Sharing Stories along the 49th Parallel

Writers are beginning to emerge here, on the 49th parallel, approaching me as a Writer-in-Residence at the International Peace Garden situated between Boissevain, Manitoba and Dunseith, North Dakota, sharing their stories. I have begun reading their work and will provide the desired feedback over the next two weeks.

For others wanting to get in on this free service this summer I am available by appointment made by email at [email protected]. I am also usually found in the Peace Garden Interpretive Center on Friday afternoons. I  listen to stories that are told to me, and/or record those that wish to provide stories from along the 49th Parallel, for archival purposes.

I encourage all writers to make time for reading, and where possible books about the place they live. Dakota by Kathleen Norris is about right here, and a bit to the south, and The Perfection of Morning by Sharon Butala, heir to Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow, out west in Eastend Saskatchewan. Norris’s book is subtitled A Spiritual Geography, while Butala’s subtitle was A Woman’s Awakening in Nature.

Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Kathleen Norris Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr. CHA

Three things are so badly taught it’s a miracle that anyone survives: the Christian faith, poetry, and mathematics. Those three things are always taught so any natural aptitude you have is going to be squelched out of you by the time you’re in 8th grade.
Kathleen Norris, 2002 interviewed by Christianity Today.

The writers I’ve met here are much concerned about the matters of the spirit, while telling the stories of their families to pass on lessons to their grandchildren with a faint hope that writing might supplement meager farm incomes, or could aid their retirement plan. Garrison Keillor is this generation’s Lawrence Welk, (Confession: I thought Lawrence Welk and his band was awesome when I watched him on our b & w tv in my border town of Gretna, Manitoba in the 60s) local boy makes good, an inspiration, fueling a secret hope for striking the mother lode, allowing writers to set pitchforks aside.

I suspect Larry Woiwode remains nearly unknown. His first novel What I’m Going to Do, I Think was published in 1969. Beyond the Bedroom Wall: A Family Album, was nominated for a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976. It enjoyed both a critical and commercial success, telling tales of the Neumiller family. The New Yorker had been publishing stand-alone stories from this novel since the mid sixties. In Born Brothers (first published in 1988) he returns to this North Dakota family, focusing on the 30-year relationship between two Neumiller brothers, Charles and Jerome.

I will write about Louise Erdrich who, with her two sisters have hosted writers’ workshops on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota, in a separate post. A goodly proportion of her early work is set in North Dakota. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is a significant Indigenous voice from this region.






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