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Bemidji Book Festival draws high public interest

Author Brian Duren kicked off the week-long Bemidji Book Festival happening this week, sponsored by the Bemidji Public Library. Duren spoke at the Wild Rose Theater Monday afternoon.

An appreciative audience braved the heat and humidity on Monday, Aug. 9, to listen to author Brian Duren read from his novel, "Whiteout," in the first event of the Bemidji Library Book Festival.

If the attendees are any indication of the public interest in this first time ever Bemidji festival, the rest of the week will be rewarding for all involved in bringing this event to fruition. On Monday, at the Wild Rose Theater, artistic director of the Mask and Rose Women's Theater Collective, Cate Belleveau said "It's an honor to be the first venue for this festival. The Masonic Building is not air-conditioned. And sometimes it is OK for Minnesotans to sit in the weather."

In his opening remarks, Duren thanked Pat Mason, a music instructor at Bemidji State University, for setting the wheels in motion in getting the committee to invite him to speak after she read his book and met him. He also noted that the book critic from the St. Paul Pioneer Press started all the flurry of reviews, columns and special interest articles and eventual success of this first novel.

Duren is retired from the University of Minnesota and is an adjunct lecturer at various colleges. He just finished teaching French at Gustavus Adolphus and said he is looking forward to the day when he can retire and just write. In the meantime, Duren still has two teen-age sons at home so that day is still a way off. He writes in the evenings and weekends and, in the fall, will be teaching at Augustana.

A mother brought her sons with her from Duluth because she heard about the event and a woman from Germany vacationing here in Bemidji. Looking about, the room, one could see the closed eyes as the audience listened as the author read the first two chapters of his book to set the stage for the second reading. The second reading were "love letters" sent to each other by the main character's parents in the late 1930s to 1940. Although Duren does state that the book is not autobiographical in any sense of the word, he does admit to using his ability to listen and hear what others are saying and being able to store that knowledge for later use. One person asked him how he could get the character of the young 16-year-girl so spot on. Duren smiled and replied that he grew up in a family with three sisters and a mother so he was surrounded by females all the time.

When the question of why he set the novel in a lodge in the Boundary Waters, Duren talked about taking his three sons to the area for a period of ten years and his emotional attachment to the locale - Boundary Waters Canoe Area. He also talked about how much he enjoyed writing "the love letters" between the parents and how that section of the book was scaled down from the original 90 to 70 letters because he so enjoys the epistolary genre of writing. There is always a dramatic irony in that type of writing and pointed to a famous French author, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and his novel, "Les Liaison dangereuses."

"I read the book three times, in different stages, and each time I started to cry," said Jane Bassuk of St. Paul. "He (Duren) really touched something inside of me about family and relationships and about the love a family has for each other even in strife. The book is very healing and incredibly powerful."

In the end, the audience was as much captivated by Duren -- his honesty in explaining how and why he writes - as the excerpts from his book. Don't give away the ending, was a warning heard over and over again at the reading.

The next author to appear at the festival on Monday was Will Weaver, a well known local and national author. The festival will continue through the week.

There are still spots open for local authors to participate in the Area Author Fair on the Lake Bemidji waterfront by the statues of Paul and Babe. The event will run from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14. Ttables will be provided. Call the library to reserve a spot, 751-3963.