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New leaders at the Ordway and Coffee House Press; new Minnesota poet laureate

ALSO: Green Card Voices launches new graphic novel anthology at Landmark Center; Ethan Iverson plays Bacharach at Crooners; and more.

The new leader of the Ordway is a jazz fan. Chris Harrington, who last week was named the organization’s 12th president and CEO, will leave the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, where he has worked since 2012 in audience development, revenue generation strategy, leadership, and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion priorities. His first day here will be Nov. 1.

Chris Harrington
Courtesy of the Ordway
Chris Harrington
Before joining the DSO, Harrington was marketing manager for the Detroit Jazz Festival, the world’s largest free jazz fest. At the DSO, where trumpeter Terence Blanchard is jazz creative chair, Harrington managed the orchestra’s Paradise Jazz Series and curated the Cube, the DSO’s flexible, multipurpose 500-seat recital hall. In 2020, he became senior director of Jazz @ the Max.

It seems perfectly reasonable to expect more jazz at the Ordway, which currently presents a variety of programming including Broadway @ the Ordway, dance, concerts, comedy and the annual Flint Hills Family Festival. The Ordway is one of four nonprofits to share the building on Rice Park in downtown St. Paul. The others are Minnesota Opera, the SPCO and Schubert Club. Together they form the Arts Partnership. Harrington will represent the Ordway on the Board of Directors.

Brad Wood, chair of the Ordway’s board of directors and search committee, said in a statement, “Chris is a trusted arts advocate and we’re thrilled to welcome him to the Ordway family and the Twin Cities. … He is passionate about community and bringing people together around the performing arts. I can’t imagine a better person to lead the Ordway as we reopen.”

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Harrington will succeed interim president Chris Sagstetter, who will resume her previous role as executive VP and CFO. Sagstetter stepped in when Jamie Grant left the Ordway in August 2020 for a position at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.

The Ordway will begin its 2021-22 programming on Sept. 19 with a comedy show by Maz Jobrani. (Keep in mind that much of the Ordway’s programming for 2021-22 is already in place.) The SPCO launched its 2021-22 season there last Friday night. On Sunday, the Chopin Society and Schubert Club co-presented a concert there by gifted young pianist Evren Ozel, who will soon be on his way to Warsaw for the International Chopin Competition in October. After 18 months, the lights are on at the Ordway Center. And that’s when it’s most beautiful.


Coffee House Press has a new executive director and publisher. Anitra Budd was an intern at Coffee House more than 20 years ago, then served as managing editor and acquiring editor from 2009-2014. She has been a writer and editor at the University of Minnesota, an associate editor at Search Institute, a freelance editor and writer whose clients included Graywolf Press and New Directions Publishing, and editor-at-large for Coffee House.

Budd has also taught editing to MFA students at Sierra Nevada University and undergraduate courses at Macalester and the U of M. She has written several educational books for children. Her first day back at Coffee House will be Oct. 1.

Anitra Budd
Courtesy of Coffee House Press
Anitra Budd
Carla Valadez and Erika Stevens will continue their positions as managing director and editorial director.

Coffee House is one of three award-winning, internationally important nonprofit literary presses based in Minneapolis. (The other two are Graywolf and Milkweed Editions.) Coffee House hasn’t had a publisher since Nov. 2020, when former publisher Chris Fischbach left with no reason given other than he and Coffee House had “parted ways.” Fischbach later wrote on his LinkedIn page, “I left Coffee House in 2020 to take a break, consult, work in freelance editing, and to search for a new job working as an editor.”

Coffee House will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022. The press recently announced that Karen Tei Yamashita, a longtime Coffee House author, would receive the 2021 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (DCAL). Coffee House has published all of Carleton College graduate Yamashita’s books, from “Through the Art of the Rain Forest” (1991) to National Book Award finalist “I Hotel” (2010) to “Sansei and Sensibility” (2020). Budd was Yamashita’s editor for “Anime Wong” (2014).

Gwen Nell Westerman is Minnesota’s new poet laureate

This is terrific news all around. First, it’s great that we have a state poet laureate. (It just is.) Second, Westerman is a fantastic choice to follow Joyce Sutphen, who served for a decade before resigning in April, and Robert Bly, who wasn’t, perhaps, the most rah-rah of poets laureate, but he is Robert Bly.

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Westerman is Minnesota’s first Native poet laureate. Her father’s people are Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, her mother’s from the Flint District of the Cherokee Nation. She’s a professor in the English department at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where she has taught since 1992. She has written several poetry books including “Follow the Blackbirds” (2013), written in both Dakota and English, and published poems and essays in journals and anthologies across the country. Her book “Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota” won two Minnesota Book Awards.

A selection of her poems appears in “New Poets of Native Nations,” a landmark anthology edited by Heid E. Erdrich and published in 2018 by Graywolf. You can read one of her poems here and now, or listen to her read it.

Gwen Nell Westerman
Courtesy of the Minnesota Humanities Center
Gwen Nell Westerman
Westerman is also a quilt artist whose work is in the Minnesota Historical Society and other collections. She had a solo show at the Hillstrom Museum at Gustavus Adolphus College in early 2021; the Hillstrom created a video walk-through tour that’s still accessible and made the exhibition catalog available as a downloadable PDF. The catalog includes some of her poetry.

Westerman was appointed by Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Band of Ojibwe), with help from the Minnesota Humanities Center. She is serving at the same time as the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek Nation).

Westerman’s responsibilities as poet laureate include promoting and encouraging appreciation of and engagement with poetry, engaging marginalized voices in poetry, celebrating the state’s rich and vibrant cultural heritage, engaging young people within and across lived experiences, inspiring all generations of poets and readers, and engaging in a minimum of five public literary and other cultural events. For this (and more), she’ll receive a $3,500 stipend and reasonable travel expenses.

Earlier this year, we published a brief history of poets laureate in Minnesota, if you want to take a look.

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person. For live events, check the venue’s COVID protocols before you go.

The 9-member cast of “Songs for a New World.”
Photo by Lucas Wells
The 9-member cast of “Songs for a New World.”
L Now at Artistry: “Songs for a New World.” The Bloomington theater is out of the gate earlier than most. Its first season back after COVID came begins with a contemporary song cycle, which in some ways might be easier and safer than a full musical with a narrative arc. Former Artistic Director Benjamin McGovern is gone, having resigned in April 2021. A team of three — Vanessa Brooke Agnes, Colleen Somerville, and Max Wojtanowicz — directed this production, which features a cast of nine: Elise Benson, Deidre Cochran, Joshua Hinck, Brandon A. Jackson, Rajané Katurah, Dwight Xaveir Leslie, Joey Miller, Janely Rodriguez and Elly Stahlke. Brown also wrote the music and lyrics for “The Last Five Years” and “Bridges of Madison County,” both popular Artistry shows. Coincidentally, “Bridges” was the final show Artistry staged before the shutdown in March 2020. FMI and tickets ($17-49; pay-what-you can on Monday, Sept. 20). Closes Sept. 26.

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L Tonight and tomorrow (Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 14 and 15), 7 p.m. at the Dakota: Nachito Herrera & Habana Social Club. Nachito calls the Dakota his “musical house,” and what a homecoming he’s having during a three-night residency that began on Monday. Nachito is a Steinway artist, so he’s playing a 9-foot Steinway brought in for the occasion. (The Dakota’s own 7-foot Steinway is still being refinished.) The Dakota’s reopening is joyous and the place looks better than ever. FMI and tickets ($60-50-40). Concerned about safety? The club is currently seating at around 60% capacity, so it isn’t full. It has added drive-up valet parking ($12, card only). Or park in the public ramp at 10th and LaSalle (enter on LaSalle) and take the skyway to the Dakota ($6 for the night after 4 p.m.). If you’ve parked in the ramp before, note that changes have been made to the interior of the building and it can be a bit confusing. Wayfinding signs should be in place by Tuesday.

L Wednesday, Sept. 15, 5:30-8 p.m. at the Landmark Center: Green Card Voices: “Our Stories Carried Us Here: A Graphic Novel Anthology” book launch. The launch event for the hardcover version of a new book that tells the first-person stories of 10 immigrants and refugees. What were their lives like in their home countries? Why did they leave? What was their journey to the United States like? What are their goals for the future? Meet and greet the storytellers and illustrators, enjoy light refreshments, hear from the co-editors, enjoy a panel, buy a book and get it signed. FMI and agenda. Free with reservation

L Thursday, Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m. on the mainstage at Crooners: Marcy Harriell and Ethan Iverson: “Bach to Bacharach.” The original pianist for The Bad Plus, Iverson is not someone you would normally associate with the music of Burt Bacharach (“Do You Know the Way to San José,” “Walk on By,” “Say a Little Prayer”). No worries; this show is delightful and without a hint of irony. Iverson first performed it at the Lexington in St. Paul in January 2020 for his good friend, Chef Jack Riebel, the Lex’s former chef; Iverson was here for Mark Morris’s “Pepperland” at Northrop, but he thought, let’s do this for Jack, because Bacharach is his favorite composer. You can tell that Iverson enjoys the music, and Marcy Harriell is a wonderful singer with considerable stage presence. And it’s kind of perfect for Crooners, a traditional supper club at heart. Doors at 6:30. FMI and tickets ($35-40).