Friday, August 2, 2013

A Visit to Birchbark Books and Native Arts in Minneapolis.

I'd been in Minneapolis almost two full two days without getting to a bookstore. No wonder I've been in a crabby mood. It's either that or getting lost three times on my way from the hotel to the Minneapolis Market. Finally I turned on the GPS on my phone and it's been a bit easier. Having calmed down, I spent several hours at the show. In addition to scouting around for future purchases, I placed two orders, one for boxed and loose cards, and the other for bookmarks and journals.

I left to have lunch early with two of my former sales reps, Jennifer and Suzanne. We met at Midtown Global Market, a former Sears that has been converted to an international variation of the Milwaukee Public Market. After that, I headed east to meet up with my friend Laura, whom I hadn't seen in something like 25 years. She moved to Minneapolis with her husband several years after I moved to Milwaukee. She said she thought of me when Andrew Greeley died. And I thought of all the raspberry Frangos he used to bring us in the publicity department. Nobody liked them except me. You wonder why I loved Marshall Field and Company so much...

We discussed the culture shock you get in such a change of scenery, from New York to the midwest, and I suggested reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette. We agreed that things have changed a lot, particularly the food. Then I remembered that I hadn't really recommended anything to Jennifer and Suzanne,and felt bad, but not as bad as I do when I get lost on a Minneapolis freeway. Does any other city turn streets into entrance ramps with no notice until it's too late to get off? I don't think so.

I realized I had only left myself an hour to get to Birchbark Books and Native Arts. Would I mess this up once again and not get to the store before its 6 pm closing? I only got lost once this time, and therefore was able to make it by 5:40. It's on a tiny little shopping strip, with a restaurant and a few other retailers. The store has much better outside signage than we do. Duly noted and someday I will do better.

The store is fairly compact, less than a thousand square feet, with books nicely placed everywhere, plus a nice assortment of Native American artisan gifts, and some Birchbark swag, like a nice mug and tee shirt. (Yes, I know Boswell needs a mug). There's some Birchbark decoration too, most notably a birch railing on the 2nd floor of their kids' section, or perhaps it's more of a balcony. In addition to a strong selection of fiction and kids' books, there's a nice table of curated new fiction and nonfiction, both paperback and hardcover. Plus a few choice sections like "green/transition" and "graphix."

The store has lots of recs, including many from Ms. Erdrich. Featured on the table was a rec for Brian Kimberling's Snapper and Karen Russell's Vampires in the Lemon Grove. There was also a sign asking customes not to showroom. I chatted with Jane, the bookseller on duty, whether folks actually showroomed in a store that intimate. "Every day!" she replied. That made me very sad indeed. I took a picture of the recs too, but that was to share them with you, and convince you to buy them at Birchbark.

I browsd their Native American writers section, and I noticed a lack of younger authors. I asked Jane about this, and since we didn't have a great answer, I'm throwing it out to you, the reader. Where are the young Sherman Alexies and Louise Erdrichs, the Leslie Marmon Silkos, James Welches, and David Treuers (who used to teach at UWM)? Where are the Indian (OK, per Sherman Alexie) writers in their 20s and 30s? This is even more dire than the lack of African American literary writers I was bemoaning a few weeks ago.Was there a Native American writer in the last New Yorker "20 under 40" roundup? I actually don't know.

Dartmouth, where Louise Erdrich attended college*, has a renowned Native American studies program. Perhaps they could combine that with a creative writing program in English to encourage more writers. I have no idea. They don't even have to write about identity stuff. Just hearing their voice seems to be enough. Hey, if just a visit to Birchbark inspires a little soapboxing, the store is doing its job.

So what did I buy? A signed copy of The Round House, of course. I already had one, but it wasn't signed. I'll gift the other copy to a friend.

Upon leaving the store, I decided to head a block or so over to Lake of the Isles. walked over to the dock and sat on a bench for a moment of vegetating. Beautiful! If this is the reason why there seems to be no through streets, maybe I can forgive the Twin Cities.

*Dartmouth is also my alma mater. I did not know the author/fellow bookstore owner, but we did actually have a few friends in common. 


Suzanne Z said...

An excellent young Native American writer is Joseph Boyden, author of Three Day Road, and Through Black Spruce, among other things. Very Canadian, and writes about the Cree people.

Daniel Goldin said...

Young among the set who make these decisions (like The New Yorker and Granta) is 40, and alas, Boyden is 46.

Mel said...

I have visited Birchbark Books many times and make a point of always going there when I am in Minneapolis visiting friends. My all-time favorite author happens to be Louise Erdrich and I've been reading and re-reading her books for over 20 years. I like the intimacy of her store and the selection includes not just Native Anerican literature but also northern Midwest nonfiction and contemplative writing such as Thich Naht Tran. As you can see I love this little gem of a bookstore and recommend it to those who are interested in Native American fiction and nonfiction. They also do mail order.