Moving back to Minnesota, with a stop in Deadwood at the South Dakota Festival of Books

It’s a strange feeling to be going back.

House sold, goods packed.  Pushing against what feels to be the flow of history, both personal and cultural.  No one said, “Go east, young man.”  But maybe “Go east, old man” makes sense.

But someone did say, “Look homeward, Angel.”  And, in some fundamental way, Louise and I are going home.

It will be hard to leave the spiritual lightness and mobility of the West Coast for the heavier forces of the Midwest.  Possibility gets supplanted by watchfulness and survival. Caution dominates over optimism.  A greater gravitas descends, along with the inevitable yearning that has always been the lot of a life stuck in the middle.  But we know this world.  It fits like well-worn clothes — functional and comfortable, but slightly frayed around the edges.  It is where we come from.

I lie awake at night.  Will it be a homecoming or a retreat?  A reversion to the norm?

And then there is that other voice:  “You can never go home again.”  Old friends are the best friends, but the new friendships were launched from the shoulders of the old and have taken us to unknown places.  Will we, as we have become, even exist when we go back to a place where the old friends only knew us as people we no longer are?

And so I sit here in Deadwood, at the South Dakota Book Festival, caught half way.  Portland behind me, Minnesota in front of me.

I did not give much thought to this book festival.  It was supposed to be a chance to go with Louise and another couple to the wonder of this unknown part of the country and the pleasures of this delightful, intimate, festival that I love with all my heart.  But things went awry and I am here by myself, contemplating where I am going and what I am leaving behind.  Blessedly, it is a wonderful place from which to do that contemplation.

Deadwood is surely not my country.  It is gambling and cigarettes and Harleys and drooping Wild Bill Hickock moustaches.  And biscuits and gravy slopped on a plate and served by a waitress who calls me “honey.”  No arugula omelettes with eggs from chickens with names.  No SUVs.  Stores expect you to pay with cash.

But it is also the first taste of great open air and capacity for reflection, things that for whatever reason I never experienced in the west — the grand spaces and expansive landscape nothwithstanding.  It has something to do with the lack of possibility and the quality of emptiness.  Your thoughts don’t bump up against objects or ideas here unless you choose to let them.  You live best when you turn your sights inward.

And I am known here — a literary elder, known, sought out, held in an inordinately high degree of regard.  One man drove 6 hours from Minot to meet me, another sought me out to tell me of visiting his friends in France who were raving over their discovery of the wildly popular French edition of Neither Wolf nor Dog.

I was never known in Oregon.  As an author, I never existed.  It was my own doing.  I never raised my head, and I’m not sure why.  I just didn’t feel the need.

Now I’m back where I’m beginning to feel the need.  And maybe it’s because I’m feeling needed.  It has to do with the Indian connection.  Native folks coming up to me and thanking me for what I do and asking me to please keep doing it.  A “cult author” as another author said to me.  Known not regionally or in standard literary circles, but for the way I illuminate and articulate a tiny but important piece of literary earth.

Minnesota, too, knows and values this piece of literary earth.  And that is where I am headed.

There is no doubt this is going to be hard.  But here, half way, in country I begin to understand and that seems to understand me, I can sense a growing sense of possibility and a distant rumbling of an unexpected hope.

Maybe, just maybe, you can go home again.






29 thoughts on “Moving back to Minnesota, with a stop in Deadwood at the South Dakota Festival of Books”

  1. All the best in this new life season of coming home again. Your work makes a difference in lives. Simple Truths is our Book Club book for October. It’s a wise companion. Thank you!

  2. William J Richardet

    Good to hear you are in tune to the absorbed learnings from your travels.
    Bob Dylan said it best I think, ” It’s life and life only” a fun place to be! I said that
    All the best Kent! 🙂


  3. Yep. You can go home again, Kent. I did, too. At 75, my wife and I returned to our roots in Kansas City, after I retired from the University of Iowa. I was concerned about going back home. Some painful memories have subsided. Some old connections broken, ones that needed to break. I can drive down old, familiar streets, my old high school, and no longer feel the old pain, but the new person I have become, even as an old man. New possibilities. And the sense that this is a new place.

    Still, there remain old friends. Old spiritual connections. Family.

    You’ll find your place again back home. It’s the place that gave impetus to those books we all know you for. Welcome back, Kent.

  4. Oh please, let us know if you truly can go home again! As a dyed-in-the-wool California native, I love my state (despite its abundant warts and failings!) and know that if I had not left the Los Angeles suburb where I grew up, I could never have grown into the person that I have become. There is no returning to that place, (which like much of Los Angeles has paved over any suggestion of natural landscapes, replacing them with asphalt and strip malls and big-box stores), nor would I want to. But I wander through some of those places in memory, and find those threads of connection strong as spider’s silk, binding me to them. Let us know how it goes…

  5. Wonderful post. As we get older, we sometimes feel there is nothing more to learn or experience. And then something happens and our senses are awakened again. Hope you have many interesting moments back home, Kent.

  6. Thank You Kent, as always.

    Your powerfully eloquent words of wisdom resonate forever, helping me on my journey, and many others to be sure.

    Parlez-vous Francais? You should. And Italian, Spanish, Greek et al. Maybe a few words, anyway.

    I’m glad you stopped at the book festival for those of us who love the power of the written word and the authors.

    You open our eyes, hearts and minds, transforming us to know “the Indian way.” It’s helped me to evolve and not regress.

    Aren’t there parallels with the Bible in how we treat one another? Please let us know.

    It does seem you need to be where it all began with rumblings of friends to come and more to be said.

    Minnesota sits on Sioux land where they originated, if I’m not mistaken, before breaking off into several bands.

    The assault on Native Americans and endless taking/spoiling their land goes on ad nauseum. It needs to be stopped.

    Joe Biden isn’t listening tho he says he is, signing away tracts of sacred land for more resources going back to the 1800’s.

    It’s why Leonard Peltier is in prison, wrongfully so. The Indians who killed Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull would kill him, too.

    I pray Great Spirit strengthen you always, Kent. Rugaru is real and will help you thru to help us thru.

    Otherwise, the one we’d rather “not talk about” will have his way, same as Yahweh, sending spirits to our ruin.
    (1 Kings 22)

    I am certain “the meek will inherit the Earth,” as many Sioux believe their land will be restored to them.

    Jung’s dream of disaster, as analyzed by his successor Marie-Louise Von Franz, indicates this.

    He was fortunate to be welcomed by Pueblo Indians who help the Sun cross the sky.

    Especially in themselves. He saw too often, how we can lose our inner Sun.

    Your books open the door like dreams of what we’ve yet to know.

    Thank You My Friend
    Many Blessings going home again, this Autumn Equinox.

  7. Beautiful thoughts, Kent. As a native Minnesotan, your words about Minnesota are intriguing. But now I’m puzzling about why you’re moving back here. Perhaps I missed an earlier explanation? Regardless, welcome home. We’re proud of you.

  8. I am strangely happy about you moving back home — living as I do in Roseau County, Minnesota. I was first introduced to you through your work,”To Walk The Red Road,” and of course, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog.” Both of which I could relate to somewhat as I’ve traveled Red Lake Reservation many times, and throughout the Dakotas, where in my minds eye “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” came alive even more so. Although one hundred-twenty-some miles is a fair trip anywhere, for most people, Bemidji where you used to live, is part of our ‘way up north’ Minnesota region. Although you didn’t say where in the state you were alighting this time, it may again be possible I”ll recognize you one day at Lukens or at the Paul Bunyan Mall. Yea for me! (Well, and for the rest of us.) Welcome home, Nerburn!

  9. Welcome back to Minnesota, Kent!
    I truly believe that you are more than a “cult author.” Rather, you are an author with compassion, with curiosity, with soulfulness that can inspire many of us beginning on our journeys as authors.
    I’ll drop you a message soon, as I have at least 1-2 ideas for publications that I’d be honored to review with you and hear your perspectives on their long-term trajectories. Wishing you a safe remainder of your travels and engaging re-immersion back into the Upper Midwest!

  10. Dear Kent,
    To return to where your heart truly lies. Minnesota knows you. You are needed there.
    I smile to think of your slipping into your belonging land and peoples. It is from there that I felt you.
    Go in Peace, Kent.

  11. Kent, I hope you will get in touch with me. I’m Mark Alter’s good friend, Cheryl. We had coffee with you in LO last November. I’m here in Northfield MN experiencing all of what you write about in this post, having grown up here till age 18, then living in Oregon (mostly Portland) for almost 50 years, now here again for the past 5 years. It has been very difficult for me for all the reasons you point out. It doesn’t feel like home, Oregon is home, but it does feel like where I need to be now and I’m still trying to understand just why. There is something about the Indian people but I don’t yet know what. I do know that I feel the trauma and grief in the air here, the heaviness, the pain, and the hunkered down energy. I also know that the sky is huge here and the prairie grasses, where they still grow, are rich and calming. I hope you will email me so that I can come to visit you. Take care, safe travels, and I am very glad you are going to be in the same state as I am. There is definitely something hopeful about that.

  12. Greetings Kent, from a once upon a time book fair breakfast member. Perhaps your mind needed one more adventure, but from the depths of your books, I think your heart remained in Minnesota and the Great Plains. An author, whom I can no longer remember, once said that he needed a vast horizon to throw his thoughts against. Hope your return offers you the horizon that helped to create so many wonderful books. And…….I’ve been here (Black Hills) nearly 25 years now and have never had biscuits and gravy. I must look for it.
    Enjoy the fair…………………….Kat

  13. Oregon will miss you. Well, I will miss knowing you are just a couple hours away from my beach. But yes, your new/old home will embrace you as you will embrace it. Godspeed, Kent. May the magic keep you whole.

  14. Windi Landis-Stermer

    Greetings Kent,
    Safe journey! I feel you may miss the ocean now and then for a few reasons known to you. I lived there for a few months in 2008. The most beautiful trees, ocean, and landscape, loved it!
    In the 90’s I was in a book store, drawn to Simple Truths, bought it, and have been a follower ever since. I have all your books except 3. I hope you never stop writing. I love the story of your cab ride with the older woman on her way to hospice. Wow…..
    I cannot imagine my library without your books. I feel honored to have found you. I wonder if you believe/realize just how profound you are, and more…looking forward to your new book in November.
    In the meantime, I hope you like your new home in Minnesota, welcome back, and take good care of each other…

  15. Thank you for this intensely soulful piece of writing, Kent. I don’t know you personally. (It’s through my friendship with Marc Allen that I came to discover you and your books.) And yet I feel drawn to your story of going home and have a desire to know what happens next . . . and next.

    I grew up in northern Illinois and lived in Minnesota for two years. Having lived in Marin County, California, most of my adult life, I’m moved by the particular way that you’ve brought the feeling of the Midwest to life for me today.

  16. I see my neighbor and fellow writer, Steven Reynolds, has written to you just after you published this latest post. What a guy he is! If you are ever in our area, we’ll treat you to lunch at the “Fickle Pickle” in Wannaskan, Minnesota.

    How wonderful that you have decided to make Minnesota your “home again” — for whatever time our piece of the Earth calls you “son.”
    So, greetings and salutations from Beltrami Island Forest in far Northwestern Minnesota, just 25 miles from Manitoba. Do we beat you in a latitude contest with the winner being the one(s) who live the closest to our stunning neighbor. When I gloat over how far north we are, I remember that there is a gigantic country “up north” that beats all of us in the latitude competition.
    In Gassho, Stenzel Sensei

  17. Sheila Capistran

    Boozhoo and Howdy to you folks, There’s a Library system in NW Minnesota that welcomes you back. Come visit us at the Climax, MN Library. Miigwech and Tusen takk —Sheila Capistran

  18. Claire Talltree

    Was just in Black Hills and Badlands for a week, because of a pull to go back. Had greatly missed the people, miss the land. Started reading “Wolf nor Dog” beforehand, just finished it a day back in Snohomish. Just wanted to say thank you. For all of it. Healing.

  19. Welcome back to Minnesota Kent. I also left, lived in Europe most of my adult life, and have recently returned to Hovland and Duluth. Lake Superior my sacred space. I am also friends with the Enger’s and on the Superior Writers board if you’d like to get involved and meet other writers. I hope to meet you soon. Regards, Tor Torkildson

  20. Hello, Kent.
    I’m an Iowan who admires Minnesotans (although their affinity for cold is something I don’t understand). So I’m glad you’re just a few hundred miles away–a distance that increases the possibility that I might actually meet you some day.

    I discovered your work a few years ago, when The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo jumped out at me from the N shelf at our local library. I was entranced by the title alone, and once I started Zi’s story, I could not set the book aside. Except when I needed to wipe the tears away. Zi led me to your other books, and I thank her.

    Just today a friend of mine gave me a secondhand copy of Small Graces she’d purchased for a quarter at a book sale sponsored by a neighborhood church. I’ve already read it, but now I have my very own copy! All that wisdom for 25 cents. There’s a lesson there.

    Three of my favorite authors are named Kent: (the late) Kent Haruf, Kent Krueger (also a Minnesotan), and you. All of you are masters of language, and the word constellations you create rival those other stars–the ones the ancients relied on to guide their journey and the moderns like to look at just because they’re so beautiful.

    As others have written here, welcome back.

  21. Two years ago I read “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” in preparation for trip to Yellowstone when we planned to stop at Wounded Knee en route. I started reading even more before our trip, like “Empire of the Summer Moon.” After visiting Wounded Knee and driving through Pine Ridge, I was filled with confusing emotions. I grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota and drove through the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe reservation many times a year on our trips to northern Minnesota. I’m 70 years old, and until reading “Neither Wild a nor Dog,” I was not able to sort through my emotions about Native Americans. Your writings have helped me immensely in understanding today’s Indian culture and spirituality with the backdrop of our genocide to the American Indian. I so wish I had read your books before I visited Wounded Knee—because it was such a conflicted visit. But now I will go back with a new understanding of the locals and the “landscape” of Pine Ridge.

    FYI on that trip I was also introduced to Nate Bressler, one of the founders of “Sage to Saddle” on Pine Ridge. If you don’t know him, I encourage you to look him up.

    Thank you, thank you for your beautiful writings and helping me better understand a culture and people who are so grossly misunderstand especially in Minnesota. And welcome back to Minnesota!

  22. Gosh darn!!! I was excited when I saw you were living in the Portland area. I had a brief “vision” of getting to meet you in person, only to find that you left the area a few months ago….GOSH DARN again!!! I finished your trilogy on the Native Americans you were blessed to have met and became friends with….you know which books I refer to. I couldn’t put then down once starting, they are the most incredible accounts of the world of the Native Americans traveled. I feel so ashamed of what the “Truest Americans” have had to endure AND still endure because of the “white man”. I wish every person would be “required” to read them!
    Thank you for doing what you’re doing!!

  23. After midnight here in Sheridan and I’m going through my library of Lakota books found the book you signed for me. We met in Deadwood when I lived in Rapid City. I gave you tobacco offering, and my medical school dream logo. Finally graduated college and made a quick website. I can send you some shirts and stickers. – Frank

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