A&E

The new kids on the page

From essays to memoirs, an annual University event shows what it takes for writers to get their work published.
Writer Andy Sturdevant works on an outline for an upcoming essay at his studio in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Sturdevant will be discussing and reading his first published book "Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow" at the Weisman Art Museum along with two other authors.
March 13, 2014

Andy Sturdevant’s path to Minneapolis was mostly based on chance.

He grew up and got his bachelor’s degree in Louisville, Ky., and decided to move to Minneapolis a few years after graduation because he was totally unfamiliar with the city.

“I wanted something to change — I basically pointed at a map and decided to head to a place where I didn’t know anyone,” he said.

The transplant author will discuss his book, “Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow,” and the experience of being published for the first time at the Weisman Art Museum on Thursday.

He’ll be joined by two other authors, Kate Hopper and Joshua Ostergaard, who are both graduates of the University of Minnesota’s creative writing MFA program.

Each year, the program showcases local artists who’ve been published for the first time to introduce students to possibilities after graduation.

When Sturdevant graduated, he didn’t plan on writing a book. But he’s written for numerous publications, including MinnPost, mnartists.org and Rain Taxi, which eventually connected him to Coffee House editor Chris Fischbach.

Sturdevant wasn’t sure he had enough cohesive material to compile into a book, but Fischbach convinced him it was possible.

“My job is to help the author look at the text and match up what they say they’re trying to do with what’s on the page,” Fischbach said. “We’re never trying to write the book for them.”

After a fairly quick, year-long editing process, “Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow” hit the shelves. The collection of essays details Sturdevant’s experiences in the Upper Midwest, investigating different subcultures and art scenes.

Ostergaard also published his book, “The Devil’s Snake Curve,” through Coffee House.

“The thing about Andy’s and Josh’s books is that they were books I had always wanted to read but didn’t know they’d been written yet,” Fischbach said.

But even though the two shared a publisher, their experiences were very different.

“It’s gone through tons of iterations,” Ostergaard said of his book. “It started out as a novel, but I scrapped everything I had in 2009, and it turned into something different entirely.”

He got the idea for his book about the cultural force of baseball a decade ago.

Ostergaard, who has an MA in cultural anthropology, left his “dream job” at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History to participate in the University MFA program’s three years of coursework.

His work incubated during his time in the program.

“Like anything else, it is based on discipline,” Ostergaard said of writing a book. “Getting into the habit of attempting every day is crucial.”

He said he has no regrets about the move from Chicago to Minneapolis. Because the creative writing program gives financial support to students — in the form of teaching assistantships and research or administrative fellowships — he was comfortable with the change.

Sturdevant said although his time working on “Potluck” was shorter than the usual process, it didn’t feel that way.

“In journalism, you can’t get too bogged down with perfection,” he said. “Here, you get the opportunity to slow down and be deliberate with your choices.”

Both Sturdevant and Ostergaard said they hope they can share their experiences with students to illuminate the struggles and successes of a writer’s life.

“All of the changes, the evolution, the process of writing something and dedicating yourself to it — that’s what keeps it interesting,” Ostergaard said.

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