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Bemidji Book Festival: Authors Russell, Bauer share works

Marion Dane Bauer, whose book, "What's Your Story? A Young Person's Guide to Writing Fiction" tells how she uses the ends of her stories as her "bull's eye" right from the beginning. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

The last day of the Bemidji Book Festival for the committee involved with bringing the week to a successful close was a bitter sweet experience. No more will they need to carry sound equipment from one venue to another, question whether the speaker will use a clip-on "mic" or a podium, who'll buy the cookies, make the coffee and lemonade and greet old-comers and newcomers to each event. Phew, they've done all that with a smile and sometimes a worried look (did I bring the notes needed to introduce the speaker?).

"Sorry, I can't really talk at length with you now, the speaker needs my attention but we're so glad you are here," an overheard comment.

"Wasn't this a wonderful event, we are so grateful that you (the committee) worked so long and hard to make this happen in our community," was another comment heard again and again, spoken by those who attended some or all of the lectures--Ardell Nathanson sat quietly knitting and listening to all the speakers.

"Wasn't this a wonderful festival, we are so grateful that you, the audience came to see and hear our authors," was said by the planners. And, finally, the speakers who all expressed the same sentiment, "I am so honored to be invited to be here to speak. Thank you for coming." This year's debut event of the Bemidji Book Festival ended with the promise that next August 8-13, 2011 our community will once again welcome authors, poets and teachers and this year's committee is already working hard at making it happen.

The final two authors to speak were Marion Dane Bauer and CarolAnn Russell and the audiences were still excited as the first day.

Marion Dane Bauer started her talk by reading her newest picture book, "The Longest Night" as illustrated by Ted Levin accompanied by a power point presentation. The story is about the promise of the coming of spring as the chickadee sings to the elusive sun to come forth. Bauer gives credit to the illustrator Levin for the beautiful artwork in this newest publication and explained how artists add to books for they tell their own story as well through their paintings.

"My stories start with what I care about the most," said Bauer. "Life has untidy resolutions, we need to tell the truth and trust. See the powerlessness of us and then see the final message, hope."

Bauer went on to explain that she has to have an emotional connection to her stories and explained how she told stories in her head all the time as a child. One of her grade school teachers wrote on her report card, "Marion dreams" and that was not a compliment, Bauer recalls.

She has had published over 70 books and 47 of them are available at our public library. Now retired as first faculty chair of the MFA program in "Writing for Children and Young Adults" at Vermont College of Fine Arts she looks to new challenges.

Bauer explained how her students needed to have a level of commitment to the genre and how the program has different faculty to mentor them.

"My students had my strengths and my students also had my blind spots," the retired professor admitted.

A former student was there for the talk. Jeb Monge, who is a local writer and poet, said, "She was simply profound. She is just an outstanding teacher in helping us to get into the minds of our characters and living through them."

She also stated what keeps her "dancing" through her long and successful career as a writer and teacher. "You need to stretch yourself and try something new."

The last speaker of the series, the "Paul and Babe" at the end of the parade was CarolAnn Russell, professor of Creative Writing and Women's Studies at Bemidji State University since 1988. An anticipatory buzz in the audience; well-known local authors and writers gathered together on a pleasant Saturday afternoon to listen to a respected colleague and teacher. The Wild Hare Coffee House and Bistro crowd filled the room and listened to Russell talk about her mentor and professor Richard Hugo and his admonition that poets are born not made.

Russell was born to be a poet, and shared with the audience, "Poetry is the language of the human spirit. It is the wisdom of the body. Poetry honors the shadows of life, it speaks through the cathedrals of the mind."

A writer from International Falls invited to this event by his former Fourth Grade teacherPat Grimes, sat in the audience. Doug Skreif, the author of a volume of poetry, "Stone Poem," hopes to return to Bemidji again next year for the festival and was enthusiastic about the active literary life here in Bemidji.

Russell read a selection of poetry from her earliest volume, "The Red Envelope" in 1988 to the latest, "Gypsy Taxi" based upon her travels in Italy.

When someone in the audience said that she read them so well and asked how she learned to do that, Russell replied, "Richard Hugo told me the secret of reading poems. Read your poems as if you're reading a love letter over the phone."