Max Shulman (1919–1988) grew up in a Jewish community in Saint Paul’s Selby-Dale neighborhood. After graduating from Central High School, he earned a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota. His writings were invariably humorous and were published in novels and magazines. He eventually became a successful writer for theater and television. His novel Potatoes are Cheaper was a portrayal of life in the city in the late 1930s. Extract from Max Shulman, Potatoes Are Cheaper (Doubleday and Company, 1971): 1–4, 23.
Patrick Coleman writes: "LeSueur was perhaps Minnesota’s most famous proletarian writer, so it is not surprising that she wrote about the humble people of Saint Paul’s Swede Hollow. The following selection was written during Prohibition, ushered in by passage of the Volstead Act in 1919." Extract from Meridel LeSueur, “Beer Town,” Life in the United States: A Collection of Narratives of Contemporary American Life from First-Hand Experience or Observation (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933); pages 31–33, 40.
At the writing workshop, I ask the students if they are here because they think writing is important. A couple of them raise their hands. Then I ask if they are taking the workshop because they will receive extra credit, and most of the hands shoot up. I had offered to share my love of language by teaching this workshop at Face to Face Academy, a charter school for homeless youth in crisis, after learning that 70 percent of all teens in foster care end up being homeless for a year or two—foster parents no longer receive help from the government when the child turns eighteen.
David Haynes, an African American author and St. Louis native, lived in Saint Paul for many years and taught fifth and sixth grade at a downtown public school. He has written several adult novels, and decided to write for younger readers because he found a dearth of works for that age group that were set in this city. "Business As Usual" tells the story of a cookie-selling enterprise among two rival groups of sixth graders, with a few life lessons about people and economics woven in along the way.
Tennessee Williams. Arthur Miller. August Wilson. When you list the playwrights of American theater whose work transcends all others, those three names stand at the top. Much of Wilson’s defining ten-play saga of African American life in the twentieth century, a massive undertaking with a play for every decade, was written right here in Saint Paul. That includes the first to hit Broadway (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and the Pulitzer Prize winners Fences and The Piano Lesson.
Groundbreaking urban historian Richard Wade always told his students, me included, that the true feel of cities was more likely to be found in literature than in scholarly works. That holds true for this metropolis and can be demonstrated through the works of three Jewish writers who grew up in Saint Paul. They had somewhat similar early experiences, but told their stories in different manners—humorous, serious, and nostalgic—and eventually traveled different paths. One thing the trio has in common, however, is the fact that they are still well worth reading.
Carol Bly wrote short stories that had weight, complexity, and wit. She was also a prolific writer of essays, a cultural critic, an ethicist, and, in her own terms, "a gadfly." Being that outspoken and opinionated can startle Minnesotans. She was also a teacher of writing at universities, summer programs, the Loft, in her own dining room, and by e-mail. Before I met her in a summer class, I was vaguely aware that some people found her intimidating, even alarming. What I found was a dedicated teacher, very kind, and tremendous fun.