Does St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman ever stay home? He stopped by Wednesday’s state House Commerce Committee meeting to comment on the lockouts in Minnesota, took a trial run Thursday on the Red Bull Crashed Ice course, and dropped in at the Artists’ Quarter jazz club Friday night to congratulate owner Kenny Horst on his 70th birthday and proclaim Jan. 25 Kenny Horst Day. Mayor Coleman praised Horst for “planting seeds in the city of St. Paul that have led to an incredible revitalization of the cultural scene in this town – the jazz fest, events in Mears Park, all of these happened because somebody believes.” And he brought roars of laughter from the SRO crowd with the reminder that much jazz in the 1970s happened in strip clubs. “I wasn’t going to put it in an official proclamation,” Coleman said, “but let’s be honest amongst ourselves: Kenny used to play in nudie bars.”
We were hoping to report today where Minneapolis and St. Paul stand in this year’s survey of America’s Most Literate Cities, but the new rankings aren’t out yet. We thought that would make a good addition to today’s column, the balance of which is stuffed full of literary news and events. We’ll have to content ourselves with last year’s stats: Minneapolis is the third most literate city, St. Paul the twelfth. Which could have something to do with the fact that in winter, Minneapolitans stay indoors reading while St. Paulites stand outdoors drinking beer and watching suicidal skiers on Cathedral Hill. (Just kidding, St. Paul. No mean comments, please.)
The finalists have been announced for this year’s Minnesota Book Awards. We’re not surprised to see two names on the list: novelist Louise Erdrich and young-adult writer William Alexander. Erdrich’s “The Round House” and Alexander’s “Goblin Secrets” won National Book Awards in November. Mystery writer David Housewright is in the enviable yet awkward position of being a finalist twice in the genre fiction category, for “Curse of the Jade Lily” and “The Devil and the Diva” (co-written with Renee Valois). So even if he wins, he loses. Winners will be announced at the 25th Annual Minnesota Book Awards Gala on Saturday, April 13, at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. FMI and tickets. Congratulations, finalists.
Tomorrow night (Wednesday, Jan. 30), local writers, readers, authors and publishers will gather at the Crooked Pint Ale House in Minneapolis for the first annual LitPunch Mixer. LitPunch, which works to celebrate and strengthen our literary community, is sponsored by Coffee House Press, Graywolf Press, the Loft, Milkweed Editions and Rain Taxi Review of Books. The mixer will include previews of upcoming literary events, prizes, punch and opportunities to schmooze. Starts at 5:30 p.m. and it’s free.
Premiering in St. Paul tomorrow night (Wednesday, Jan. 30): The Moth StorySLAM, an open-mic storytelling competition to be held the last Wednesday of each month at the Amsterdam. StorySLAMs are hot tickets in cities around the country including New York, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Portland. Each evening features 10 individuals picked randomly from a hat. All stories are true-life experiences, told on stage without notes, scripts or cheat sheets. The stories are scored by teams of judges chosen from the audience, and the teller with the highest score goes on to compete in the state GrandSLAM. Wednesday’s event will be hosted by author and frequent McSweeneys contributor Dan Kennedy. The theme is secrets, something Minnesotans know a lot about. MPR is a promotional supporter; the Peabody Award-winning “Moth Radio Hour” airs on MPR Sundays at 10 p.m. starting Jan. 20. We’re pretty excited about this whole Moth thing. Doors at 6:30, show at 7. Tickets here.
Also on Wednesday, Carleton College professor Scott Dominic Carpenter reads from his short-story collection “This Jealous Earth” at SubText in St. Paul. Carpenter’s characters face moments of decision that change their lives forever. “This Jealous Earth” has been nominated for an Independent Publisher Book Award. MPR’s Euan Kerr spoke with Carpenter in January. 7 p.m.
On Thursday, Jan. 31, writers and editors will meet at the Minnesota Magazine Mingle, an annual networking event held at the Loft. Matchmakers will help people find each other. Writers can introduce themselves to 10+ magazine editors during an Editorial Speed Dating event, new this year. Writers, this will cost you, but it might also help you land an assignment or two. FMI and registration here. (Note the part about emailing your resume in advance for distribution to editors and publishers.)
Also on Thursday, divorce attorney Kristi Skordahl discusses “And Then She Was Happy: A Book About Divorce” – including her own. It’s part memoir, part manual for those engaged in the process of uncoupling. Skordahl lives and practices law in St. Paul. She’ll be at Common Good Books at 7 p.m.
On Friday, Feb. 1, poet and two-time Minnesota Book Award winner Jude Nutter leads a Mentor Series Reading at the Loft. Nutter will read with Kelly Hansen Maher and Jason Francis O’Keane, both participants in the Loft’s mentor program in poetry and creative prose. 7 p.m., free.
Plymouth Congregational’s stellar Literary Witnesses series continues this Sunday, Feb. 3, with an offering of poetry and music. “This Is the Day: Rejoicing Anyway” will blend Bart Sutter’s poems with songs and tunes from the Scandinavian, Celtic and American folk traditions performed by his brother, musician and singer Ross Sutter. Bart Sutter is the only author to win the Minnesota Book Award in three different categories; he was named the first Poet Laureate of Duluth in 2006. The program will focus on the spiritual response to suffering, but don’t expect a downer; the Sutters have a reputation for “filling a room with brotherly love.” 12 noon, Plymouth Church.
The title that caught our eye in the list of Minnesota Book Award finalists is Chris Niskanen’s “The Minnesota Book of Skills: Your Guide to Smoking Whitefish, Sauna Etiquette, Tick Extraction, and More.” Sounds like something we could all use. On Monday, Feb. 4 at the Osseo Library, Niskanen will talk about his book and sign copies. 6:30 p.m., free.
Award-winning author Pam Houston kicks off the new Club Book season next Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Maplewood Library. Club Book brings big-name authors to metro-area libraries, where we can see them, hear them, and hang around to meet them for free. Houston is the author of “Cowboys Are My Weakness,” “Waltzing the Cat,” and “Contents May Have Shifted” and the editor of “Women on Hunting: Essays, Fiction, and Poetry.” 7 p.m., 3025 Southlawn Drive.
Looking further ahead, the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, the people who bring us the Minnesota Book Awards (and so much more; the Friends are one reason we’re so darned literate), are hosting “Plots & Pints: A Pub Quiz for the Minnesota Literate: on Thursday, Feb. 21 at O’Gara’s. Teams of up to four members will answer trivia questions about Minnesota and its literary history, pints and snacks will be handed out, and prizes will be awarded. This is a benefit for the book awards, so there’s a rather stiff entry fee (eek), much of which is tax-deductible (whew). Register your team here, then spend the next few weeks boning up on literature-related Minnesota geography, crime, music, the Book Awards, the year 1988 (the Book Awards’ founding year), and politics. Jeff Kamin, MPR producer and “Books & Bars” moderator, will emcee.
Speaking of Books & Bars, the popular open-to-the-public book club show with food and alcohol, February’s book is Carol Anshaw’s “Carry the One,” and you can talk about it Feb. 5 at the School II in Chanhassen, Feb. 12 at the Bryant Lake Bowl, and Feb. 19 at the Amsterdam. All Tuesdays. Check the website for specifics.
Finally, and not about books: in September we spoke with singer José James in Monterey, California. That was a big week for James, who was born and raised in Minneapolis; he was making his debut at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival, he had the iTunes single of the week (and would leave the next morning to play the star-studded iTunes Festival in London), and he had just released a new EP as a teaser for “No Beginning No End,” the CD set for release by Blue Note in January. That album is out now, and James is about as hot as you can be in music these days without dressing in meat or creating a scandal. He appeared on David Letterman’s show earlier this month, earned a rave review from Ben Ratliff at the New York Times, and has been winning high praise at every stop of the crazy tour he’s now on, one that brings him to the Cedar tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 29). FMI and tickets. DJ Brian Engel opens.