Minnesota Writers Week: Margi Preus

'Heart of a Samurai' by Margi Preus
'Heart of a Samurai' by Margi Preus
Book cover courtesy of publisher

Margi Preus' books for young readers bring history to life with wild tales of adventure. She writes about 19th century Japan in her award-winning novel "Heart of a Samurai" and the high peaks of Sweden during World War II in "Shadow on the Mountain."

Preus makes her home in Duluth, where she has taught fiction and children's literature at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica.

From the Wall Street Journal review of "Heart of a Samurai":

In 1841, Manjiro was an illiterate villager of 14, and had his fishing boat not encountered a violent storm, it is doubtful that history would have heard of him. Under the shogunate, birth determined social rank, and it was forbidden for Japanese to leave the country or for foreigners to visit it. But the storm changed everything for Manjiro. Stranded on an island, the boy was picked up by an American whaling vessel and brought to the U.S., becoming apparently the first Japanese to set foot here.

On The Daily Circuit: Writing In Minnesota

Margi Preus joined The Daily Circuit on Jan. 30 for Minnesota Writers Week, a week of interviews with local writers working today.

On the influence of fairy tales on her work

"I distinctly remember [my father] reading Norwegian folktales from an old anthology in Norwegian and translating them into English as he went along. These fairy tales have really lodged in me somehow, they're just part of who I am now....

"I'm very drawn to folk and fairy tales, and mythology. I always have been. They seem so dream-like to me — as if you've dreamed them instead of read them. Maybe that's how they stay with you, in that same way that dreams kind of come and go — you remember little snippets but never the whole thing. That's the way fairytales feel for me. They definitely influence what I write."

On darkness in young adult literature

"There's a lot of darkness in YA right now. ... I have heard very compelling arguments that this is a way for young readers to examine the darkness that there is on earth and in real life, within the safety of these pages. I have heard that people think [my book] "West of the Moon" is dark — I was surprised by that, I didn't realize I was writing a dark story."

On her 'writing house'

"When I had kids, noisy boys, and we lived in a small house, I used to complain and say: 'I wish I had a little writing house.' Of course I never got one. ...

"My younger son, who is a furniture designer, decided when I was in Japan one summer that he would build me a little house, the little house that I'd always asked for. He had the idea that because he knew how to build furniture he'd know how to build a house. That wasn't quite true. Fortunately, my husband works in construction, so it got built. It was so sweet of him, and it tunred out to be such a beautiful space. And I love the separation. ...

"It's a 10 x 12 little space with a wood stove and a great big picture window overlooking Tischer Creek, which is the waterway I live on. It's all wooded around, so I have a lot of wildlife to look at. This is good, because I do spend quite a bit of time staring out the window — more than I probably should."

On what piece of art, outside of literature, inspires her

"I have a print of an illustration from the fairy tale 'White Bear King Valemon.' It's the picture of the white bear with the fairy tale girl riding on his back. That hangs in my writing house. Looking at that, every day, is maybe why I chose that fairytale to launch the story of [my book] 'West of Moon.' There's something about that fairytale that's always hung with me."

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