Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“The Seed Keeper,” an award-winning book every Minnesotan should read June 21, 2022

Cover design by Mary Austin Speaker. Cover beadwork art by Holly Young. (Credit: Publisher, Milkweed Editions)

VISUALIZE A PACKET OF SEEDS. Then open the envelope and spill a handful of seeds onto your open palm. What do you see? You likely envision seeds planted in rich black soil, covered, watered, sprouting, growing, yielding and, then, harvested. And while that visual is accurate, seeds hold more. Much more.

Photographed at Seed Savers Exchange near Decorah, Iowa. The farm specializes in saving heirloom/heritage seeds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2018, used here for illustration only)

I just finished reading The Seed Keeper, Diane Wilson’s debut novel and winner of the 2022 Minnesota Book Award in the Novel & Short Story category. I’ve never felt so profoundly and deeply moved by a book rooted in history. Wilson’s writing is like a seed planted, nurtured, then yielding a harvest of insight and understanding.

Part of a public art installation at the Northfield Earth Day Celebration in April. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

Hers is the story of the Dakota people, specifically of several generations of women, The Seed Keepers. Hers is the story of a connection to the land, sky, water, seeds and of reclaiming that relationship. Hers is a story of wrongs done to indigenous people in Minnesota, of atrocities and challenges and struggles. Past and present. Hers is a story of wrongful family separation and of reuniting with family and community.

A full view of the art planted in Northfield for Earth Day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

At the core of Wilson’s novel are the seeds. The seeds, stored in a willow basket, and eventually passed through the generations. The seeds that not only provided food for their families’ survival, but held the stories of Dakota ancestors and a way of life.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on December 26, 1862. Wilson references the park, and the theme of forgiveness, in her novel. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2012)

The subject of this book holds personal interest to me because of its setting in southwestern Minnesota, site of The US-Dakota War of 1862. Wilson covers that war, including the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors in Mankato. As a native of Redwood County, I studied that war, even researched and wrote a term paper on the topic some 50 years ago. But I expect if I read that paper now, I would find many inaccuracies. My writing was shaped by the White (settlers’) narrative without consideration of the Dakota. I long ago realized the failings of that narrow-minded, biased perspective.

Even though I wasn’t taught the whole story, at least I was aware of The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. It was centered in my home region and in neighboring Brown County, where my maternal ancestors fled their rural New Ulm farm for safety in St. Peter. Many Minnesotans, I’ve discovered, are unaware of this important part of our state’s history.

The Seed Keeper, though fictional, reveals just how devastating this war was to the Dakota people in removal from their native land, in their imprisonment and in efforts by Whites to control and shape them. I found this sentence penned by the author to be particularly powerful: What the white settlers called progress was a storm of fury thundering its way across the land, and none of us were strong enough to withstand it.

This 67-ton Kasota stone sculpture stands in Reconciliation Park in Mankato. It symbolizes the spiritual survival of the Dakota People and honors the area’s Dakota heritage. The park is the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2019)

Still, strength sprouts and grows in The Seed Keeper through a riveting storyline that stretches back to Marie Blackbird in 1862 and then follows main character Rosalie Iron Wing through the decades to 2002. Even her name, Iron Wing, evokes strength and freedom. Rosalie marries a White farmer, births a son and her two worlds collide.

A photo panel at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center in St. Peter shows Dakota leaders photographed in Washington D.C. in 1858. The photo is from the Minnesota Historical Society. The quote represents the many broken treaties between the Dakota and the U.S. government. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013)

I was especially drawn to this statement by a Dakota elder in Wilson’s book: People don’t understand how hard it is to be Indian. I’m not talking about all the sad history. I’m talking about a way of life that demands your best every single day. Being Dakhóta means every step you take is a prayer.

Wilson writes with authenticity as a Mdewakanton descendant, enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation. She’s walked the steps of the Dakhóta.

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TELL ME: Have you read The Seed Keeper and, if so, what are your thoughts? I’d encourage everyone, Minnesotan or not, to read this award-winning novel.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

This Was 2020, more indie book success June 17, 2022

Award-winning This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

AS A LONG-TIME WRITER, I’ve accumulated a lengthy list of publication credits. That’s rewarding. Publication validates me as a writer. But it is knowing people are reading my work which proves especially rewarding.

The beginning of my poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am thrilled to share that This Was 2020—Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year is the top circulating book across all Indie Author Project library collections in the U.S. and Canada thus far in 2022. My poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” is included in This Was 2020, an anthology of 54 poems and essays by 51 Minnesota writers. To earn the number one circulation spot is an achievement worth noting and celebrating.

This is exciting news added to the initial success of the book as the 2021 Minnesota Author Project award winner in the Communities Create category.

A summary and author list from the back cover. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I’m not surprised by the book’s success. The collection of stories and poems selected via a competitive process is remarkable—packed with experiences, insights, emotions and more. I feel humbled and honored to be a part of this awarding-winning book featuring the work of talented Minnesota writers.

Paul Lai, formerly with Ramsey County Library, deserves much credit for his hard work on this MN Writes MN Reads project. It’s a mega undertaking to organize a contest open to writers throughout the state and then work through the process to publication. But it doesn’t end there. Lai also organized book readings and kept writers like me informed. I am grateful for his talent, enthusiasm and dedication.

My bio printed in This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

If you haven’t read This Was 2020, I encourage you to do so. The book, Lai says, is available at all 14 library systems in Minnesota. Locally, Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault carries two copies. Writers need readers. And readers need writers. Thank you for reading.

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NOTE: This marks the second time my poetry has been included in a book vying for the Minnesota Author Project, Communities Create Award. In 2020, Legacies: Poetic Living Wills was a finalist for the honor. The book featured my poem, “Life at Forty Degrees,” and the poems of 15 other area poets.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At the library, online & in bookstores: “This Was 2020” October 29, 2021

Duluth artist Carolyn Olson’s art graces the cover of This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

This Was 2020 Now Available” reads the header on a recent news release posted on the Ramsey County Library Reads website.

That’s exciting news for those of us published in this award-winning collection of prose and poetry. This Was 2020: Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year recently won the Minnesota Author Project Award in the Communities Create category. That honor recognizes the work of indie publications in the state. Ramsey County Library (led by librarian Paul Lai) coordinated the book project, calling for submissions and then, eventually, publishing the collection.

The beginning of my poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

My poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” was selected for inclusion in the anthology. I write about attending my father-in-law’s funeral at a Catholic church in a small central Minnesota town during the pandemic.

Now my local public library, Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, has copies of This Was 2020 available for check-out. While I always encourage purchase of books to support writers and booksellers (especially independent bookstores), I recognize the importance of accessibility to all through libraries. The Red Wing Public Library, in our Southeastern Libraries Cooperating regional library system, also has this anthology on the shelf.

The back cover lists the names of the Minnesotans included in This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

I encourage you to borrow or buy a print copy or read the e-version of this important book. It represents the hearts and souls of 51 Minnesotans, most of them published writers. They share their thoughts and experiences on two topics—social justice (connected to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020) and the COVID-19 pandemic.

I encourage you to read my previous review of This Was 2020 (by clicking here) to get a sense of the stories shared in prose and poetry.

My encouragement to read this collection is not motivated by self-promotion. Rather, I want you to read this anthology for the content, the insights, the documentation of history. The writing therein is personal. Deeply personal. These Minnesotans write with honesty, emotion and a rawness that almost hurts. The pain is real, the writing revealing. These poems and prose take readers well beyond the sound bites and headlines and video clips with powerful written words that are sometimes difficult to read.

In an historic time such as this, it’s especially important to gather and share stories in prose and poetry. Through stories we learn, connect, begin to understand, perhaps grow and change…for the better. I hope This Was 2020 prompts respectful discussions and introspection that creates healing. For now, more than ever, we need understanding, compassion and healing.

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NOTE: To all of you who have supported my writing and This Was 2020, thank you. I am grateful.

If you opt to buy This Was 2020, here’s the ISBN#: 978-1-0879-6762-2

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling