NWP Annual Meeting Writing Marathon: Minneapolis Edition



On Nov. 20, 2015, the Minnesota Writing Project hosted a writing marathon at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting.  It was a well-attended love fest for marathon fans from around the country.  Many thanks to New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat friend Michelle Shaw and her crew (pictured below) for facilitating this awesome event!


9:50 a.m. The Newsroom with Richard, Jane, Anne, Kirk, and Kate

To our surprise, the Bloody Marys arrive with beer chasers.

“It’s a Minnesota/ Wisconsin thing,” explains our server.  Our drink orders have redeemed us in her eyes after asking her to clean off the one dirty table in the place, just the right size for our group.

20151120_095412The Newsroom is only two blocks from the Hilton, and it has a beautiful, enormous bar in the shape of a sailboat, complete with masthead, with bottles all through the rigging.  The Bloody Marys take me back to the last day of the New Orleans Writing Marathon that summer, and to Andrew Wiseman’s rousing sing-along version of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  It had been an intense, emotional week, and this song pushed many of us over the edge into tears. 

20151120_120901Who knew we’d find lagniappe—that little bit of something extra common in New Orleans—here in this frozen, Nordic city.

Life should come with a beer chaser.Something to chase after a good thing.

It will never catch up, of course, but it has to try.

11:00  a.m. Still at The Newsroom

Out the window, I can see the Hilton, and I count up and over to the window of my room.  I can almost see the flowers sitting in the window still, trembling pink orchids above the frozen streets.

A surprise.  A decadence. A presence here across the miles. 

Lucinda Williams plays on the restaurant sound system, bringing up the tears again but making me remember that I need more Lucinda Williams in my life.

20151119_171423_resizedOut the window, a forklift scoops loads of steaming asphalt from a dump truck and carts it away to parts unknown.  Clouds of grey smoke rise up past my orchids and fade into the grey Minnesota sky.


Late the following evening…

At the Dakota Jazz Club, the marathon continues with a different group of friends–Darin, Cathie, and Dan–after our NCTE presentation.  We write after listening to the stunning gospel-infused blues of Kelley Hunt who makes us weepy with a song called “Beautiful Bones.”  Eventually only Dan and I are left.  MC Longshot  is on the mic, and the club transforms slowly before our eyes into an entirely different venue.  We sit in the estuary zone and write in the dim, churning nightlife vibe.

Minneapolis has been the scene of another police shooting of a young black man, and protests are ongoing.  MC Longshot chants:

Ain’t no justice, ain’t no peace/When we’re dealing with police

Wake up/ Good morning!

We need everybody

Wake up/ Good morning!

We need everybody

The crowd grows.  We write into the night. Eventually, our server asks that awesome marathon question, “Are you guys writers?”

12291062_10208237460039974_6471943368669295412_oDan invites him to write with us. He declines, but says that some of the off- duty staff are writers.  Dan pushes paper to him and urges him to invite them to write with us.  Our eyes follow him to a table a few rows back.  We exchange nods with the shadows, keep writing, keep listening.

A while later, the server brings us a piece of paper with three different styles of handwriting on it.  It says,

Do not go gently into that good night.  The shadows of November bring the clouds of December.  The night holds promise… City of lakes in early freeze.  Come back in the summer if it should please.

sinister noises/sincerely revealed/misled once again

Please be kind to yourself. Also, please be kind to others.  If ever you are feeling alone, realize that people come, sometimes things change, and other times they do not.  You alone have the ability to go to the last.

Our marathon hearts swell. We send back some writing of our own, greetings from the middle Midwest to the northern Midwest with encouragement to keep writing.

In my notebook at 12:55 a.m., I jot down MC Longshot’s challenge, “What are you going to do/to make a difference in this world?”  I am overwhelmed again by marathon synchronicity.  I write,

 So. Cool. It’s everywhere…




  1. Your story is amazing and so cool. I apologize I do not have a better word than cool, except that is what your story is, just plain neato.

    Appreciate – The infamous question, “Are you guys writer’s?” Instantly I think of Terrance Sanders and his DMV story and him being asked, “Are you guys riders, or writers?”

    Notice – The Bloody Mary’s with beer chasers, now I haven’t seen that before. That is an unusual drink combination. I also notice how happy everyone looks to be. Enjoying themselves, amazing how writing anywhere can do that to a person.

    Wonder – To be somewhere away from home and writing, I wonder how that can make you happy no matter where you are. How can writing transport you to a place of peace and serinity no matter where you are? That is a question I have always wondered.

    • Yes, we found it an odd combination as well! Ha ha, the DMV connection is a good one. I will never ever forget that day with Terrance and company. Thanks, Robin. Yes, it is odd how writing in strange new places can make one strangely calm. It’s almost a way of feeling totally at home almost anywhere. Thanks for making me notice that phenomenon. And thanks for reading!

  2. Appreciate: Thank you, for allowing me to travel with you on your different Writing Marathon journeys! They always look like so much fun and you always seem to find these places that really tell what the city you are in, is about. I also appreciate that even though you are there on “business” somehow it doesn’t seem like that. It just seems like all of these souls who love to write end up in the same place and that is what they do. I appreciate how you asked the waiters to write with you. I think it is so cool that writing sort of spreads and can really talk to someone’s soul.

    Notice: I noticed that you embedded a song into our blog this time. It definitely adds something to the blog since know it is audio as well. I think music makes everything better, it just adds another depth of emotion.

    Wonder: Do you ever get scared going to these places? You even spoke of the police shooting, the protests in Minneapolis when you were there. Maybe it’s because I am from a small town in Iowa but I always worry about that when I go to a big city. I am just there to take in the sites, do some shopping, and not get involved in any protests. I also wonder if I can take my young writers on a writing marathon around Osborn or to convince them to write when we get to our field trip destination, ha! Maybe we can write on the bus down to the field trip or on the way back.

    • It’s interesting that you notice that tension, Jamie, in the business side and the fun side. A trip like this definitely has lots of professional obligations. I am unique in that writing marathons are the subject of my research, so I always feel like I am working at the same time I am having fun and doing something that I love so much. I am extremely fortunate in this regard.

      You know, there was a moment or two in that jazz club when it got quite late, and we could definitely feel the local anger about the police shooting, and the music was very strident. It was a little scary and a little exciting, but I felt like I was there as a writer, trying to experience whatever I could (within reasonable limits, of course). Really, it was wonderful to be able to be out in the real town and not in the very artificial-feeling conference hotel.

      I am SO excited that you are thinking about ways to incorporate a writing marathon into your field trip. It’s so much more powerful to do some writing while you are in the place you visit rather than back in the classroom. Writing in place, in the moment, is key. Writing on a big old rattling bus can be very challenging (I’ve tried), but it can be done. I hope you have a great time!

  3. I really appreciate that you embedded the song by MC Longshot that you referenced in your post. I appreciate it partly because then you were able to show us how to do that on our own blogs, but I also appreciated being able to have the added sense of sound in the description of the club. It was extremely different from what I was expecting! While I appreciate rap, I would struggle to write with it as my background noise. I notice that you talk about Lucinda Williams being a backdrop to your writing marathons and it makes me wonder if unique bars are also a backdrop for your writing? You go to some of the neatest bars, and what a great place to people watch and write about your surroundings! One of my co-teachers and I are working on a writing marathon with our students. We are planning on taking them around Kansas City by bus on a Saturday and allowing them to write in new and creative places. We will probably leave the bars out of that marathon though!

    • Ha ha! Yes, it is true that many writing marathons include writing in bars. I think partially it is because they are great places to stop and buy something cheap, where there are always lots of things to write about and interesting people. You can sit and write for a while, and no one usually bothers you. Also, it is awesome to write in a bar with a good jukebox. But, of course, some people take this trend the wrong way and don’t think it’s all that great an idea to be writing in bars like this. But many bars are very important historical sites, places where writers can really experience the flavor of the local community and meet local people. There is a long history of famous writers writing in bars as well, so one often feels “in good company.”

      How cool that you are working on a KC writing marathon for students! Those kinds are so rewarding. It helps them feel like writers beyond “school.” And KC is just such a great city. Coffee shops are probably the second favorite stop for marathons besides bars, with museums and art galleries being the next most popular stop. Maybe your students will find some good places to write in those types of places? Thanks for reading. And thanks for your observation of the effect of the music. It was a very different kind of marathon music, but a good experience for us.

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