Four Duluth writers talk about their work and Duluth's "literary renaissance"

Lucie Amundsen, Margi Preus, Joeseph Maiolo and Bart Sutter all have two things in common: they have a connection to Duluth, and they love to write. Writer's icon

Duluth’s writing scene has been exploding in recent years. Now, more than ever, there are writers of all different kinds who have been getting a lot of national acclaim.

Claire Kirch, the Midwest Correspondent for Publishers Weekly, is astounded by the abundance and talent of writers in Duluth.

"I have lived in Duluth for almost 20 years, and I have never in more than a decade -- when there were a number of publishers in Duluth -- witnessed so many Duluth writers making big splashes on the national scene," Kirch said. "Duluth is undergoing a literary renaissance."

Kirch said she has seen a literary renaissance similar to this one about 15 years ago when Duluth had more publishers.

"It laid dormant for many years, and it is now exploding again and more evident than ever before," Kirch said. "People used to be so surprised I was living in Duluth and would ask me, ‘why aren't you living in the Cities?’ And now people aren't asking me that anymore."

Kirch thinks that, for a city of its size, Duluth has a lot of writers and a lot of activity.

"Per capita, Duluth ranks up there with the Twin Cities, which is very vibrant because they have so many people employed in the publishing industry and publishers," Kirch said.

1. Lucie Amundsen

Photo by Lucie Amundsen.

Quick facts:

  • Writer and educator
  • Age 42
  • B.S in Science Education
  • Has written for the Star Tribune,Cabin Life, MPR, Reader's Digest
  • Favorite type of writing:  Narrative nonfiction/essay style work

Lucy Amundsen, 42, is a writer, educator and owns a pasture-raised egg business called Locally Laid. Comedy originally got her interested in writing.

"I love witty stuff and finding unexpected connections,” Amundsen said. “With writing I can be funny without having to be quite so brave or up too late. I am typically writing in the morning by 5 a.m."

If it weren't for the crazy hours, Amundsen thinks that she would've been a stand up comedian.

Amundsen said when she was younger she wanted to be a writer, but after being told time and time again that it was too competitive of a field she decided not to pursue an undergraduate degree in writing, but instead went into elementary education.

After working in the communications field for many years and having a child, she decided to pursue writing and began doing freelance writing.

Amundsen’s advice to writers is to find a buddy. Amundsen meets up with Andy Bennett, another local writer, and lets him read her pieces and gets some ideas from him.

"Writing is a muscle. The more you do, the easier it is," Amundsen said. She also thinks that reading and listening to public radio will help a person’s writing.

Amundsen says that Duluth is a very supportive community for people who are involved in the artistic scene.

"We are lucky to have lots of writers and artists of all types here. We couldn't ask for a more supportive environment," Amundsen said.

She thinks that writers here benefit tremendously from the lake and a less stressful lifestyle here.

Amundsen is currently working on her thesis for her Master’s of Fine Arts in Nonfiction Writing at Hamline University.

"It’s crazy hard, but I love revising a piece until I can finally see what I am trying to say," Amundsen said. "I sometimes feel like I’m getting my masters in re-writing, and that feels great."

2.Barton (Bart) Sutter

Photo submitted by Bart Sutter.

Quick facts:

  • Writer and educator
  • Age 63
  • B.A in Language Arts and M.A in Creative Writing
  • Favorite type of writing:  Poetry
  • Won the Minnesota Book Award in three different categories

Barton (Bart) Sutter, 63, is mainly a poet, but has also written essays, theatrical productions, and even song lyrics.

"I do other things and get all confused about it, but it always seems to help my poetry," Sutter said.

He tried to write a novel, but ended up stopping because it didn’t feel right.

"I realized it wasn’t the form for me.  It felt wrong and there were too many words," Sutter said.

Sutter has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing and a Bachelor’s degree in Language Arts.

He became interested in poetry in the ninth grade, after his professor gave an assignment to write a poem.

"I liked it so much, I wrote two [poems]," Sutter said.

Poems just seem to come naturally for him. He also really enjoys reading his poems to an audience.

Sutter’s advice to writers would be to pursue a different field if they are good at something else.

"The competition is ferocious and the rewards are very small," Sutter said.  "There are so many expectations put on us, but some of us just can’t help it."

His favorite part about writing is the actual process of it.

"When I am writing I don’t feel like I am creating something, but just listening to something that already exists," Sutter said.

Sutter is impressed by the number of writers that are in the Duluth area.

"There are a remarkable number of good writers in a city of this size. It is unbelievable," Sutter said. "I  can name about a half dozen poets off the top of my head who are some of the best in the state, maybe even the nation."

Sutter is currently working on revising a collection of Haiku poems.

"I wrote about 365 poems and have already thrown out half of them," Sutter said.

He is also currently working on other poems with a Scandinavian theme.

"That is my background, and those are the people I grew up around," Sutter said.

3. Joeseph Maiolo

Photo submitted by Joseph Maiolo.

Quick Facts:

  • Writer and educator
  • Has three different degrees from three separate universities
  • Has had his work published in The Sewanee Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, The Texas Review and The Greensboro Review
  • Favorite type of writing:  Fictional short stories
  • Several of his stories have won national awards, including citation in The Best American Short Stories, a Pushcart Prize, two National Endowment for the Arts Literary Fellowships, and three PEN/Syndicated Fiction Awards

Joseph Maiolo is a writer as well as an educator and became interested in writing in the eighth grade when he wrote an essay to try to impress a girl. His teacher made him read his work to the class.

"I remember that being the first time that I had written anything, and the teacher asked me to read it and I read it and it was a good feeling," Maiolo said.

He never really thought about becoming a writer.

"I didn’t think much about it. It is just something that happened and I knew that I had to do it," Maiolo said. "I didn’t know where it would lead, and I certainly didn’t think that it would be the best seller."

Maiolo said that being a English teacher has improved his writing immensely over the years.

He has written short stories, a documentary, a memoir and screenplays.

"Over the years, as you write daily, you accumulate work and that is what I’ve done," Maiolo said. "Most of it is very satisfying and has seen print, but of course there are also some rejects."

Maiolo is originally from West Virginia and says that the style of writing is very different in Duluth than it is in the South.

"I taught for several years in Minnesota and many years in Virginia and I’ve had star writers in both places," Maiolo said.

For Maiolo there is not one part of the writing process that is harder to complete, but instead everything is equally hard.

"It’s a kind of difficulty that you take satisfaction in seeing it through,” Maiolo said. "All sorts of discoveries and unexplained things happen when you’re writing fiction, and those might change the story’s direction or fulfill something."

Maiolo explained that frustrations often come up but you have to work through them and not let them get to you.

"You really have to refine the skill and find the best way to do what you want to do in your art," Maiolo said. "Everybody has some creativity in him or her, but if it isn’t practiced then something happens."

4. Margi Preus

Photo submitted by Margi Preus.

Quick Facts:

  • Writer and educator. 
  • Served as the artistic director of Colder by the Lake Comedy Theatre for 25 years
  • Favorite type of writing is historical novels
  • Also writes children’s picture books, plays and comic operas
  • Her first novel Heart of a Samurai, is a 2011 Newbery Honor Book, an ALSC Notable Book and a recipient of the Asian Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature

Margi Preus is a writer and educator as well. She mainly writes historical novels for young readers (ages 10 and up).  She became interested in writing as a kindergartner when she made up plays with her friends and performed them for friends and family.

Preus has written comic operas, novels and plays. She became interested in writing for a younger audience after she had children herself.

"I read a lot of stories to  them when they were younger and they were so fantastic," Preus said. "When I was a kid we didn’t have picture books, they really transformed while I was growing up."

Preus keeps a simple quote above her desk that inspires her:  "In every childhood there is a moment when the door opens and you can let the future in."

"I want to write that moment. That is a beautiful moment," Preus said. "The age of those kids who are reading my books, that is when the door is going to open and let the future in. They are just at this wonderful cusp and their life is beginning to open up and broaden."

Preus explained that novels are a great fit for her because they match her personality very well.

"I have multiple interests in multiple projects at the same time, and a novel is multiple things all at once," Preus said.  "I have historical research, chapters, different scenes, characters, and those are all separate projects that I can work on."

Many would think that writing a novel for adults is more difficult than writing a novel for a younger audience, but Preus would argue the opposite.

"You really don’t have any cushion. You have to keep the story moving," Preus said. "I have to keep the story rolling quickly along if I want to keep my readers."

She says that the biggest obstacles most writers face are self-doubt and starting a project. Her advice to other writers is to “read like a writer.”

"Really look at how writers are accomplishing the things that they are accomplishing," Preus said.

Preus agrees with the other writers in the community that Duluth is a supportive community. She also said our writers are serious about what they do.

"They don’t just talk about it they do it," Preus said.

Whether it is poetry, novels, fiction, non-fiction, plays or song lyrics Duluth has a great variety of writers who all love what they do and are passionate about it.

If you know a writer who was not mentioned in this article and you would like to share that with us, we would love to hear from you.


Lake Superior Writing Club announces upcoming contest

Equity, Diversity, and Social Justice Film & Speaker Series