The 2015 Sinclair Lewis Writers’ Conference was kicked off with a panel discussion involving Lorna Landvik, Ross Sutter, Bart Sutter and Don Shelby moderated by Jim Umhoefer. The speakers were told about Sinclair Lewis losing his mother when he was six years old and how that impacted Lewis’ writing and then asked panel members what role pain, struggles and failings in their lives influence their writing. Don Shelby said, “A flawless person really can’t write very well. Mark Twain told us the person who has had a bull by the tail once has learned 60 to 70 times as much as a person who hasn’t.”
Bart Sutter said he began writing poetry after his mother died. He said, “Most good poems are an attempt on the part of the writer to heal themselves.” Bart’s brother Ross, a musician and teacher of Northern European folk music, said he has been looking for their mother most of his adult life. The Sutters are sons of a Lutheran pastor. Ross said he thought he found his real mother when an older woman came up to him in their home town to say, “Your father married me”.
Popular Minneapolis writer and comedian, Lorna Landvik, said her life experiences have led her to be socially active. She once walked across the United States for peace. “I think the rent we pay to live on earth is to do what is right,” said Landvik.
Shelby told the conference attendees that Twain got half way through the novel Huckleberry Finn and put it away saying, “the story went dry.” After a couple of years the story began to “fill up again” and Twain finished what became an American classic. Shelby said “Twain was a courageous writer in using the character of an 11-year-old, unwashed, uneducated Huckleberry Finn to say black people feel for their families just as white people feel for their families and they shouldn’t be separated by slavery.”
Bart Sutter lectured on the practice of haiku poetry. He is the poet laureate of Duluth and a winner of the Minnesota Book award as well as a retired English professor at the University of Wisconsin in Superior, Wisconsin. He shared his own haiku as well as examples of haiku masters such as Bashō, and Issa. He also led a discussion on the traditional use of a set number of syllables in each line and how and when to break that “rule.” Ross Sutter taught his break-out group the components and traditional elements of the ballad or folk song. The group explored the purpose of the ballad and how each culture has its own story-telling process. His degree in music education was apparent as he involved the participants in singing Scandinavian, Scottish, and Irish songs. Sutter shared humor, stories and songs with his rich singing voice and numerous instruments.
Lorna Landvik knew from the time she was a child that she wanted to become a writer and was encouraged to do so not only by family, but by her sixth grade teacher. She shared her early work with the group who was impressed with the quality of work from a child. Landvik shared life stories and her background in stand-up comedy to demonstrate how she approaches writing. Her successful methods of creating a story is involves coming up with a character’s name and then developing characteristics this person would exhibit. This, in turn, leads to their story.
Don Shelby is widely considered one of the best, and most decorated, local news anchors and reporters in the country. He has won three National Emmys and two George Foster Peabody awards, which are the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. He was awarded the National Distinguished Service Award by the Society of Professional Journalists, the International Radio and Television News Directors Association’s First Place honors for International Investigative Reporting and Columbia University’s duPont Award for Investigative Journalism. He retired from daily reporting and anchoring at WCCO in November 2010, after 45 years in the industry.
Since his retirement, Don continues his work in environmental journalism and is a member of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team roundtable. He currently serves on the board of Minnesota GreenStar and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
Don’s first book, The Season Never Ends: Wins, Losses, and the Wisdom of the Court, was published in 2011. It features a foreword by former University of Minnesota men’s basketball head coach Tubby Smith and endorsements from sports analyst Ahmad Rashad and author Will Weaver. As a player, coach and observer, basketball remains one of Don’s passions.
Don is proud of his 10,000 plus volume book collection which includes many rare books and signed first editions. He is also proud of his family, including Barbara (his wife of over 40 years), his three grown daughters and his three grandchildren.
Despite his professional accomplishments as a broadcast journalist, author, playwright and actor, the face Don shaves every morning is still that of a seventeen-year-old basketball player.
Lorna Landvik is the author of ten novels, including the best-selling Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, Oh My Stars, and The View From Mt. Joy. Her most recent books are Best to Laugh and Mayor of the Universe.
Landvik is also an actor, stand-up comic and a playwright. Raised in Minneapolis, Lorna had wanted to be a writer from the time she learned how to read in first grade. She was encouraged in these efforts by her parents and teachers, particularly her sixth grade teacher, who would send her poems to a radio program that broadcast student work.
After graduating from high school, Lorna and a friend spent most of a year hitchhiking through Europe, earning extra money working as chambermaids in Germany.
Upon her return, she briefly attended the University of Minnesota before heading to San Francisco, where she performed stand-up comedy. In Los Angeles, she continued to perform improvisational and stand-up comedy at The Comedy Store, The Improv and many other clubs. To earn the living that performance wasn’t yet providing, she waitressed and temped, working at movie studios and record companies, and, for several very interesting months, at the Playboy Mansion. (It was strictly a clerical position).
Back in Minneapolis, Lorna is “the mother of two and wife of one.” She became a cast member of Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop and has written and starred in several plays. She continues to work as an actor and playwright, most currently in a one-woman, all-improvised show called, Party in the Rec Room. She is also, along with columnist Gail Rosenblum, a co-host of Reading Goddess Radio, an on-air book club.
During her presentation, Lorna will talk about how reading and comedy have influenced her writing. She’ll also delve into “the mystery of writing” and how a writer needs to know when to take charge and when to let go.
Barton Sutter has received the Minnesota Book Award for poetry with The Book of Names: New and Selected Poems, for fiction with My Father’s War and Other Stories, and for creative non-fiction with Cold Comfort: Life at the Top of the Map.
Among other honors, he has won a Bush Foundation Individual Artist Fellowship, a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant (Sweden), and the Bassine Citation from the Academy of American Poets. Sutter has written for public radio and has had three verse plays produced.
Bart lives in Duluth on a hillside overlooking Lake Superior with his wife, Dorothea Diver. He performs as one-half of The Sutter Brothers, a poetry and music, songs and stories duo.
About his presentation, Sutter states that “haiku magnify and clarify many challenges all writers face: how to sketch characters and settings quickly, how to present images that linger in the mind and how to say something significant without droning on.” He will share some of his discoveries in writing his collection of haiku, Chester Creek Ravine, and suggest how these discoveries apply not just to writing poetry, but to fiction and non-fiction as well.
Ross is best known as a singer of Scandinavian, Scottish and Irish songs and for his wide repertoire of American traditional and popular songs. Sutter accompanies himself on guitar, dulcimer, button accordion and bodhran (an Irish goat-skin drum).
Sutter’s work is featured on the recordings Walking on Air, Up the Raw, Crossing the Shannon, Hunger No More, Songs By Heart, Over the Water, Ye Banks and Braes, and on his highly popular childrens’ recording, Mama Will You Buy Me a Banana?
Sutter’s instrument-building workshops are a special treat for children and families. His popular one-string dulcimer and dancing limberjack building workshops always lead to successful completion and an instrument that will last for years.
Though Ross is not a song writer, he collects old songs and ballads as well as newly composed songs, often rewriting or translating them. He performs many of the songs that his brother, Bart, writes or has translated from Swedish into English.
In his presentation, Ross will discuss and perform some songs and ballads, showing the range of material and styles of writing that make them last through the years. His focus will be on the lyrics and how they mesh with the music to make lasting songs or ballads. Ross notes that “I’m usually attracted to the song tune first, but it is the lyrics that make me learn a song by heart and keep it in my repertoire.”