From vacant lot to skateable park

When Juxtaposition Arts in North Minneapolis had to demolish a building, they knew they would have a vacant corner lot on their hands. And they weren’t about to let a great opportunity like that go to waste. What stands there now is a vibrant community space and skate-able art part—and teenagers were involved in every step of the way. It’s only there for a limited time…Listen in.

Minneapolis vs. St. Paul

They call it the Twin Cities, but relationships between Minneapolis and St Paul were not always so sisterly. During the 1890 census, the battle over which city would prove to be bigger turned into a scene from a crime novel. Ever heard of the phrase “Padding the numbers?” Yeah, you’re welcome world…here’s the origin story from a time when people weren’t so Minnesota-nice.

Children have the Priority

Recently I attended a neat concert…the launch of the first album in a generation written for (and partly by) Somali youth…and it came from the heart of Minneapolis!


The kids teamed up with London-based Somali musician Aar Mantha. Even the educational songs (updated, with modern twists) have a groovy beat. Listen in here on the making-of.

35W Bridge Collapse: a Survivor's Account

The 35W bridge collapsed 11 years ago today. Do you remember where you were? Kimberly J. Brown was on the bridge, and she became obsessed with finding out what went wrong--and how to avoid such tragedies in the future. She has a new memoir out on just that subject.

Abdi Nor Iftin's Call Me American

Abdi Nor Iftin was on tour for his new memoir Call Me American; he was in Minneapolis for just one day, and he kindly agreed to meet up with me to chat about his dreams of America, growing up in war-torn Mogadishu, and the way the reality has lined up with those dreams. The day he landed in America, Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MO. Imagine what that must've felt like?

His memoir is fantastic. If I were still teaching Human Rights Lit, I would assign it and be thrilled it existed.

Behind the scenes: I had to watch Terminator for the first time in order to find the perfect sound for this piece.

Mmmmm, sambusa

Sambusa is the Somali version of a meat pie. Fragrantly spiced meat wrapped in a pastry that's crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside. Turns out, they're as time-consuming as they are tasty. One Minnesota start-up is aiming to empower Somali moms by making this Somali comfort food and distributing it to the masses. They almost didn't get off the ground...

Check it out.

Laughter Yoga

Forget downward dog. I'm signing up for laughter yoga. It's the goofiest exercise I've ever done, and you leave feeling GREAT.

Laughter is a practice, just like anything. As the participants of this class show, you don't need to be going through happy times to laugh. Quite the reverse: laughing gets you through the hard times.

I laughed every time I listened to this tape as I was editing. I hope it has the same effect for you!

What Keeps Graywolf's Fiona McCrae Reading

When my editor asked me to interview Graywolf's publisher and editor Fiona McCrae, I did a little happy dance. Because what writer doesn't want a chance for a sit-down with the head of a fantastic literary press? It was great to hear McCrae and editor Steve Woodward go deep into what they LOVE about books and how hard they work to give each manuscript its fair shake. 

Graywolf publishes poetry, short stories, essay collections, novel and memoir. Want to hear the most competitive spot of them all?

Debut poetry. Wah-wah

Danez Smith: the Poet in the Electric Blue Suit

What a treat to interview National Book Award Finalist poet Danez Smith! There's some powerful stuff in Danez's book Don't Call Us Dead--like a long (segmented) opening poem imagining an alternate heaven for black boys killed by police violence. Their work (Danez prefers a neutral pronoun) is so on-point for right now, and lyrical and joyful at the same time. My current favorite is this one: "Dinosaurs in the Hood."

Here's someone who has people talking about poetry. Check out the story.

Trans-Atlantic Love Story (with singing!)

My latest radio story, one that is near and dear to my heart. Maybe it's because I've had occasion throughout the past 14 years to work with people from the Congo, and they have all been so kind. Maybe it's because this is about a loving family working so hard to help others and adjust to what life has thrown to them--in this case, years of separation and relocation to a new country. Maybe it's because when, during the interview, they began to sing, and it felt like a gift.

Whatever the reason, I hope you enjoy it.

Chris Santiago's World of Sound

"Poem" in Chris Santiago's father's native Tagolog is "Tula." That's the title of Santiago's new book, which rose to the top of a pile of 200 to win the regional Lindquist-Vennum prize (and publication!!). More than one poem? "Tulong," which sounds like "too long" in English, and yes, Santiago's collection is full of world play like that. Enjoy!

Some Refugees Are Scared of Us, Too

I cannot imagine what it would feel like, after years of waiting, going through the vetting process, receiving a Visa, going through the orientation-to-America class, and receiving plane tickets, packing, and saying goodbye--after all that--to be turned away while boarding the plane because America has stopped accepting refugees.

Thought you might be interested in a story I produced last year in which a Karen man, now a college student, recounts a terrifying experience his first day in America (from Burma). And it's also about dance!

David Mura: Becoming Japanese

It was such an honor that this story of mine got picked up by PRX Remix. The credit goes to David Mura, of course, who has a powerful story and tells it well. I just got to hold the mic. Though I did have the challenge of compressing a conversation about understanding and claiming his Japanese-American heritage--and using creative writing to talk about race--into just a few minutes.



Calling All Board Game Enthusiasts

Richard Tatge owns more than 6000 board games. And really, that's if you count each game as "one:" i.e. you count Magic: The Gathering as one game, even if you own some 70 variants of it (which he does). So yes, a lot of board games, all kinds, filling the house faster than he can build shelves.

And, oh, I wish I'd had room in the story to mention the other things he collects: hundreds of pumpkins for Halloween and Santa Clauses for Christmas, enough lights to make his house worth driving across town just to see during the holidays. Because collections, Tatge believes, are to be shared.

1970s board games designed to look like books! Cool!

1970s board games designed to look like books! Cool!

Interview with Poet Sun Yung Shin

It was a treat to interview Minneapolis writer Sun Yung Shin for this radio story. She is such a warm person, broadly interested in the world and deeply thoughtful. Example? Her new poetry book Unbearable Splendor manages to speak to the ancient story of Antigone, modern commentaries on race and identity...and robots. Curious?




One Man's Love Affair with a Failed 1876 Bank Robbery

PRX Remix (Public Radio Exchange's curated stream of awesome radio stories) just picked up my story about re-enacting Jesse James' Northfield Bank Robbery. It was one of the most fun stories I've worked on. I mean, who doesn't want a chance to go back to the base camp to interview guys in 1876 period costume who bring a bank robbery to life?

Trip DeMann in full costume

It's a powerful story to tell. The infamous James-Younger gang ventured north to Minnesota only once in their careers. Some $15,000 lay waiting in the bank's vault: the entire savings of much of the town and Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges. Yet the gang barely escaped with their lives--and only $26 to show for it--thanks to the quick response of the townspeople and the heroism of the acting cashier, Joseph Lee Heywood. Despite being threatened and beaten, he refused to open the vault.

Which was unlocked, by the way.

That stand cost him his life. Frank James executed him on the way out. In the end, two townspeople and two out of eight gang members died. Only Frank and Jesse James would remain alive and uncaptured afterwards, and they would never rob a bank again.


The bank raid shows up in my novel-in-progress, which is set in the action-packed summer of 1876. Get excited.