinsky, Naomi Shihab Nye, Luis Urrea and Erdrich.

The symposium, beginning Thursday, Aug. 23, and running through Friday, Aug. 24 will be held at Bluestem Center for the Arts.  The event is a joint effort of Bluestem and the North Dakota Humanities Council. 

“This symposium is dedicated to the diversity of cultures and ideas that make America such a great nation.  During a time when our nation is deeply divided politically, this is a chance to remind everyone who we are and what we stand for,” said Brenna Gerhardt, executive director of the Humanities Council.  “I hope people will walk away with a renewed hope for both our nation and the global community we are a part of.” 

New York Times best-selling author, Louise Erdrich grew up in North Dakota, where her parents taught at a school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As the daughter of a Chippewa Indian mother and a German-American father, Erdrich explores Native-American themes in her works, with major characters representing both sides of her heritage.   She has said, “One of the characteristics of being a mixed blood is searching.  You look back and say, ‘Who am I from?’  You must question.  You must make certain choices.  You’re able to.  And it’s a blessing and it’s a curse.  All of our searches involve trying to discover where we are from.”   Erdrich will share her journey during an opening conversation with fellow North Dakota author Jamieson Ridenhour on Thursday evening.

Born in Tijuana, Mexico to a Mexican father and an American mother, Luis Alberto Urrea grew up in San Diego, California. Urrea will share his story of transformation from his beginnings on a dirt street in Tijuana to Pulitzer Prize finalist and beloved storyteller. Nye’s next books include On the Edge of the Sky (1981), a slim volume printed on handmade paper, and Hugging the Jukebox (1982), a full-length collection that also won the Voertman Poetry Prize. In Hugging the Jukebox, Nye continues to focus on the ordinary, on connections between diverse peoples, and on the perspectives of those in other lands. She writes: “We move forward, / confident we were born into a large family, / our brothers cover the earth.” Nye creates poetry from everyday scenes throughout Hugging the Jukebox in poems like “The Trashpickers of San Antonio” and the title poem, where a boy is enthusiastic about the jukebox he adopts and sings its songs in a way that “strings a hundred passionate sentences in a single line.” Reviewers generally praised Hugging the Jukebox, noting Nye’s warmth and celebratory tone. Writing in the Village Voice, Mary Logue commented that in Nye’s poems about daily life, “sometimes the fabric is thin and the mundaneness of the action shows through. But, in an alchemical process of purification, Nye often pulls gold from the ordinary.” According to Library Journal contributor David Kirby, the poet “seems to be in good, easy relation with the earth and its peoples.”

The poems in Yellow Glove (1986) present a more mature perspective tempered by tragedy and sorrow. In “
Blood” Nye considers the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She describes a café in combat-weary Beirut, bemoans “a world where no one saves anyone,” and observes “The Gardener” for whom “everything she planted gave up under the ground.” Georgia Review contributor Philip Booth declared that Nye brings “home to readers both how variously and how similarly all people live.” In Red Suitcase (1994), Nye continues to explore the effect of on-going violence on everyday life in the Middle East. Writing for Booklist, Pat Monaghan explained that “some of her most powerful poems deal with her native land’s continuing search for peace and the echoes of that search that resound in an individual life. Nye is a fluid poet, and her poems are also full of the urgency of spoken language. Her direct, unadorned vocabulary serves her well: ‘A boy filled a bottle with water. / He let it sit. / Three days later it held the power / of three days.’ Such directness has its own mystery, its own depth and power, which Nye exploits to great effect.”

Award-winning Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis in 1952. Just four years earlier, her father and his family lost their home in Jerusalem following the establishment of the state of Israel. As a result of her father's experiences, she learned the importance of place and of being connected - a theme she will address in her poetry reading and discussion. 

Robert Pinsky (United States Poet Laureate 1997-2000) grew up in a lower-middle class Jewish family in Long Branch, N.J. According to Pinsky a poet needs to “find a language for presenting the role of a conscious soul in an unconscious world.”  Pinsky will perform improvisatory poetry with a local jazz combo, “trading fours” with the musicians to create a spontaneous work of art that tells its own story.

According to Sue Wiger, “This is exactly the type of event Bluestem was built for.  It will bring the community together to experience the best our nation has to offer in the way of arts and culture.”

Poetry writing workshops for adults and children will also be offered.

For more information and a full schedule of events, visit or contact Brenna Gerhardt at 800-338-6543. 

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