I'm happy to announce that my review of Joseph A. Amato's Buoyancies: A Ballast Master's Log (Crossings & Spoon River Poetry Press, 2014) appears in the latest print edition of The Rain Taxi Review of Books. Don't worry: My article's short. (Plus, if you get bored of my writing, you can literally turn the page and read an interview with Beat poet Diane di Prima).
In March 2013, while writing my undergraduate history thesis on Hubert Humphrey’s role in the 1944 DFL merger, I spoke with University of Minnesota professor emeritus Dr. Hy Berman. As Minnesota’s “unofficial state historian,” I was excited not only to meet him but also discuss his friendship with the former vice president. One topic we spent much time on was Humphrey’s teaching at the University. All uncited quotations come from the transcript of our interview. [Excerpt]: "His office on campus was on the second floor of the Social Science Building — a corner office — and the Secret Service was still … protecting him. When they saw his office, they came to me and said, “That’s unacceptable,” because he was in a corner office, isolated. I said, “Well, that’s the biggest office. We’re going to furnish it nicely,” and they said, “We’re very unhappy.” "That evening I went to the hardware store and bought a rope ladder. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I brought it up the next day, went to the Secret Service guys and said, “This will do: Put it down the window and climb out.”"
This is a follow-up to a previous article called, "Digital Humanities: Newspaper Mentions of Four MN Governors" and this short note on John Lind serves two purposes. The first is practical, the other political. (And yes, all history is political). First, there are few easily-accessible resources discussing Lind's politics. [...] Second, as Orwell said, "The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history." Having served on a Texas textbook review panel, I've seen firsthand historical revisionism. I've seen Tea Party rhetoric creep into how we write about the past: The framing that government has always been an unnecessary evil, taxes an infringement upon liberty. Yet, when it comes to workers and women's rights, public education, the social safety net -- all the things that allow people to live with dignity -- these were not gifts of the free market or God but rather the product of struggle. These came from grassroots organizing. These came from rising up against power. It came from the notion that a government of the people could be proactive and a force for good. Minnesota is full of such stories, and it's about time we've heard them.
While going through the Robert Bly Papers at the University of Minnesota, I came across two letters I wanted to share. In the past I've posted pieces from young writers like Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, and Hunter S. Thompson, but the following come from two of the state's most-famous contemporaries. The first excerpt is from Garrison Keillor (age 27) and the other from Bill Holm (age 26). Both letters are dated 1969 and written after Bly gained fame for his literary magazine The Fifties (then The Sixties) and first book of poems, Silence in the Snowy Fields (1963). In 1966, Bly co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War and through it staged readings on college campuses across the country, which introduced him to many young poets. This kind of literary activism culminated in his winning the National Book Award for his politically-charged The Light Around the Body (1967). It is hard to overstate the influence Bly had on his contemporaries during the decade. Although both Keillor and and Holm later found their own fame for A Prairie Home Companion and The Music of Failure (1985), respectively, these were still decades away. In fact the two would become good friends with Keillor calling Holm, "The sage ... a colleague of Whitman born one hundred years too late."
As I've written elsewhere, given my time at the Initiative, I've developed an interest in Big Data analysis and how this methodology can be applied to history ("the digital humanities"). Specifically, as collections become digitized, the sheer volume of resources ought to inspire historians to find new ways to engage and manage information. While the result will only be as good as the analysis, it has the potential to reveal trends that otherwise may be implied but not obvious. The following tracks the state newspaper mentions of particular keywords -- in this case, names -- of four Minnesota governors: David M. Clough, John Lind, Samuel R. Van Sant, and John A. Johnson. For example, every instance in which "John" and "Lind" appear within five words of one another on a Minnesota newspaper page, that page is counted. Searching for variations of how these individuals were addressed (such as "Governor Van Sant" rather than "Samuel Van Sant" or "S.R. Van Sant") yield different counts but the overall trends are the same.
After working a series of odd jobs around the country, in 1914, at the age of 21, Olson returned to Minneapolis and attended night-classes at the Northwestern College of Law (now the William and Mitchell College of Law). The next year he graduated and passed the bar exam. But after doing so, he was sued by his law school over unpaid tuition fees. What happened next is recounted by Joseph Poirier, a college friend and later Minneapolis Municipal Judge (1937-1942): "... I recall that one of the first lawsuits Floyd tried was one in which he was a defendant. He was sued by [the] law school for an alleged unpaid balance on his tuition fee. He defended his own case, and I well recall his defense, in which he was Exhibit One as well as defendant. His argument was: "I know nothing about law, have learned nothing; and while I have been admitted to practice, you can readily see that I am no lawyer. My ignorance of the law, and the way I try this case are clear proofs that I have received nothing by reason of my alleged instruction at this school." And, strange to say, the jury found for him." (32)
Four years ago I was invited to attend the National Rural Youth Assembly in Santa Fe, NM. There I joined 50 other young activists to discuss rural issues and policy, but being nineteen, I spent most the time quiet, nervous. Looking back, though, it was an experience that later framed my work in the DFL Party and elsewhere. In this brief article, I discuss how so.
Following the election, I spent the next two years attending as many DFL meetings as I could, spending all of my money on gas. Quickly, I developed the reputation of being “That Guy from Morris,” and, at the 2012 State Convention, was elected to serve on the DFL State Executive Committee. As both the only rural youth and its youngest member overall, I served one two-year term doing what I could to make the party more welcoming to young people.
While serving, I also immersed myself in the state’s rural political and literary history. Everyone wants to see their home, their experiences, represented in the culture, so I read everything I could. I read about the Nonpartisan League and the Farmer-Labor Party. Through Sinclair Lewis, Robert Bly, Paul Gruchow, and others, I saw through their eyes the prairies I walked, the same roads I drove, the people I knew. Together these gave me a broad sense of what rural organizing could amount to and formed the basis of my own rural identity. The development of this identity is the difference between being from just another small town and a hometown. Without it, there is no sense of place. …
What Did I Get Out of It?
When I attended the National Rural Youth Assembly, I was a freshman at the University of Minnesota Morris. Being nineteen, I had no experience in politics and no grasp of public policy. So, traveling to Santa Fe, I worried whether I’d have anything to contribute – and, as I discovered, I didn’t. Nervously, shuffling from one workshop to another, I filled my notebook with everything I heard. Two days later, when I was on the plane back to Minnesota, I wondered what the experience meant. What did I get out of it? At the time, I wasn’t sure, but in one’s formative years, mere exposure is its own takeaway.
Looking back four years later, I take it for granted that I have an immense pride being from southwestern Minnesota. Far from being an epithet, I embrace the label “rural,” and am proud knowing…
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It's time for some Minnesota trivia: Who said this?We have had to oppose the swaggering insolence and the millions of the war profiteers and the low moral endeavor politicians made by the froth of the war.... We needed success to call a halt to the wild orgie of Wall street legislation which the politicians thought … Continue reading The Time’s Don’t Change: “The 98 Per Cent Have Some Rights Entitled to Respect.”
I'm posting here an article I originally wrote for the Kandiyohi County Historical Society newsletter titled, "The Colonel Surrenders in Minnesota" (here's the original .pdf). In it I tell the story of something that, growing up in Montevideo, I was vaguely aware of but knew nothing about. So, turning to the archives I tried to learn more about the only time (as far as I'm aware) a U.S. President visited western Minnesota. The fact that it happened to be Teddy Roosevelt just as he was planning his political comeback should be no surprise. Two years later, in 1912, the state rewarded Roosevelt's efforts with its 12 electoral votes. Radical politics were nothing new to the western part of the state -- in fact, the seventh district's first congressman was a member of the Populist Party and, later, represented by the prohibitionist Andrew J. Volstead. (It's forgotten now, but prohibition was a progressive movement that advocated for women's suffrage and workers' rights among other things). Because of this and the fact that the major rails to the Twin Cities ran through the region, it was not uncommon for satellite cities like Willmar to receive its fair share of speakers. Everyone from William Jennings Bryan (source) to Eugene V. Debs (source) and "Big Bill" Haywood (source) at one point or another visited the city. As I've written elsewhere, this region was later a hotbed for the Farmer-Labor Association. It was Appleton, for example, that Farmer-Labor Party Governor Elmer Benson called home.
Growing up in southwestern Iowa, the poet William Reed Dunroy arrived in Omaha, NE, at the age of twenty. Shuffling between jobs, Dunroy soon enrolled in the University of Nebraska and then became a contributor to The Lincoln Courier. Though he spent only ten years in the state, it was the central focus of his three books of poetry. In fact, his Corn Tassels (1897) was dedicated "To the state I love, NEBRASKA, and to her people." ... From "The Rose in Her Hair": "There's a scarlet rose in my lady's hair/ And her gown in silken white,/ On her cheek there's a delicate rosy glow/ Like the birth of a ruddy light."