Authors bring stories back to prairie with area center reading

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 6/30/99.

Author Clausen A week-long book tour, intended to bring two stories home to the prairie, made a stop at the Paynesville Area Center last Wednesday afternoon.

Mary Logue, author of Halfway Home: A Granddaughter's Biography, and Dennis Clausen, a native of Morris and the author of Prairie Son, both discussed and read portions of their books to an audience of 50 people.

"The ideas is really to bring the stories home," explained Marianne Nora, associate publisher and executive director of Mid-List Press, which sponsored the book tour. Logue's book dealt with her grandmother in Chokio, and Clausen's with his father's childhood growing up south of Alberta in the 1920s and 1930s.

The book tour included stops in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but focused on outstate stops in Morris, Mankato, Redwood Falls, Paynesville, Dawson, Parkers Prairie, and Pelican Rapids. Nora, who estimated that there are 25 literary events in the Twin Cities on any given weekend, said, "There aren't a lot of events in the outlying areas. That isn't to say there aren't any readers out here. There are."

"That's why you do this," she continued. "You know there's an audience out here that isn't counted on the best seller list."

Logue, who grew up in North St. Paul and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in French, got her start in writing by translating books from French to English. She's translated 40 books and children's books. She started publishing poetry, and moved on to mysteries, essays, and children's books.

Mary Logue She undertook the book about her grandmother at her mother's urging. A grant from the Minnesota Historical Society allowed her to research her family history for a year and write for a year. "There came a time in my life where I wanted to know from where I came," Logue told the audience at the area center.

In writing the book, Logue discovered that she enjoyed more than the writing. "I loved doing the research," she said. "I didn't expect that. I was happy as a clam digging through books."

Logue, who splits her time living in Wisconsin and Arizona, chose to research and write a historical mystery set in Ireland, St. Paul, and Deadwood, S.D.

Logue gave the audience several tips about doing family research. Specific instructions included doing interviews with living family members; writing on the back of photographs; gathering your own memories from weddings, funerals, and family reunions; visiting the actual places; and reading books about the time period. Other advice was to be curious, thorough, and fierce.

Clausen said he used a number of these steps in writing his book about his father's childhood during the depression and his father's quest to find his biological mother.

Clausen, who lived with his father until he was six-years-old, kept in touch with him after that primarily with phone calls, which became daily after his father was diagnosed with cancer in 1979. While his father was sick, Clausen urged him to write down his memories. When his father died in 1980, he left three yellow legal tablets full of stories and notes. It took Clausen 14 years to really examine them and start to write seriously.

The result was a story through his father's eyes, about growing up in the depression, about being an adopted son who was wanted more for work than out of love, and about his search for his birth mother.

The book covers some bleak times and hard experiences. Janell Hoffman, area center director, described it as "heart-wrenching." Clausen preferred to focus on the acts of human kindness offered his father by people who reached out to support or nurture him. He wanted the book to have laughter and hope because that's what he associates with his father.

Clausen graduated from Morris High School and the University of Minnesota-Morris. He went to graduate school at the University of Minnesota and at the University of California at Riverside. For almost 30 years, he has been a professor of English at the University of San Diego.

In addition to his father's notes, Clausen used his memory of stories his father had told him, and contacted his siblings and mother for details. Clausen read as many books about Stevens County history as he could find, and he spent hundreds of hours walking on the farms where his father was raised.

His research was aided by another adopted girl who grew up near his father, lived in Bakersfield, Calif., and contacted him.

Through his book, Clausen has reestablished contact with his father's biological relatives.

After the presentation, both authors autographed copies of their books and visited with the audience members.

A segment for Northern Lights was recorded at the area center following the book reading and signing. The literary arts television and video series focuses on Minnesota books and writers. Don and Gladys Torbenson of Paynesville, who had each read both books, were selected to interview Logue and Clausen for the program.

"We asked questions about their books, and had them readÉportions of their books," said Don.

"They were both very interesting," added Gladys, "and I enjoyed the discussion."

The program will be shown on cable television in the Twin Cities and will be available on videotape. Some cassettes in the series are available at the local library through the Great River Regional Library.

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