Designing the Future with Blu Dot

Maurice BlanksFrom the new issue of Alive:

Sitting in his Chicago office in spring 2001, Maurice Blanks took a call from a Los Angeles-based telephone number. It was from the producer of a new design show, “Area,” looking for a host. Not long before, the producers at the Style Network had interviewed Blanks about a company he’d started with some college friends called Blu Dot Design—which made simple, modernist chairs, tables and other furniture.

Blanks, the network thought, would be the perfect host: tall, photogenic, articulate and with a mind steeped in design history and theory. But he had also recently started his own architecture firm while still working part-time for Blu Dot, traveling to Minneapolis on weekends. He had to make a choice.

“I said to my wife, ‘It’ll be fun. I’ll go to L.A. for two or three days, and nothing will come of it,’” he recalls. “Then I got offered the deal.” Blanks wound down his architecture firm, and they headed west.

“Area” was a virtual magazine, with recurring segments on “aspirational house tours,” practical design solutions and product reviews. They filmed a full season, and Blanks felt good about it. It did what they wanted Blu Dot to do: get good design out in the world.

But times were changing. America was changing. And it did not want to watch a program at the heart of this kind of “lifestyles-of-the-smart-and-stylish” ethos.

Read the rest here.

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Under Purple Skies: Minneapolis Stories

Next year, Belt Publishing will be compiling an anthology of essays, stories, and poems about Minneapolis as part of its City Anthology Series.

Minneapolis and the surrounding area has emerged as one of the literary centers of the country, and this anthology will mark the advent of the post-Wobegon era. We are looking for stories, scenes and memories from the city that evoke the place in compelling ways. Submissions can be related to a specific place, event (personal or historical) or personage, and must take place in or around the city. St. Paul will also be considered, as will most suburbs.

The anthology will be edited by Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness, occasional instructor at the Loft Literary Center, and editor of the Lester Literary Update. An introduction will be written by Star Tribune “Books” editor Laurie Hertzel, author of News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist.

To submit an entry, please see more details here.

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In the Heart and Out in the World

A profile of David Coggins from Alive Magazine:Coggins

When David Coggins first moved into his studio in 1996, he thought he might keep it spare, minimalist.

“It was such a beautiful, raw space,” he says, “with all those windows and nothing in it. I was just so wowed by it

The room was part of the old warehouse for the defunct Grain Belt Brewery next door. It was massive, at 3,000 square feet. The outside walls were a beautiful, patchy brickwork with arched windows. Concrete columns ran floor to ceiling. It had an old-world, industrial feel, a remnant of another era.

But those who knew Coggins shook their heads, knowing minimalism was unlikely. And, before long, the studio started to grow over with art and worldly objects. An old Spanish cabinet, small collections of stones, a plate of dice, spools of twine huddled together on a table.

“I like to have beautiful things around,” Coggins says, “and old things, and important things and odd things that I’ve found over time that have meaning. I always love coming in, especially when I’ve been away. When I’m here, I don’t ever want to leave.”

“When you step into that studio,” says Tom Rassieur, who curates prints and drawings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, “it’s a transformative experience. You’re in this deeply personal, expansive, mesmerizing space. Your eye just goes everywhere. You feel like you could spend all day looking at these things that are a mixture of David’s own creations and things that he loves. It’s a Gesamtkunstwerk if there ever was one—an all-encompassing art work. In a sense, it’s a modern version of a 19th-century studio. It’s the most amazing environment.”

Read the rest here.NLxBObop6tHNPAsLoXPiszFyuXJ7UBxGECwoHBVDKSc

Goodbye, Garrison

img_2017-10_Essay_Writers_01_GFrom Minnesota Monthly:

I wasn’t the biggest Prince fan (just the hits, mainly) but I still felt weepy the whole week after he died. Every day the newspaper came, and for some reason I couldn’t get myself to read it. So the papers piled, up and there they sit, still today. In a similar way, the changing of the guard at A Prairie Home Companion threw me off kilter. While I love the new host, Chris Thile, and his manic mandolin energy, I still feel a little lost when I turn on the radio and Keillor isn’t there as he has been most of my life.

Some days, I even miss the Metrodome.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. For some time now, but especially in the last year or two, the nature of what it means to be a Minnesotan has changed without most of us noticing.

Read the rest here.

Shooting A Year of Sunrises

Recent story from the Star Tribune:

DEFe-8sVYAAA0biLast fall I was staying in Red Wing when I got up early to go for a run on the iconic Barn Bluff towering over the river city. The hill wasn’t far from our hotel and seemed like a good place to watch the sun come up.

When I got to the top, the light was still dim, but I was surprised to find a woman there, silhouetted against the morning sky at the eastern overlook. She had a tripod and a camera pointed at the horizon.

Her name was Ellen Lentsch, a 44-year-old aspiring photographer, and it was her 274th consecutive sunrise on the bluff. She had 93 more before she would accomplish her goal: To photograph the sunrise from that same point every day for a year. Her idea was to put them together to be able to see the sun moving across the sky and back again. She also wanted to capture the moment in all its colors and moods and to cast a familiar sight in a new light.

“The world around us,” she says, “we take it for granted. But if we pause a moment and look around, there’s so much beauty right in our own backyard. I want people to see that. I want people to realize this is not an ugly world.”

Read the rest here.

Brand You: Questioning Self-Promotion

jf16_coverFrom last year in Poets & Writers, now online:

It should be said that writers have always been keen self-promoters, as Tony Perrottet pointed out in a New York Times article: In 440 BCE, Herodotus shilled his Histories to wealthy patrons at the Olympics. In 1887, Guy de Maupassant flew a hot-air balloon featuring the name of his latest short story. Walt Whitman wrote anonymous reviews of his work, declaring, “An American bard at last!”

But at the end of the twentieth century something changed, something deep. In an influential article titled “The Brand Called You,” published by Fast Company in 1997, Tom Peters admonished not just corporations, not just celebrities, but everyone to think of themselves as a brand, to promote themselves as a brand, and to see life and work as an endless branding opportunity.

This has come to pass. Today, it’s accepted that anyone with a pulse and a keyboard can and should promote anything that comes to mind. As a result, most of us are drowning in a promotional tsunami. It can feel like a crushing weight, like social media has become a giant pyramid scheme in which we are all selling some idea of ourselves, even as we struggle to believe our own marketing.

Read the rest here.

New Nonfiction Class

imagesThis winter, I’ll be teaching a small online class through The Loft Literary Center. In the past I’ve taught classes on narrative nonfiction, freelancing, profile writing, travel writing and other subjects. This course is designed both for people starting out and for those who want to shift career directions. We will focus on any genre students want to work on and cover practical skills of reporting, structuring your stories and selling your work. The ultimate goal of of the class is to finish with at least two polished, professional clips to use and sell. Please contact me if you want more info: Nonfiction Intensive: Building Your Portfolio