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Preview/Review (Mar. 30 to Apr. 13)

A preview and review of some fun and informative U events and lectures occurring through Apr. 13

Compiled by Adam Overland

Dogfight book cover 165

March 29, 2011

First Books, including subheadings with bold advice!
Authors will very often wear funny hats to differentiate themselves from the common man. I don't know if this statement is true. I suspect there's a grain of truth to it, but I realize the importance of an attention-getting opening sentence, and when writing about literary matters, one should abide by the rules. Therefore, authors will very often wear funny hats.

At the Mar. 24 "First Books" event—an annual reading sponsored by the Creative Writing Program featuring debut poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers—only one author among six (and an agent) wore a funny hat, and it was really more of a stylish tweed number, which though uncommon, may or may not have been funny to anyone else. The reading also included a panel discussion concerning the path to publication. The path, it seems, can vary, but from nary an author did the audience of more than 100 hear tales of anything but tremendous tenacity and dedication. That's what it takes to write a book. The real pain begins in the quest for publication.

Enroll in an MFA program
Most here tonight look to be students, scribbling notes and asking questions. The incidence of funny hats among the rest of the attendees seemed slightly higher than that for the panel of recently established authors, and so I wonder if my theory of funny hats may not be in jeopardy. In any case, many of them, no doubt, would like nothing more than to be published. Among those repeatedly published, U Regents Professor Madelon Sprengnether is here. So is the U's Charles Baxter. This naturally leads us to the next subheading...

Have famous authors as references
Baxter, in fact, actually took the rare step of recommending MFA alum (2009) Matt Burgess's novel, Dogfight, a Love Story, directly to an agent. The agent—now Matt's and part of the panel—told the story of Burgess's publication. She's overwhelmed with material, she said, including much from existing clients—already established writers. "The question is, what makes me want to take on a project when I reject 99 percent of the things I see?" she said. "I thought Matt was a wonderful writer. He’s funny, and he tells a great story, and those things don’t always come together into the same book." In his reading, Burgess pulled passages of language and imagery outlandish and creative, like one that included a reference to high-fiving the fins of steroidal fish in sewers. No doubt I'll be buying that book.

Give a publisher a reason
Burgess wrote Dogfight in three years, he said, but that "The whole thing moved from agent to editor to a check and agreement within two weeks." Burgess was the uncommon exception. His agent said that today, "publishers are looking for any reason to pass on something."

Kevin Fenton told the audience that he spent 10 years pulling together a manuscript that he felt good enough to send off. "I then spent another 10 listening to people tell me it wasn’t good enough," he said. Each rejection, he says, made his book Merit Badges that much better.

Gayla Marty 165Gayla MartyThe other authors, including U staffer and memoirist Gayla Marty, whose story of publication was featured in Brief last April, told equally compelling tales of relentless perseverance, revisions, and of straying from and coming back to the work.

Be heroic about rejection
Only a handful of authors will ever become the superman writers who fly among us, ravaging the New York Times Best Seller list week after week, book after book.

I've heard that more than 500,000 aspiring authors receive rejection letters each year in the United States, and that's just for books, never mind the magazines and journals. I suspect the number is much higher.

So just remember what Gene Fowler said: "Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."

So that's all it takes to write. The real pain begins in the quest for publication.

This year's reading featured authors Matt Burgess, Kevin Fenton, poet Francine Tolf, Gayla Marty, Alan Heathcock, and moderator Swati Avasthi, alumna and author of the Minnesota Book Award finalist, Split. For more information, see the MFA in Creative Writing.

Learn to save money and the planet at the Bell Museum's Everyday Sustainable Living Resource Fair. Mar. 31, 6–9 p.m. Aimed at helping everyday people adopt a sustainable lifestyle, the fair will feature green living exhibitors who practice what they preach. Get sustainable living and energy saving tips on pet care, backyard farming and animal husbandry, planning a vacation retreat, and more. Exhibitor highlights include everything from straw bale houses and earth-friendly cabin construction to how the U is promoting sustainable habits among its student population. Free with paid admission to "Sustainable Shelter," the museum's exhibit exploring innovative home building technologies and strategies that help restore the health and viability of natural systems.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for faculty and staff. Classes scheduled throughout summer. Faculty and staff who are members of the UPlan-Medical Program can get back $200 of the $350 cost if they meet the course requirements for attendance. Classes are scheduled throughout early summer, and are held on campus, in the community, and even over the telephone. The class teaches how to practice mindfulness to intentionally cope with pain, illness, or stress. MBSR is offered through the University's Center for Spirituality & Healing.

The Merchant of Venice. Mar. 31-Apr.3, Kilburn Arena Theater, Rarig Center. Free. Discover the differences between love’s wealth and the love of wealth with University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater’s BFA Actor Training Program Sophomore Company when they present Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and All’s Well That Ends Well. Under the direction of theatre faculty member Steve Cardamone and guest director Genevieve Bennett, these projects use minimal sets and costumes focusing instead on the students’ acting and storytelling. Both shows are free, but seating is limited. Arriving 20 minutes prior to the performance time is encouraged.

Minnesota Regional FIRST Robotics Competitions. April 1–2, 9–5 p.m., Williams and Mariucci Arenas. Free. Start making friends with the human race's eventual overlords by cheering them on in non-stop robot action! Two arenas full of screaming fans and more than 120 high school teams from Minnesota and surrounding states are extending the Minnesota tournament frenzy another week at the Minnesota Regional FIRST Robotics Competitions. The championship matches are Apr. 2, 1–4:15 p.m.

Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar plan to attend the robotics competition Friday morning, and U.S. Senator Al Franken is scheduled to attend Saturday morning. The first 250 people entering each arena Friday and Saturday mornings will receive free admission to the Science Museum of Minnesota, courtesy of the Medtronic Foundation.

Classes Without Quizzes. April 2, 8 a.m.–1:30 p.m., McNeal Hall, St. Paul campus. Cost: general public, $30; Alumni Association member, $25; K-12 or U student, $10; optional lunch, $10. No need for last minute, late-night coffee-fueled cramming sessions here, folks. The only test is a simple one: do you want to learn about bees, whole grains, clean water, sustainable buying, garden myths, and more? Because they're all on the syllabus for the 10th annual "Classes Without Quizzes" event. Nationally recognized experts from the U's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences will present eight mini-seminars designed for the general public, including students of all ages. This year's keynote speaker will be Department of Entomology professor Marla Spivak, a world-renowned expert on bees and recent recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant." Along with presentations for adults, this year's event again includes kids-only sessions on reptiles and plant science as well as hands-on family science projects, via the Bell Museum. Register online.

Kolshorn Lecture: "The Case of the Killer Cookie: Oil Palm, Logging, and Species Extinction in Southeast Asia." April 4, 4:30 p.m. (refreshments at 4), St. Paul Student Center Theater. Guest speaker and Princeton University professor David Wilcove probably likes cookies. Who among us doesn't? But he does not like cookies at the cost of tropical deforestation driven by international agricultural and timber companies. Nowhere are the threats to wildlife greater than in Southeast Asia, where the region’s remaining forests are rapidly being logged and/or converted to oil palm plantations. Wilcove will explore the impact of these changes on Southeast Asia’s wildlife and discuss what conservationists can (and cannot) do to prevent the extinction of species. This event is an annual endowed lecture sponsored through the U's Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. 

The Morality of Muckraking. April 4, 7–9 p.m., 130 Murphy Hall. Free. If muckraking were renamed using the parlance of today, it might better be called pooper-scooper journalism. Veteran investigative journalist and professor Mark Feldstein will give you the lowdown on the state of the muck in this year's Silha Spring Ethics Forum. Feldstein is the author of Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture. A veteran investigative journalist who has worked for CNN, ABC News, and NBC News, Feldstein has won more than 50 journalism awards, including two George Foster Peabody public service awards, the duPont-Columbia award for investigative reporting, and the Edward R. Murrow broadcasting prize. He currently directs George Washington University’s Journalism Oral History Project. The lecture will be followed by a book signing.

Seventh Annual School of Public Health Film Series, Apr. 4–8. Free. Free admission, free food, and SPH Film Festival 165free beverages. There's not a theater in the world where you'll find a better deal. Hosted in celebration of National Public Health Week, April 4-8. This year’s festival will focus on mental health, food, nutrition, social justice, health care, environment, climate change, HIV, and sex education.

Getting Americans Back to Work: Why We Need to Do It and How We Can. April 5, noon–1:15 p.m., Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey School. Unemployment remains at an extremely high level and is projected to subside only slightly, to about eight percent, by the end of 2012. This means that five years after the recession began, we would still face unemployment higher than the worst month of the prior two recessions. Yet, both parties seem to want to look the other way, talking about competitiveness and scaling back government, neither of which will help much to fill the current 11-million-job shortfall. Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, will explain the path not being taken. The forum will be moderated by Chris Farrell, chief economics correspondent for Minnesota Public Radio.

Frontiers in the Environment: "Environmental Progress in China: What We Think Ain't Necessarily So." Apr. 6, noon–1 p.m., IonE seminar room R380, VoTech Bldg., St. Paul campus or via UMConnect.Frontiers Environment 165 Reviewing factories for energy efficiency potential in what has come to be called “The World’s Workshop” in the Pearl River Delta of southern China reveals huge potential: reductions in energy intensity of 40 percent plus are quite common, with simple payback periods of less than two years. As is happening everywhere else in the world, however, actual implementation seems frozen, waiting for…what, exactly? Beyond the glowing stories about wind turbines, electric vehicles, and overwhelming investment in R&D compared to the U.S., the real winners and losers in environmental progress in China drive policy and practice, with some startling unintended consequences.

Putting CO2 to Work: Turning Environmental Liability into Money Making Commodity, with the U's Martin Saar, Department of Geology and Geophysics. Apr. 11, noon–1:30 p.m., 230 Ruttan Hall. Free. Geothermal energy offers clean, consistent, reliable electric power with no need for grid-scale energy storage, unlike most renewable power alternatives. Saar will discuss a new method with the potential to permit expansion of geothermal energy utilization while supporting rapid implementation through the use of existing technologies: combining geologic CO2 sequestration with geothermal energy capture.

Before the Negotiations Begin: Minnesota's Budget Deficit and Possible Solutions. April 11, 12:30–1:30 p.m., Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey School. Moderated by Regent Steve Sviggum. Minnesota has a projected $5 billion deficit over the next biennium. The House and Senate propose reduced spending without tax increases, while the governor’s proposal includes a mixture of spending cuts and an additional tax increase on the state’s highest earners. Is there a common ground to be found between the two plans? Will tax increases drive Minnesotans and Minnesota jobs away? Will spending reductions have a disproportionate affect on lower- and middle-income individuals? Leaders of the state legislature and governor’s cabinet will assess the budget decisions and consequences, in addition to giving a snapshot of how this great difference in positions can be bridged.

Second Annual Pankake Poetry Series featuring Louis Jenkins. Apr. 12, 4–6 p.m., 120 Elmer Andersen Library. Free. Before your mind, like mine did, turns to syrupy tummy temptations, know that the Pankake Poetry Series was founded and named in honor of librarian Marcia Pankake, whose love of poetry was demonstrated in the countless readings and poetry events she hosted at the University Libraries until her retirement in 2007.

Featured poet Louis Jenkins's poems have been published in a number of literary magazines and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry and Great American Prose Poems. Jenkins, who has been featured on A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer's Almanac, received the 1995 Minnesota Book Award for Nice Fish and the 1997 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for Just Above Water.

Find more Twin Cities events using the U's events calendar.

University events and lectures preview/review is a periodic column (about every two weeks) highlighting events and lectures recently past and soon-to-come on the UMTC campus. Faculty and staff are invited to contribute. Review submissions should be no more than 500 words, previews 200 or fewer. Both are subject to review by the Brief editor.