The mainly female audience for the Susan Carol Hauser's intensely personal writings brought tears to the eyes and a catch in the voice to listener and speaker.
As the author remarked, she is, most of the time, in transit between two stations with stops in between and many can recognize that insightful comment for what it means. After retiring in June from Bemidji State University Department of English, she returned to a collection of essays which she started to write almost 10 years ago and is soon to be published, "The Marriage Bed."
As promised, she took the audience along on her inward journey of discovery, and commenced to read. "Tell It Slant." Hauser read from her manuscript and images of the way she rescued some charcoal, taken from embers in her wood stove, and preceded to draw her life story on sheets of paper focused in the mind's eye. Mountain Mama comes forth with clarity as does the woman in a business suit and briefcase.Hauser confessed that she had never read the essay out loud to an audience before and did not know how it would be received.
Hauser spoke to those in the audience who wish to write their stories, "Trust that image that keeps coming back. When you keep feeling something, an acorn of an idea, the story unfolds as you write about it."
She keeps a basket on her desk and makes notes about something or someone and goes back to it until it becomes real. Hauser uses the word "honor" rather than "discipline" when someone asked her about how authors are said to need discipline. She honors the time spent in writing whether it is with a trusted fountain pen on paper for poetry or a keyboard for prose. The motion of writing (cursive letters) and the speaking out loud when composing are all a part of who she is.
"The mouth has a mind of its own and there is an oral quality to all of my writing, said Hauser. She taught novice writers how to read what they have written because once spoken the words may take on a different character not hitherto for seen or acknowledged.
Hauser claimed that she started to write when she was about 28 years old, but a voice from the audience disagreed with her. Her friend of 50 years, Nancy Capp of Minneapolis told the audience that she wrote in high school for the school paper and Hauser quipped back, "That's the last time you'll be invited to one of these events."
That good natured retort is an example of how comfortable Hauser is at this time of her life. She can laugh at herself, cry a few tears when remembering "ma," her fraternal grandmother, and choke back tears when retelling the story of how she shows her toddler granddaughter how the coo-coo comes out to greet you on the hour; just as her grandmother showed her. In short, Hauser talks of the circle of life, how it goes on, repeats itself and continues to be cherished by generations to follow.
Local poet, Erin Lynn Marsh, who will be reading some of her work at 5 p.m., Friday at the Wild Rose Theater, spoke about how much Hauser has given to the community. "She is such a part of the arts community here in Bemidji and we appreciate how much she supports it."
Hauser wants the community to know how much she appreciates Bemidji. "This is just an amazing community up here, they are very supportive of writers and that is quite unusual in a rural area and that is so wonderful. People appreciate my work and it's so wonderful when people come to me and say how much they love my work. Writers work in isolation and to have someone stop me in the grocery store and say that they heard me on the radio or read something and they loved it. I really feel a part of the community."
Another poet Bemidji has taken to her bosom is Sean Hill, who was born in Milledgeville, Georgia the site of his recent book of poetry, "Blood Ties and Brown Liquor." Hill remarked that on a visit back home to Milledgeville, his father sent him to a funeral home and he saw the picture that graces the front of his book, the main street of the black business district, McIntosh Street, painted in the still segregated south of the 1930's. Hill knew upon seeing the picture that it is the scene he wants to portray to his readers: a crowded street with people milling about, talking, children playing all in differing shades of brown. The color brown resonates throughout his work and it is paired with the color red. The combination is not accidental as Hill speaks with the authentic southern voice of a modern black man who did not have to suffer the indignities of his fore bearers and yet their blood and brown liquor courses through his veins and is softly recited to anyone who will listen to the whispers of the voices within the book
The audience at the Bemidji Community Arts Center silently listened last evening as Hill told his stories of racial history as seen through the eyes of a youngster Silas Wright who was born in 1907. He writes of the touchstones in Silas's life like when he learned to write his name at age seven and when Silas read the stories of "Deadwood Dick," a black cowboy. Silas speaks of his brother who goes off to fight in the war (WWII) and then returns home all the while missing Paris.
The poems seem to be authentic stories, albeit conceived in Hill's creative soul and born after a long and hard labor. And Hill's critics seem to agree that he is the new voice of the black man writing today for a colorless society that we still strive to attain.
Louri Yourd, a member of the committee which chose the authors to appear in this debut year of the Bemidji Book Festival explained, "He writes stories of black history and it is beautiful how he relates that to nature, it is remarkable for just when you think you can't hear anything new about nature someone like Sean comes along. He is so imaginative that he brings life to people in a whole new way."
Hill spoke about discovering BCAC when he first came to Bemidji seven years ago when Suzi Rhea Ross was the director and how impressed he was to see the caliber of the work displayed there. Now, Hill, admits he also comes back to BCAC frequently to ask Lori Forshee-Donay knitting advice. Hill's parents sat in the crowded audience, his father nodding in agreement or empathy perhaps at the stories told in the poems.
The next manuscript is poems about Bemidji and northern Minnesota or as Hill wrote, "springs return here, not with a shout, but a shutter."