Alexs Pate, author of “Amistad” and “Losing Absolom,” long ago noted the absence of any compendium of black Minnesota writers and writing. His anthology, “Blues Vision: African American Writing From Minnesota” features nearly a century of poetry, fiction, playwriting and memoirs by black Minnesota writers, including MCTC Instructors Taiyon Coleman, Carolyn Holbrook and Shannon Gibney, and MCTC alum Tish Jones.
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Alexs Pate’s ‘Blues Vision’ anthology fills a missing place
By Amy Goetzman | 02/05/15
One book on his shelf, “The Butterfly Tree: An Anthology of Black Writing from the Upper Midwest,” came out in the 1980s and captured an earlier era. In 30 years, however, Minnesota has changed, as has the literary world, which has expanded through the rise of hip-hop and spoken word poetry. An updated book needed to reflect that, Pate thought, especially since black voices haven’t been afforded a greater place in other regional collections.
“I feel comfortable saying black writers are underrepresented in anthologies of Minnesota writers,” says Pate, who says his own writing has been profoundly influenced by his surroundings in the great white north.
With the assistance of the Minnesota Humanities Center, Pate’s idea now fills that gap. “Blues Vision: African American Writing From Minnesota” (Minnesota Historical Society Press) gathers nearly a century of poetry, fiction, playwriting and memoirs by black Minnesota writers. The collection includes quintessentially Minnesotan stories like Susan J. Smith-Grier’s tales about growing up on a lake in Northern Minnesota, and equally Minnesotan memoirs like Evelyn Fairbanks’ stories about St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, now lost to I-94.
There are poems and stories about iconic Minnesota businesses, classic downtown Minneapolis buildings and the way ice forms on the lakes in late October. The civil-rights movement, jazz and blues music, racism and inclusion, the rural Minnesota landscape, family life, loneliness, and beauty fill these pages, through the voices of some of Minnesota’s best writers, including Conrad Balfour, Philip Bryant, David Haynes, Kim Hines, Gordon Parks and many others who may have been left out of other anthologies but have been here and writing all along.