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An evening with the Sutter Brothers

September 8, 2012
By Jim Tate , Marshall Independent

Bart Sutter is your favorite uncle.

The 1972 Southwest Minnesota State alumnus will appear with his brother Ross on from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, in the Conference Center Ballroom at SMSU. The two last appeared here in 2010, as part of the Marshall Festival '10 writer's conference.

The event will celebrate Sutter's new book, "The Reindeer Camps."

"It's my first book in eight years," he said. "I thought I'd have one out sooner, but I took a detour into theater - which was unexpected. Because it's been a while, the book is fairly substantial. It's over 100 pages, and for a poetry collection, that's not a thin volume of verse."

The book's title poem, "The Reindeer Camps," is about Siberian reindeer herders.

"It came out of a chapbook," said Sutter. "It's unusual. I had a nice blurb from Bill Holm about that poem, that it was unlike anything I, or anyone else, had done before."

The book has several themed sections. For instance, "there's a section on northern Minnesota, the flora and fauna and quirky characters. There's a section on literary heroes and the literary life, and a section of love poems. Almost all of the poems have a northern flavor," he said.

Sutter lives in Duluth, and long ago was drawn to northern Minnesota.

"I like the smell of the evergreens, the motion of a canoe, the flavor of walleye," he said.

He initially enrolled at Bemidji State University, where he met English professors Delbert and Edith Wylder. The Wylders would later be hired at a new college on the prairie, Southwest Minnesota State College (later SMSU), where Delbert was the chair of the English department. Sutter followed.

Of all the successes he's had - the books, readings, the theater productions, being named first Poet Laureate of Duluth, his influence on a generation of young writers - one thing stands out: Bart Sutter is the only Minnesota writer to have won a Minnesota Book Award three times, in three separate categories - poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.

"It's so rare for a writer to be accomplished at that level in two genres, let alone three," said SMSU Provost Beth Weatherby, herself a Minnesota Book Award winner (short fiction). "He's an extraordinarily creative person."

"I knew from an early age I wanted to be a writer," said Sutter. He was 14, as he recalls. "That's when I began writing outside of school, filling out notebooks. I was always a reader, and I felt the call."

As for retirement, "I can't believe how busy I am," he said.

"I've been cleaning up after myself, number one; consolidating two offices into one. I have a lifetime of books and papers to organize. I'm also trying to lay down the infrastructure for the work I'll be doing over the next 10 years, so at least I have time to treat writing as a businesses. I'm excited about having more time for readings and performing with my brother," he said.

Brother Ross is known for his baritone voice and mastery of many instruments.

"In the past we've only been able to perform three of four times a year together. It's been more, recently," said Sutter. "He (Ross) does a lot of Celtic and Scandinavian music, and is involved with the artists in schools programs. He performs at Irish and Scottish festivals all over the Midwest."

Sutter's last appearance at SMSU was also when his play, "Pine Creek Parish: A Verse Play with Music," made its world debut. He's also had another play produced, "Bushed: A Political, Poetical, Partly Music Tragic Comedy in Two Acts." Poems originating from the plays are in his new book.

"Writing theater is about as hard as it gets," he said.

He now has some time to even promote some of his appearances, something that's never been done in the past.

"It was word-of-mouth - catch as catch can," he said.

Appearing at SMSU is always a treat for Sutter, whose easy manner and understated style have resulted in a devoted following in this part of the state. He hopes to see a good mix of students and community members at the Evening with the Sutter Brothers on the 18th.

"It's nice to feel like the audience is the whole community, not just one strata," he said. "There will be poetry, and music - and everyone likes music."

And while his versatility has taken him in many directions throughout the years, it's poetry that remains the cornerstone of his writing.

"It's been poetry, and it will be poetry at the end. I have done other things, but I always come back. That's the backbone and the river that runs through it all," he said.



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