A scene in Linda LeGarde Grover’s new collection is set at Duluth's Corktown Deli where she runs into a colleague who comments on the beauty of the neighborhood bluff.
This gets her thinking about Goat Hill, the steep streets, the man who was changing a tire that accidentally rolled away. She considers the natural colors, the roofs, the sky — and that so much of her family’s story is set within this area where her grandparents lived and the bars where her dad shined shoes, which she refers to by its pre-Lincoln Park moniker.
“We couldn’t see them and I suppose they couldn’t see us but we are all real, our lives stories layered in the palimpsest that is the West End,” she writes of eating her roast beef sandwich that day.
Grover’s new book, “Gichigami Hearts: Stories and Histories from Misaabekong,” is a mix of 12 essays, memoir and the retelling of old tales with themes on family, place, and the way different time periods can co-exist.
The book will be released Tuesday and Zenith Bookstore is hosting its launch at 7 p.m. Thursday at West Theatre. It’s free and open to the public. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test from the past 72 hours is required, along with masks.
LeGarde Grover, who retired from her position as a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth in May, spent much of the pandemic period pulling together the pieces for this collection — a process that included gathering hard-copy bits she had stowed away in a box or those she had logged into her laptop.
It was a writer for Ms. Magazine who recently offered her a new way to see what she had made with her new work.
“She described it as ‘genre-defying,’” LeGarde Grover said of the blurb by Karla Strand within a list of noteworthy new books not written by white, cisgender heterosexual men. “I do like that. That is what this is. I hadn’t written it thinking I’d do genre-defying things.”
“Gichigami Hearts” is among a handful of books by Grover in the past decade — a period that opened with the writer winning the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction with her debut, “The Dance Boots.”
She hadn’t done any writing-writing since she was in her 20s, she said. But after she finished her doctoral program, the chair of her committee author Thomas Peacock, asked her if she had ever tried writing fiction.
“Then I started,” she said.
She sent eight stories, a series of linked tales about an Ojibwe community, off to the contest and a few months later she received a response in her inbox.
“I told myself, I’m going to be really happy for whoever got this (award),” she recalled. “So I opened it, read it, and it was me.”
“The Road Back to Sweetgrass,” published in 2014, followed — the stories of three fictional women in the 1970s set against the federal American Indian policy. It’s a nonlinear story that flows from tragedy to humor and back.
LeGarde Grover returned to the fictional Mozhay Point Reservation with “In the Night of Memory,” and with her most recent book, “Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year,” she writes about a year within the span of 50 short essays that defer to the seasons.
While she loved teaching and researching and the other things she did on behalf of the Indian Studies department at the university, LeGarde Grover said, she appreciates that her time is now her own.
“It’s a little gift that has been dropped in my lap,” she said.
And she’s using that gift to write the next thing: another novel.
LeGarde Grover opens “Gichigami Hearts” with place, specifically the “massive outcropping of gabbro rock” that is Point of Rocks, the unofficial midpoint of the city, with its views, its own gray aesthetic, and its history — like the time in the recent past when the rock was blasted, a large crack formed and an Anishinaabe man “dressed in old-style clothes stepped out.”
"He looked all around him and then walked away, just walked away," she wrote.
She writes about her own family history against this backdrop and her own history against the backdrop of her ancestors.
This is a sort of free-flow that dips into her family’s home on Park Point, and other family homes in the West End, conversations with her aunt Carol, the man who purposefully seeks her out to talk about Indian Boarding Schools.
There is also lore — including stories of rabbits that offer a bit of modern-day comfort — and an interaction with a woman who wants to talk about her late grandfather.
LeGarde Grover spends time unpacking the arts and wares sold at the old Indian Stands. And, in an especially touching chapter, LeGarde Grover finds a tomahawk, like the ones her family has talked about making for tourists, at a Canal Park antique store.
She brings her father to see it.
“He looked down again, past the rock, the willow handle, the pain, shellac and basswood twine, through more than a half century,” she writes.
This is how LeGarde Grover sees when she looks at the old places through the eyes of now.
"I really do see people and buildings and things happening long ago," she said. "I really do see them. They are here at the same time."
If you go
What: Book release for Linda LeGarde Grover's "Gichigami Hearts: Stories and Histories from Misaabekong," hosted by Zenith Bookstore
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: West Theatre, 319 N. Central Ave., Duluth
Note: Free and open to the public. Audience members must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test from past 72 hours. Masks required.
Title: "Gichigami Hearts: Stories and Histories from Misaabekong"
Author: Linda LeGarde Grover
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press