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​Publishing Matters: The State of the Literary Arts

Writer's Block | March 16th, 2022

By Suzzanne Kelley

suzzanne.kelley@ndsu.edu

Paper shortages and supply chain problems be damned. I’m here to report that the state of literary arts in our region is well and good. New books are still coming your way and our bookstore owners welcome you to shop the shelves! Readers have more books and author events to choose from than ever. Over the past two years, our area publishers, libraries, and humanities organizations have learned to navigate online platforms as ways to connect writers to readers, and our authors have been writing up a storm, polishing up their dusty, half-started manuscripts during stay-at-home hours.

A brief reflection of the past few months shows an amazing array of books being published and authors conducting readings. Just a few days ago, North Dakota State University Press celebrated nine of its most recent authors, with book topics as varied as routes for bicycle-touring the locations of historical sites, to important memoirs, poetry, and leadership philosophy and skills. While the turnout was terrific, NDSU Press is pleased to report that the 8th Annual NDSU Press Party will take place in person the first Thursday of March 2023.

One of the brightest contributions this year is Sarah Vogel’s “The Farmer’s Lawyer: The North Dakota Nine and the Fight to Save the Family Farm”, which is taking the state and the nation by storm. Vogel has been making presentations across North Dakota, following her successful launch in Fargo at Zandbroz Variety. She will soon take the stage for her keynote address at the April 5 Women’s Leadership Network, hosted by the New York University School of Law, her alma mater. Having read Vogel’s book, I am as much enamored with her lawyerly acuity as I am with the powerful story of a young and single mom who accomplished such important work in a time, place, and topic overwhelmed by men in suits and closed doors. “The Farmer’s Lawyer” is endorsed by famed author and attorney John Grisham, and with good reason: this historical narrative reads like a novel.

In September, Humanities North Dakota, in collaboration with Bismarck Library Foundation, the State Library of North Dakota, and Prairie Public, hosted a virtual event with three brilliant minds coming together to talk about writing and life in our region. The area authors have a history of producing amazing and rich works of fiction, memoir, and poetry. The three authors and their most recent publications are Debra Marquart, “The Night We Landed on the Moon: Essays between Exile & Belonging”; Mark Vinz, “The Trouble with Daydreams: Collected and New Poems”; and Louise Erdrich, “The Sentence.” As the publisher of Marquart and Vinz’s newest titles, I can tell you that North Dakota State University Press is elated to have two of our award-winning and celebrated authors sharing the panel with Pulitzer-prize-winning author Erdrich. If you missed the live broadcast of the program, no worries! The video recording is available in the Vault on the the Humanities ND website, and it will be available in podcast form in the near future. Humanities ND plans to make this signature Sense of Place program an annual offering, with invitations to different North Dakota authors.

Humanities ND has other offerings, too, in their efforts to bring writers and readers together in conversation. Upcoming free-to-the-public One Book One ND virtual events include authors include: Brian Striefel, “Why Mary Forgot” (March 20); Brittany K. Barnett, “A Knock at Midnight” (March 29); graphic novelist Kiku Hughes, “Displacement” (April 10); Sarah Vogel, “The Farmer’s Lawyer” (April 24); and Jill Kandel, “The Clean Daughter: A Cross-Continental Memoir” (May 15).

Libraries take the lead in another annual program—One Book, One Community—in which Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo public libraries, Concordia College’s Carl B. Ylvisaker Library, Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Livingston Lord Library, North Dakota State University Libraries, and the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County select a single book and devise a number of community-shared activities. The 2021 title was the national bestseller “Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask” by Anton Treuer. Organizers anticipate announcing their selection for 2022 by late April. Keep a watchful eye for updates on films, lectures, and various other gatherings related to this extraordinary writer-to-reader project.

More recently, the Spirit Room (Downtown Fargo) hosted events as part of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities ND “Big Read.” North Dakota poet Denise Lajimodiere was one of the first presenters in a splendid event at the Plains Art Museum, where she read from her newest collection, “His Feathers Were Chains.” Lajimodiere’s poems were accompanied by original music, drum playing, and jingle dancers. A few weeks later, the five-months-long NEA Big Read concluded with a spectacular author talk by United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.

On March 10, Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) celebrated the National Book Awards by hosting finalist author David Grann (“Killers of the Flower Moon”) and poetry award winner Nikky Finney (“Head Off & Split”). Since 2006, Concordia has served as a founding partner with the National Book Foundation Campus Program, bringing NBA finalists and winners to engage our community in celebrating the best literature in America. Although this will be the last of the campus programs, Concordia is already working on a new and improved version for next spring.

The future of our literary arts scene in North Dakota is looking just as promising as the past. Pride of Dakota events throughout the state feature self-published and press-published books and authors. Our regional independent booksellers in Williston, Minot, Medora, Bismarck, Grand Forks, West Fargo, Fargo, and Moorhead continue to provide the best service and interesting titles. “The North Dakota Quarterly” (the decades-old literary journal located at University of North Dakota) is about to issue its 89th volume, and UND’s Digital Press continues to publish peer-reviewed and popular open-access books. Fargo Parks & Recreation is planning its second World Book Day events, which will take place at the beautiful and vibrant Square on Broadway. In collaboration, Fargo Parks & Recreation and NDSU Press are working to host the 4th Annual North Dakota Book Festival . . . with hopes that this growing festival—featuring self-published and press-published authors—will find a biannual homes, swapping locations from year to year in Fargo and Bismarck. NDSU Press has signed on six new authors in the past few months, and, for those burgeoning authors still out there, Humanities ND is offering a splendid workshop event with Debra Marquart called “Publishing Matters,” an opportunity on March 20 for writers to think of their manuscripts as products, taking it to its published form through “revising, publishing…packaging, proposing, and submitting.”

And so, with the success of our past and present endeavors, and the promise of our future publishing opportunities and book talks, I’m here to pronounce that the state of our literary arts is thriving.

_____________________

Dr. Suzzanne Kelley is Program Director for the Certificate in Publishing and Editor in Chief, North Dakota State University Press.

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