Writing Your City: The Loft Literary Center

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Loft Literary Center, interior space

 

When the idea came to me to start up MSP-Adventure time back in late December of 2013, I was pondering ways to brush up my writing skills and give myself some sort of concrete project to latch onto. Like many who come to fancy themselves “writers” without anything much tangible to show for it, I searched for some way to kick start my writing process and quite giving into procrastination all the time.

In the course my academic career, I’ve gotten plenty of writing done; generally in a frantic state, without much proofreading or editing in the last five or six hours before the course paper was due. And I actually liked this! I enjoyed the research, the panic fueled episodes late in the semester of hammering on a keyboard for a few hours until a tangible, physical product was created, printed out and presented to class. I actually prided myself on my ability to pound one out on short notice, one that would be pretty good. Not too bad, anyway. Nothing like a good, stark deadline to force you into panic mode.

There is so intriguing stuff out there in this region alone to focus on, to explore and learn more about, I felt that another collection of online essays (er, blog) detailing the secrets, wonders, and intricacies of Minnesota’s metropolitan outpost, this little outpost of civilization in the middle top of the United States, would be interesting.

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Open Books building, back in February

Of course, my historical background geared me to think of my writing in terms of non-fiction, and my own self-absorption geared me into writing memoir and travel writing, but I didn’t encounter the term “creative non-fiction” until taking a class at the Loft. Now, that’s the first genre I always name drop when people ask me what I write. I would like to dabble in more fiction, or even (god forbid) poetry, too, but, as with this blog, my focus remains in nonfiction.

Because of this, one of my all time favorite places in the entire Twin Cities is the Loft Literary Center. My sister, the Creative Writing major, introduced me to this fine institution about ten years ago after she volunteered there. Tucked away on the upper floors of an atmospheric old warehouse in the Mill District, the Open Book building, the Loft was one of the first institutions to breath life into this long neglected area of industrial ruins. In a city known for its literacy and love of writing, the Loft is the premier place for writers to hang out, learn from each other and practice their craft. It’s great to have this leading literary art center right here!  

I’ve taken numerous classes, workshops and seminars there, attended awesome readings and literary events, and other activities. While living outside of town, I took the Loft’s online classes, which were great, too, but the atmospheric location and camaraderie of actually heading into the writing classroom is my favorite. There is always something interesting coming up, for any writing interest or level. Non-fiction and fiction, poetry and prose, children’s and adult, science fiction or memoir, there are teachers from every background excited to share their knowledge and expertise. For me, I’ve found it very helpful, if only to have a period of continued writing pressure. Of course, the practice and experience writing in different styles and disciplines than I’m used to is nice too. Most recently, I took a fascinating and thought provoking class on Writing the Midwestern Character (I will be writing more on this in a later entry)!

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The Loft’s first location in Dinkytown, circa 1974

I have seen prominent authors discuss their writing practices and share some of their work, including Louise Erdrich, Pete Hautman, and Kelly Barnhill. Last fall, for instance, I listened to author Steve Almond discuss his latest book, Against Football, which was particularly interesting as the monstrous shell of the new stadium which has slowly grown like some sort of monolith towering over this part of town.

In addition, Open Book is home to a host of other artistic and literary organizations, including the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, another favorite, which houses exhibitions focusing on making books themselves into works of art. You can take classes on bookbinding, paper making, screen printing and lots of other cool stuff here, too! With both of these institutions together, it makes for some great projects; write some essays, then learn to bind them yourself in thematic paper style! The MCBA store is always fun to check out too, especially the large collection of zines from local artists available.

On a recent weekend, the Loft celebrated its fortieth anniversary and offered 40 different events to take advantage of all of
IMG_1658 the fun things the Loft and its members do. I was able to attend a few of them myself, my favorite being the first, a bike ride around Minneapolis to tour the previous homes of the Loft Literary Center. Founded in 1974 in Dinkytown, the Loft moved to its current location in 2000, but in between those, it settled in a variety of places. I had not been aware of this history, so it was fun and informative morning bike ride from the Mill District across the river to Dinkytown and Prospect Park, then back over the Mississippi to Franklin Avenue and the Powderhorn neighborhood. It was fun learning more about the Loft’s past and biking with a group of writers!

Among other events, my favorite event ended up really geared to my style and my blog; Inspired by Minneapolis, in which we strolled across the Stone Arch Bridge, writing on writing prompts, watching the city go by, and focusing on certain scenes and details of the urban landscape with little frames. This is a lot of what I am trying to capture in my writing, so it was a valuable and relaxing way to celebrate the Loft.

The Loft is currently offering its slate of autumn classes, so you should check them out and maybe sign up for a few. For those of us who are still paying off student loans as well, the discounted low income rates are very welcome as well. Also, a lot of the events hosted by the Loft are free of charge as well, so keep an eye out!

Loft Literary Center, 1011 Washington Avenue South, at Open Book

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A good, if windy, day for writing on the Stone Arch Bridge.

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