Tuesday, June 22, 2010

One of MN's Treasures: Jon Hassler

by Heidi Holtan,

There are many reasons to be proud of the state of Minnesota.

Education. Marion Ross. 66 State Parks. Loni Anderson. Spam. Butterheads at the MN State Fair. Cute accents. The MN Twins. Climate extremes that make Minnesotans a grateful bunch. And writers. It's a state chock full of writers.

In 2008 Minnesota lost one of it's most beloved voices, author Jon Hassler.

Jon was born in Minneapolis but grew up in Plainview and Staples, Minnesota. One of Hassler's colleagues at St. John's University, Nickh Hayes, in Collegeville, MN said, "Minnesota has been lost between the sentimental images of Lake Wobegon and the cynical look of Sinclair Lewis's Gopher Prairie". Hayes is a professor of history and university chair of critical thinking. "Jon rescued small-town Minnesota. He saw it without sentimentality, but with a subtle eye that brought out the dignity, humanity and humor of its characters. I was always amazed by his ability to give such life to characters that you would think, at first glance, would be of no interest whatsoever. He saw the complexity of individuals.

When Jon Hassler taught in Brainerd, MN at the former Brainerd Community College (now Central Lakes College), he met a man that would be a lifelong friend. Joe Plut is my guest this week on Realgoodwords. We'll talk about the work he did with Jon - that has just been published by Nodin Press, "Conversations with Jon Hassler".

I grew up in a home where Jon Hassler's writing was revered. (thanks Mom!) I still haven't read all his work - one of my favorites is Grand Opening. I felt like, through Jon's writing, I learned more about my grandfather's growing up years in southern Minnesota. Thanks to Joe Plut's scrupulous reading of Jon Hassler's work, and his conversations about each of his novels, I was able to learn more about not only the story of Grand Opening, but how Hassler wrote it and how much it was based on his own life. Tune in this week for Joe Plut on Realgoodwords and his book "Conversations with Jon Hassler".

Richard Russo wrote of Jon Hassler in the New York Times Book Review, "Part of Jon Hassler's brilliance has always been his ability to achieve the depth of real literature through such sure-handed, no-gimmicks, honest language that the result appears effortless."

Do you have a favorite Hassler work? Why?

It's our summer fundraiser, and thanks to Joe Plut and Nodin Press, you can get a copy of "Conversations with Jon Hassler" when you pledge your support!

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