Friday, January 15, 2010

Hawthorne Neighborhood of Minneapolis: Where I'm hanging my hat

I like a neighborhood with character, something that doesn't have that manufactured, artificial and uninspired pretense. A neighborhood isn't bought into being, but emerges organically part by planning and attraction, part by chance and history.

I prefer streets with a diversity of architecture and character, the churn and twists reflecting our ever-changing tastes and dreams. So, in Saint Paul, I loved living in Frogtown. In Minneapolis, I have a lot of options but I love living in the Hawthorne Neighborhood. It's an adventure.

We're home to the world's largest lutefisk manufacturer, the Olsen Fish Company.

Farview Park is the oldest park of Minneapolis and we have a few haunted houses. We're the home to the future EcoVillage, which is NOT related to writer Umberto Eco, but IS an exciting development project to create ecologically and economically sound housing in an urban area.

The very first Broadway Pizza squats here on a hill, looming with its dark paneling and working class sensibilities, just a stone's throw from a set of condos by the Mississippi. We've got distinctive Victorians and a mosque. A Hmong grocery store and Kemp's Ice Cream factory. A shoe store that's a century old and some of the most notorious saloons and dive bars of Minnesota, like the old Stand Up Frank's which was turned into Donny Dirk's Zombie Den last year.

We're home to the notorious Wafana's, which, before it got shut down, had over 1,400 calls to 911 and emergency services. In ONE year. It's colorful out here.

We've got the biggest scrap recyclers of Minneapolis in our neighborhood, and if that's not enough metal for you, Perry Bowers runs Taylor Sound, a recording studio and practice space. At some point, I understand they hoped to have an independent music festival here.

The band Wrecking Day has been headquartering here at the North Minneapolis Business Center in the same space as Safari Pride Coffee and the Minnesota African Women's Association. That's a combination. There's really no shortage of stories coming out of here.

Twin Cities photographers have a great space tucked away at the Minneapolis Photo Center. This center is really something, featuring state of the art professional large-format printers, dark rooms, computers and exhibit space. I wish they'd have another open house soon for the community to see the wonderful talent that works in Hawthorne.

As a writer, there's a lot that draws me here and keeps me here. Other artists are also finding something. For example, the artist Ken Farkash lives in this neighborhood, as does blogger Johnny Northside and a Lao American ballet dancer. Nearby, we have Juxtaposition Arts who've really been trying to get the local youth engaged in murals and the studio arts. 

Over the recent years we've had some great artists visit Hawthorne, including Seitu Jones, Toki Wright and Wing Young Huie. Others who've come here? How about Novelists Ed Lin and Nnedi Okorafor and naturally, Lao American performers Catzie Vilayphonh, Saymoukda Vongsay, Noi Sengsourigna and Ketsana, the Hmong writers May Lee Yang and A-Yia Thao and Japanese American writer David Mura

We also had visits from the Minnesota Timberwolves and the first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison. The list goes on.

In the nearby neighborhoods we also have innovative artists and writers like Mai Neng Moua and Mali Kouanchao, and it's just a short jump to Coffee House Press, the North Regional Library, downtown Minneapolis and the Lao Assistance Center and Lao America

Is it a perfect place? Heavens, no. But it's interesting, and that goes a long way in my book.

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