5Q :: MPR funnyman Peter Smith coming to townHopkins essayist Peter Smith is sort of an odd duck — but in the best possible way, of course.
Hopkins essayist Peter Smith is sort of an odd duck — but in the best possible way, of course.
A good example: When it came time to do an on-air piece on the State Fair this summer for Minnesota Public Radio, Smith didn’t rely on corny ol’ “What else could they possibly put on a stick and tell us to eat it?” jokes. Nor did he relay a countdown of his five favorite concert moments at the Grandstand.
No, these safe-for-the-masses story hooks would’ve been too easy for Smith. Instead, the MPR personality chose to talk about Li’l Orvy, a dead, frozen whale.
You remember “L-i-apostrophe-l” Orvy, dontcha? His home (more accurately a refrigerated trailer) would be parked between the Midway and the Grandstand, people would line up to pay good money to walk past his dead, frozen carcass and … I can’t believe I’m still talking about this.
Anyway, this is the kind of story Smith likes to tell — not your standard public-radio fare, to be sure.
Intrigued by what we’ve been listening to online, we sent a few questions down to Smith, who will be in town this week promoting “A Porch Sofa Almanac,” a collection of — you guessed it — MPR essays:
Budgeteer: First of all, what can your fans expect when you come to town on Thursday?
Smith: I’ll discuss the project, read a few pieces, talk about how I came up with them and take some questions. It should be a lot of fun.
When you were gathering stories for “A Porch Sofa Almanac,” were there things we Minnesotans take for granted that might make someone outside of the Midwest look at us with a quizzical glare?
This book isn’t for people outside the region. It’s kind of “by us, for us” in my mind. We already have Garrison Keillor. The Coen Brothers did “Fargo.”
People outside the region are awash in Minnesota stereotypes.
I wrote these essays to hold a kinder, gentler mirror up to the state — to find the moments and places that resonate here at home. Not to say we don’t have our quirks and foibles. We do. Not to say I don’t point out a few of them. I do.
But we see and appreciate them differently “in the family” (in Minnesota). I wrote this book with us in mind.
On that, do you recall the first time you realized the Midwest is really quite a unique place? Perhaps it was something you witnessed at the State Fair?
If by “unique” you mean quirky, special or different, I’m not sure I’ve realized the Midwest is unique yet.
Having grown up in the Midwest, I’ve been steeped in it my entire life. I’ve come to think our uniqueness lies in our quintessential normalcy.
We are a society of snow shovelers and mowers of lawns and fillers of bird feeders. We are putterers and family-dinner-hits-the-table-at-6-p.m.-sharp types.
Does the Duluth area get any coverage in your new book?
Lake Superior makes one or two cameos. There’s a piece about Finns and saunas, and another piece about Hudson Bay blankets inspired by life in your neck of the woods.
Beyond that, I believe Mr. Barton Sutter of Duluth has a virtual monopoly and a wonderful perspective on your fair city.
I heard you already have a new book set for release next year — is it similar to “Almanac”?
The new book (“A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors”) is different. The essays are longer and more personal, in some ways.
I wrote the pieces in “Porch Sofa” to be read on the air in less than three minutes.
The longer pieces in the new book mean I can play with the words and sentence structures more — and explore thoughts and themes the radio essays won’t support.
On the other hand, I’m still producing “Porch Sofa”-like pieces at the rate of one a week. We already have more than enough for another book of essays. And I already have a title — if the publisher likes it: “Live Bait: Shiners, Crawlers and Leeches.”
NEWS TO USE
Peter Smith will sign and discuss his new book, “A Porch Sofa Almanac,” at 7 p.m. Thursday at Clyde Iron Works, 2920 W. Michigan St. Books will be available for purchase from Northern Lights’ staff.