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Bemidji Library Book Festival: Preus, Erdrich share writing visions

Lise Erdrich, left and Audrey Thayer, a member of the Bemidji Book Festival Committee, talk about Erdrich's prose, which is slam fiction, a genre that tells a story in 113 to 355 words. Patt Rall | Bemidji Pioneer

Taking a workshop with author Margi Preus is a must if you think of life in terms of childlike simplicity.

That ability to take the complexity of everyday living and turn that into easily understood prose is a gift of few authors. Perhaps poetry is the nearest genre to children's literature in that both use an economy of words to convey multi-layered and often profound ideas. To those who were fortunate enough to attend the workshop given by Preus Wednesday as part of the Bemidji Library Book Festival, that point was emphasized.

"The influence of children's books on their lives cannot be overestimated," said Preus to the group of teachers, authors and aspiring writers. "Don't try to publish substandard work because you don't want readers to think that is the best you can do."

Grandparents, uncles, aunts and good friends have advised young parents for as long as children's literature has been around, "Go to the bookstore, I'm sure that someone has written a book about a new baby in the house or the first visit to a dentist." A dog-eared copy of the Berenstain Bears book about spending a weekend with Grandma and Grandpa so Daddy and Mommy can celebrate their anniversary must reside in many homes.

Preus also advised the audience to get into a writers group or start one of their own because they are a great place to start writing, a motivation to get something done for the next meeting and, finally, a place to have your work critiqued.

"There is no way that a publisher will not ask for revisions, many revisions," added Preus. "For those who are writing picture books, remember that children are able to 'read' the visual world; they are good at 'reading' the meaning of an illustration."

The evening ended with the humorous yet deeply personal writings of flash fiction and slam fiction writer (she claims not to be an author) Lise Erdrich at Headwaters School of Music and the Arts. One of her young people's books, "Sacagawea," was selected by the state Humanities Council to represent North Dakota at the 2011 National Festival of the Book in Washington, D.C.

An enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Erdrich's writing is steeped in folklore and yet is modern to the reader because it takes the reader back and then forward again with jolting imagery.

"Baby Wipes" is a poignant telling of having to go to the baby aisle after 25 years to get baby wipes to send to a son fighting in a distant war.

Erdrich told of her early writing years as an escape from the noise and mayhem of having four sons and their friends in her trailer. She found a space where an appliance could have stood and set up her computer, took her mug of coffee, and wrote.

Thursday's Book Festival events will start with Nancy Carlson, a children's author and illustrator, at 10:30 a.m. at the Bemidji Public Library. Carlson is the author of more than 60 books for children, including several Reading Rainbow selections and Minnesota Children's Museum Great Friends to Kids Award winners. Her optimistic messages help children cope with life's challenges.

Carlson will follow up her talk at the library with a 2 p.m. workshop at Headwaters School of Music and the Arts. "Drawing with Nancy" is a must for those interested in learning how to illustrate children's books and a "let's see what it's all about" for others.

Later in the day, Doug Wood, a writer of more than 30 books with more than two million copies in print will begin his presentation at 7 p.m. at HSMA. Wood's newest title, just published in September 2011, "Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World," has won the Junior Library Guild Award. Wood will tell his stories of nature's beauty with guitar, banjo and mandolin, and an ability to lift the human spirit. Although a family-friendly presentation, it is best suited for children in middle school and above.

The talk by Arctic explorer Ann Bancroft at 7 p.m. Friday is also family-friendly and suitable for middle-school and above. Free tickets are available now at the Bemidji Public Library and HSMA.

All of the events are free and open to the public because these programs are provided with funds approved by Minnesota voters for arts and cultural heritage. Additional funding comes from the George W. Neilson Foundation, Bemidji Area Arts Endowment and the Bemidji Area Snow Mobile Club.