River Cities Literary Arts Center

This is the story of one choice that changed so many things in my life, unexpectedly, this past week.

The day after I got home from AWP there was an email saying that Debra Marquart was doing a reading at MSUM. She is a North Dakota writer and author of The Horizontal World: Growing up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere. I love her writing! So, tired as I was, I went over at 4:00 p.m. to the reading. I sat down next to a woman who introduced herself as Kathy and the man next to her as her husband Lin. We chatted books, writing, libraries. She asked if I was a writer. I told her about my new book. Kathy was soon tapping a few people on the shoulder saying, “Have you met this author? Her name is Jill Kandel.” By the time the reading got underway I’d met half a dozen people.

The reading was great, and while I listened, it dawned on me that the man next to Kathy was Lin Enger and author of Undiscovered Country and also the newly released The High Divide. I know, I was slow on the uptake. I’d read Lin’s work and liked it. And here I was sitting in the same room, the same row.

After the reading Kevin Zepper, professor of English at MSUM said to me, “We’ve arranged an author’s table and would like to invite you to come to Ushers with us for dinner before the evening reading. Would you like to come?”

Would I!

I ran home and got into some nicer clothes and drove up to Ushers. It was a great supper, wonderful discussions, and a lot of talk about a new literary center being formed in the FM area. Kathy Enger is heading up the board, and she invited me to be a member. YES, Please!

So, a week later, I found myself sitting in a room discussing the new River Cities Literary Art Center with Suzanne Kelley (New Rivers Press), Dawn Morgan (Spirit Room), Carol Kaupan Ratchenski (North Dakota Humanities Council, poet), Kevin Zepper (Minnesota State University Moorhead, poet),Kathy Enger (Northern Lights Library Network), Selina Bjorlie (writer), W. Scott Olson (Concordia College professor and editor of Ascent Journal), Jessica R. Jorgenson (graduate professor at NDSU who is writing a grant for RCLAC and myself. Jennifer Strange (Dunn County Writers) joined us via Skype.

The following two hours were filled with discussions on what we’d envision in a literary arts center, hammering out a mission statement, and discussing what we’d like to do specifically in the first year. Papers are being filled out to make River Cities Literary Art Center a non-profit organization. Papers are also being filled out to file for grant money to have an intern come work for the center for one year.

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When all was said and done there was a lot of paper hanging up around the room. Imagine that! A group of writers and words all over the walls!

A good mission statement is 18 words long, or shorter. We were all impressed with the Mission statement from The Loft in Minneapolis:

“The Loft advances the artistic development of writers, fosters a thriving literary community, and inspires a passion of literature.”

We went round and round with things we hoped to achieve. Really, what is our mission?

In the end we came close, but are still tweaking the words. We will finish working on it next meeting but right now, it has ideas such as Celebrating Literary Arts and Reading, Developing Community for Writers, and Nourishing the Writing Life.

All great ideas. And implementation?

The first year of our endeavor we’d like to achieve three main goals:

1. Build a website that will link and support all things literary, including events, local author websites, local books, readings, workshops, book clubs etc.

2. Host a once a month literary night for writers to gather and socialize.

3. Plan a one day literary event in the FM area.

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I can’t tell you how happy I am to be a voice in helping to form our new literary center. I’ve long felt that the FM area is a great place for the visual arts and for music and theater. But the literary arts have been sorely lacking in cohesion and support. I can’t wait to be a part of changing that!

Many thanks to Kathy and Kevin for inviting me. And many thanks to Debra Marquart who did the MSUM reading which started this ball rolling.

I’m so glad I went to the reading. You never know, how one event, one meeting, will change your life!

Jill Kandel
  • Harold Ball
    Posted at 13:35h, 23 April Reply

    That is so wonderful to hear, how doors are opening up and you are enjoying it all.
    With patience we will wait for your next book !!

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 07:53h, 24 April Reply

      Well, I’m working hard on that number two. So, time will tell … but all in all it’s good that you are patient!

  • Gianna
    Posted at 07:59h, 24 April Reply


    I just like this story.

  • Suzzanne Kelley
    Posted at 10:37h, 25 April Reply

    A splendid wrap-up of our gathering!

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 22:16h, 25 April Reply

      Thank you, Suzzanne! I’m so glad to be a part of it.

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