Publishing Matters: The State of the Literary Arts
By Suzzanne Kelley
To hell with paper shortages and supply chain issues. I am here to tell you that the situation for the literary arts in our region is good and good. New books keep arriving and our booksellers invite you to shop the shelves! Readers have more books and author events to choose from than ever before. Over the past two years, our region’s publishers, libraries and humanities organizations have learned to navigate online platforms as a means of connecting writers to readers, and our authors have been writing up a storm, polishing their dusty manuscripts and half started during their stay. – hours at home.
A brief reflection on the past few months shows an astonishing range of books published and authors doing readings. Just days ago, North Dakota State University Press celebrated nine of its most recent authors, with book topics as varied as routes for biking through historic landmarks, important memoirs, poetry and philosophy and leadership skills. While the attendance was great, NDSU Press is pleased to announce that NDSU’s 8th Annual Press Night will be held in person on the first Thursday of March 2023.
One of this year’s brightest contributions is Sarah Vogel’s “The Farmer’s Advocate: The North Dakota Nine and the Fight to Save the Family Farm,” which is taking the state and the nation by storm. Vogel has performed throughout North Dakota, following its successful launch in Fargo at Zandbroz Variety. She will soon take the stage for her keynote address at the Women’s Leadership Network on April 5, hosted by New York University School of Law, her alma mater. After reading Vogel’s book, I’m as much in love with its legal acumen as it is with the powerful story of a young, single mother who did such important work in a time, place, and subject overwhelmed by men in suits. and behind closed doors. “The Farmer’s Lawyer” is endorsed by famed author and lawyer John Grisham, and for good reason: this historical tale reads like a novel.
In September, Humanities North Dakota, in conjunction with the Bismarck Library Foundation, State Library of North Dakota, and Prairie Public, hosted a virtual event bringing together three brilliant minds to talk about writing and living in our area. Authors in the region 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 publisher of the latest titles by Marquart and Vinz, I can tell you that North Dakota State University Press is thrilled 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 show, no worries! The video recording is available in the vault on the Humanities ND website, and it will be available as a podcast in the near future. ND Humanities plans to make this flagship Sense of Place program an annual offering, with invitations to different North Dakota authors.
Humanities ND also has other offerings in its effort to bring writers and readers together in conversation. Upcoming virtual One Book One ND events free to the public include the following authors: 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, Carl B. Ylvisaker Library at Concordia College, Livingston Lord Library at the University of Minnesota Moorhead State, North Dakota State University Libraries, and the Clay County Historical and Cultural Society select a single book and design 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. The organizers plan to announce their selection for 2022 by the end of April. Keep an eye out for updates on movies, talks, 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 at a wonderful event at the Plains Art Museum, where she read from her new collection, “His Feathers Were Chains.” Lajimodiere’s poems were accompanied by original music, drumming and jingle dancers. A few weeks later, the five-month-long NEA Big Read concluded with a spectacular author talk by American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.
On March 10, Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) celebrated the National Book Awards by hosting shortlisted author David Grann (“Killers of the Flower Moon”) and Poetry Prize winner Nikky Finney (“Head Off & Split “). Since 2006, Concordia has been a founding partner of the National Book Foundation Campus Program, bringing NBA finalists and winners to engage our community in celebrating the best literature in America. Although this is 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 looks just as bright as the past. Pride of Dakota events throughout the state feature self-published and print-published books and authors. Our independent regional booksellers in Williston, Minot, Medora, Bismarck, Grand Forks, West Fargo, Fargo and Moorhead continue to provide the best service and great titles. “The North Dakota Quarterly” (the decades-old literary journal located at the University of North Dakota) is about to publish its 89th volume, and UND’s Digital Press continues to publish reviewed open access books. by peers. Fargo Parks & Recreation is planning its second World Book Day events, which will take place in the beautiful and bustling Broadway plaza. Together, Fargo Parks & Recreation and NDSU Press are working to host the 4th Annual North Dakota Book Festival. . . with the hope that this growing festival – featuring self-published and published authors – will find a semi-annual home, swapping venues from year to year in Fargo and Bismarck. NDSU Press has signed six new authors in the past few months, and, for the burgeoning authors still out there, Humanities ND is offering a wonderful workshop with Debra Marquart titled “Publishing Matters,” a March 20 opportunity for writers from reflect on their manuscripts as products, bringing them to their published form by “editing, publishing… packaging, proposing and submitting”.
And so, with the success of our past and present efforts, and the promise of our future publishing opportunities and book discussions, I am here to declare that the state of our literary arts is in full swing.
Dr. Suzzanne Kelley is Program Director for Certificate in Publishing and Managing Editor, North Dakota State University Press.