Writer Chris Martin finds literary gems in Minnesota’s errant history

Tonight author Chris Martin will share some of the fruits of his month-long residency at the Minnesota Historical Society's Gale Family Library. Many of his most interesting finds involve historical mistakes.

"The greatest mistakes seem to come from our garbled understanding of native cultures," explains Martin.  "Since Longfellow's 'Song of Hiawatha' is a sort of foundational text for Minnesota, I wanted to start there."

Martin tracked, among other things, how a poem about the Ojibwe trickster god Manabohzo became the "Song of Hiawatha," after a misunderstanding.


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Chris Martin Headshot
Chris Martin

Martin, author of "Becoming Weather," is the third resident in Coffee House Press' Writers and Readers Library Residency Program.

CHP Publisher Chris Fischbach said the program is a response to a fast changing literary world.

"Publishing, reading, bookselling, distribution, writing, printing — all of these worlds that we move around in are evolving, and so we set out to think about what our role is, and what it could be, in the future of literature," he said. "We realized that there are more ways to serve writers and readers, so we set out to do that by creating an organizational strategy called 'Books in Action.'"

CHP's action plan has involved everything from calling a phone number to hear a poet read his or her work, to donating books for Little Free Libraries, to this series of literary residencies. Fischbach said the series puts writers in the position to discover under-appreciated collections, share what they've learned with the community, and potentially create new work.

MNHS - Superior

For Martin, a recent transplant to Minnesota, the residency has been particularly rewarding. He said what he's come across might fuel three or four projects.

"I've loved my time at the Gale Library, getting to inspect letters, books, maps, an endless source for local knowledge.  Having a young son, time is hard to come by.  So the time to explore and ground myself in Minnesota history has been deeply rewarding, and I can pass that on to my son as he gets older. I plan to keep visiting the Gale Library, even without the title of resident.  I want to read more Nicollet, delve deeper into the mystery of Pig's Eye Parrant, and brush up on my Minnesota sci-fi."

Martin will discuss his residency and present new work tonight at 7:o0 p.m. at the Minnesota Historical Society.