Author: Cathrine Meeder

Emily Rapp brings inspiration and humor

Writer Emily Rapp ’96 returned to the Hill on Monday, April 20 to speak and read a selection of her work to a room packed with eager students and faculty. After graduating from St. Olaf, Rapp worked abroad in Korea, Switzerland and Thailand before entering Harvard Divinity School. She then went on to receive her M.F.A in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin. Rapp is currently a professor of creative writing and literature at the Santa Fe University of Art & Design.

Professor of English Diana Postlethwaite introduced Rapp, describing some of her St. Olaf connections as well as some of her achievements – including completing the Great Conversation program, studying abroad in Ireland, working in North Korea as a Fulbright Scholar, publishing two memoirs and a multitude of articles and essays and, currently, raising her 13-month old daughter.

“Her most formative journeys are not to Dublin, Manitou Heights or Korea, but to places none of us have ever probably been. . . places we might prefer not to go.” Postlethwaite said.

Indeed, Rapp faced many challenges, but she used her experiences to learn and grow into the talented writer and woman she is today. Rapp radiated humility, liveliness and good humor. In fact, Rapp struggled for a minute to work the clip-on microphone, before ditching it and wondering aloud why on earth Popular Mechanics was allowing her to write an article for the magazine. The audience laughed, and the atmosphere of the room immediately felt relaxed and inclusive of all in attendance.

Rapp’s career focused mainly on personal narrative. Her first memoir, Poster Child, described being born with a congenital defect that caused her to have one leg amputated, and living with the effects of that; she attributes much of her humor to growing up like she did.

“It’s a coming of age story,” Rapp said.

Her second memoir, Still Point of the Turning World, relays the heartbreaking account of her son, Ronan, being born with Tay-Sachs disease. The New York Times described it as “a brilliant study in the wages of mortal love.”

Rapp chose to read from her newest piece, a short essay collection called Cartography for Mourners. She first described how she was always getting lost and hated maps, which inspired her to use them to tie together some of her personal experiences.

“I even got lost in Northfield today,” Rapp said.

“Cartography for Mourners” was an honest, if not cynical, piece that included many poignant personal memories, including being told things like “It sure is a good thing you’re smart,” and “you’re made wrong,” regarding her amputated leg. Some of the stories centered around losing her son, Ronan, to Tay Sach’s disease, others around her grandmother’s funeral or her travels abroad. All the short essays conveyed a sense of being lost; listeners followed along her turbulent journey, sometimes feeling disoriented themselves. Rapp ended by saying, “I’m happy I don’t have a map.”

In the question and answer session that followed her reading, Rapp described lessons from her personal and professional life, which applied both to the students and the faculty members in attendance. When asked if she recommended an English major for aspiring writers, Rapp said, “It’s not worth it to get a degree in something when you’re not passionate about it.”

Rapp herself was a religion and women’s studies major at St. Olaf, but has always expressed herself using writing.

“We all have those childhood experiences – those stories from our past to call on,” Rapp said. Writing is an obvious career choice for Rapp, and she was incredibly humble in describing what she does.

“Anyone can write a memoir,” she said. “It’s basically like a novel. It’s writing about how a person changes.”

However, the difficult reality of the writing and publishing process did not go overlooked by Rapp. She described rewriting the same section of her first memoir 55 times until her editor accepted it. Rapp also described the joys of her job.

“The best part of being a writer is the community,” she said. “I just really like my people. It’s kind of like college, only spread out.”

The memoir genre includes works from a diverse range of writers and people, as Rapp described. The recent “memoir boom” has inspired an increase in life narratives focused around contemporary cultural issues. These topics can include anything from addiction to disability to celebrity to sexuality. Unlike autobiographies, memoirs center around specific themes or aspects of the author’s life.

Despite overwhelming responses to her writing, Rapp refuses to read any reviews of her work. She said she sometimes gets nasty letters or hears about glowing reviews of her books, but she ignores both. Rapp said that choosing not to care was the best decision she ever made, and she recommended to aspiring writers to consider doing the same.

Rapp provided some final advice for students sitting where she sat 20 years ago. Rapp’s comments demonstrated the fierce individuality and independence that she has developed over her life and career.

“You don’t have to go to every party,” she said. “Do your own thing.”

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“Fresh Faces” boasts new talent, attitude

Fresh Faces, started in 2009, is an annual show put on by Deep End APO that showcases the artistic abilities of first-year students. The cabaret-style night features musical, dance and theatrical performances, providing a wide and entertaining variety. Students take the stage both individually and in groups. This year’s performance is set to take place this Friday, March 20, and 7:00 p.m. in the Pause.

The Fresh Faces shows are part of Deep End’s larger mission “to produce inspiring student theater that supports the theatrical ambitions of St. Olaf College students.” Auditions are open to all first-year students, and everyone who auditions is guaranteed to be involved in the production. Furthermore, upperclassmen have the opportunity to direct the show; just like all Deep End productions, Fresh Faces is entirely student-run.

This year, Denzel Belin ’15 and David Gottfried ’15 were chosen to direct the first-year debut. Both directors acted in Fresh Faces their freshmen year. While both Belin and Gottfried have directed previous shows for Deep End APO, this is their first official collaboration. “It’s been wonderful collaborating with each other and also with 30-some performers,” Belin said.

Indeed, the theme of collaboration and community is central to the Fresh Faces experience. “Fresh Faces has been a great opportunity to collaborate with my peers outside of the classroom, and to connect with them through music and dance,” Elijah Verdoorn ’18 said.

While Fresh Faces has typically been structured as all small group or individual performances except for one whole group piece at the beginning and end of the show, Belin and Gottfried decided to change up the routine slightly by adding a full-cast song in the middle of the show as well.

“We wanted to make sure that we are keeping everyone active throughout the whole show,” Gottfried said.

The cast has been rehearsing all semester in preparation for the big night. In addition to the cast and directors, stage manager Erik Brandel-Tanis ’18 and assistant director Christa Schmidt ’16 have been instrumental in pulling together the show. Belin and Gottfried specifically pointed to their help with scheduling and finding time for the large cast and crew to rehearse, which has proven to be a challenge. Despite any challenges, all involved in Fresh Faces expressed excitement for the upcoming performance, with some regret that the fun, experience will soon be over.

“My Fresh Faces experience has been a blast. Getting the chance to perform such an awesome repertoire and befriend my peers is easily a highlight of my freshman year. I am so excited for the show, and sad that it will be over soon,” said Audrey Walker ’18.

This year’s production promises to honor the long-running tradition of showcasing up-and-coming first-year talent, but also to provide new material and a fresh angle. The audience may find that the light-hearted spirit of past shows to be replaced with a more realistic reflection of modern issues.

“It’s going to be edgier than in years past. We are edgier people, and we’re pushing the boundaries a bit. We’ve focused more on the theme of revolution; we were thinking about the riots in Ferguson, along with campus events like the die-in. We took all those pieces and thought, why would we make this a happy go lucky show when these are not happy-go lucky times? We wanted to reflect that,” Gottfried said.

“It’s going to be loud,” Belin said, “and angstier.”

While the show’s attitude might be a little “badder,” the upbeat community among the cast has certainly not been lost. Fresh Faces allowed many first years interested in musical theater to come together in a shared passion. We definitely bonded as a class and strengthened friendships,” Stuart Gordon ’18 said.

This year’s production of Fresh Faces is sure to be original, despite its annual tradition. The “freshness” of the directors’ perspective, along with the talent and excitement of the cast and crew, assure that there won’t be any dull moments. It will definitely be a show worth seeing.


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Limestones make appearance on A Prairie Home Companion

Many Oles, past and present, take pride in the college’s longest running a cappella group, the Limestones. The group is currently celebrating its 25th year in big ways, including a recent appearance in A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor on Saturday, March 7.

The Manitou Messenger got a chance to speak with the seven members of this year’s Limestones group about their performance.

Manitou Messenger: How did you guys get this awesome opportunity?

Brandon Berger 15: It’s really a crazy situation that we were thrown into. I was forwarded an e-mail from the music organization office in late February. The e-mail simply said that Garrison Keillor wanted to get ahold of the Limestones, like it was no big deal at all, and I was also given his telephone number. After realizing what was about to happen I freaked out and called Kaya right away, because I didn’t know what to do. After trying to get ahold of Garrison, I received a phone call the next day from my primary contact from the show asking us if we’d like to be on A Prairie Home Companion. I tentatively said yes, assuring the woman on the phone that it would simply rely on the date of the performance and the availability of each of the guys in the group… it all just happened so incredibly fast. I didn’t really have any time to think about the magnitude of what we were about to do until we finally got to the State Theatre and began our warm-up and mic check.

MM: Is this something that the Limestones have done in the past?

Charlie Baird 16: The group performed on the show back in 2001. The great thing about that group was that when they performed they gave us an opportunity, all of these years later, to go back and do the same thing. Hopefully by performing on the show again, we are also providing an opportunity, even if it’s another 10 years down the road, to future iterations of the Limestones.

MM: What was the best part of the experience for you?

Kaya Peterson 15: Singing on A Prairie Home Companion was an absolute thrill. At the start of the school year, we never would have imagined that we would be singing to an audience of more than four million people. My favorite part of the day was working with Girls Quartet GQ, an a cappella group from Maryland made up of just four women. It was great to have the opportunity to hang out with them and compare and contrast our experiences in our respective a cappella groups. They are among the most talented singers I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Their performance left us all speechless.

Chris Flicek 17: Knowing that I shared the stage with an outstanding legacy of performers and also being broadcast to four million listeners worldwide was what I enjoyed most.

CB: Oh man, there are so many things. I would say that while this is a group that has gotten fairly close, due to all of the things that we have done within the past year, each performance that we have brings us even closer. And being able to share what is truly a once in a lifetime experience with the other Limestones was truly a surreal and unforgettable experience. I wouldn’t have preferred to do it with any other group that I’ve been a part of.

DK Tong 17: Being able to hear all of the other performers sing on the show and knowing that we were a part of something that is known all across the world.

BB: It’s one of those things that you dream about, singing on a show of that magnitude with that type of legacy… The fact that it all came together in less than two weeks is pretty incredible. The guys had to work really hard in preparation, and they did. I couldn’t be more proud of them for doing everything that we’ve done this year.

Ted Dietz 17: I’d say that my favorite part was interacting with Garrison Keillor and the rest of the performers on the show. It was great because Garrison was interacting with us before the show and he was getting us as involved as possible. He even wrote new lyrics to a song we already knew as part of a commercial for St. Olaf. But ultimately, being around and performing with such talented people was an incredible experience.

MM: So, what’s next for the Limestones?

KP: Just before our spring break, we’re going to hold auditions for next year’s group. This is one of my favorite things we do each year. It’s always fun to see the diversity and talent that walks into the audition room. We try to keep the atmosphere low-pressure and make the audition process more fun than terrifying. It’s just starting to hit me that I won’t have the opportunity to sing with next year’s group, besides briefly at our upcoming spring concert. Our spring concert is going to be on Reading Day May 14 this year. We’re hoping that it will be a nice study break for stressed-out students studying for final exams… One highlight of the concert will be hearing next year’s Limestones sing together for the very first time. It’s going to be very bittersweet for Brandon and I to sing Malt-O-Meal for the last time. I try not to think about it.

BB: Another part of our spring will be performing with the St. Olaf Gospel Choir for a benefit concert for Oles Combating Poverty in mid-April. We’re hoping a large number of Oles will be at this performance, since it goes to support such a great cause. It’s been nice having gigs that attract larger audiences.

Sebastian Surom 17: Yeah, it seems like we’ve been getting gigs that have had larger audiences, and I foresee that trend continuing. Performing on A Prairie Home Companion will be the biggest gig that we have for a while, but if we keep putting our name out there and performing at such a high level, we can keep expecting to get gigs that reach an increasingly large number of people.


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Flaten Art Lecture Series inspires artists

This year’s annual Flaten Art Lectures kicked off on Feb. 16 with Sarah Millfelt’s lecture on her journey as a professional in the field of studio arts, specifically working with ceramics.

The Flaten Art Lecture Series started in 1981, using funds from the family of the late Professor Arnold Flaten, founder of the art department at St. Olaf College and through donations from alumni. The series has occurred annually since then, also serving as a requirement for the senior art major seminar.

Over the history of the lecture series, a wide range of artists have spoken but they all are chosen based on their abilities as both an artist and a speaker. The talks have proven beneficial to both students – for networking and learning opportunities – and the speakers, for publicity and speaking practice.

The speakers typically talk about their journeys, as Milfelt did. Despite the wide range of media that artists have come from, there is an even bigger range in their stories. Professor of Art Wendell Arneson said, “Every artist’s journey is different from the other, and there’s no one right way to [be successful], other than to be passionate about it.”

The Flaten Memorial Lecture Series provides insight into different career and life paths, while connecting students with professionals. Art students interested in the speakers’ specific fields can request to have their work critiqued as well. Additionally, the talks are free and open to the public, consistently bringing in curious community members. Their focus on life skills, such as making good connections and finding a vocation you are passionate about, are valuable lessons not only for art students, but for everybody.

Millfelt introduced herself as the director at Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, a tourist, an avid gardener and baker and a typical middle child. She set the tone of the lecture as being a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. After some technical difficulties with her PowerPoint presentation, she said, “It’s all about humor – it’s being able to laugh at yourself.”

The presentation was titled: “How did I get here? The Sarah Millfelt Story.” She focused on her journey as an artist and administrator, including her relatable experience of changing her plans for a major in college from environmental engineering to journalism and finally, to a fine arts degree in ceramics and photography. Millfelt graduated from University of Wisconsin-River Falls after working as a manager at McDonald’s and as a photojournalist to pay for her own education. Millfelt defined her path as a discovery of her vocation through pursuing the things she loved.

Millfelt described the importance of traveling and spoke to the value of participating in a new routine and culture. Her first experience out of the country was during college, when she studied in Italy for a semester and fell in love with the country and the culture.

She also emphasized the importance of “keeping your soul fed,” which she did with photography and staying creative in her free time. She even started her own business as a wedding photographer to increase her creative talents and experiences.

At home, Millfelt landscapes and gardens for fun and describes her two sons, ages nine and 11, as a creative outlet for her as well. She lamented that having a professional career sometimes created challenges in staying creative. Overall, however, she appears to have struck a balance in her life of work, family and art.

A theme of Millfelt’s talk was the importance of networking and professionalism in building a career. She started at Northern Clay Center 16 years ago at an entry-level position, and she worked her way up the nonprofit corporate ladder through dedication and gaining experience.

Millfelt’s audience benefited from advice that she provided regarding success in the professional art field. This included: diversifying your portfolio, getting internships, networking effectively, being honest, identifying a mentor and developing interview skills. She also warned against the dangers of social media in damaging your image.

Finally, Millfelt highlighted the imperative role of peers and colleagues in success.

“You need to surround yourself with the right people… who understand what you do and why you do it,” she said.

While Millfelt provided plenty of advice for the audience of students, community members and faculty gathered in Dittman, she assured that there was no “one right path” to success. While illustrating her own story, she demonstrated that success is determined more by passion, genuineness and people skills than anything else.

The 2015 Arnold Flaten Memorial Lecture Series continues with lectures on every Monday night through March 23. Upcoming talks will feature installation, photography, new media and art history.

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Fall into fun activities this November

November can be a busy time on the Hill. With Thanksgiving approaching, classes wrapping up and the weather changing, it can be hard to take time to enjoy the season. Luckily, St. Olaf offers a multitude of autumnal activities for students.

Go apple picking: a short four miles from the St. Olaf College campus lies Fireside Apple Orchard, where the public is welcome to pick apples from the trees to take home. The hardest part is deciding which is better: picking the apples or eating them. Fireside also has gardens and a shop with fresh homemade apple donuts, apple cider, gifts and, of course, bags of apples.

Get outside: with December on the horizon, it is safe to say that this will be the last month of above-freezing temperatures in Minnesota for quite some time. That being said, there are plenty of opportunities on campus and in Northfield to enjoy the last days of nice weather. Try going for a walk in the natural lands, or check out Ole Touring; the student-led recreational bike club offers fun, 10-25 mile rides around Northfield and the surrounding area three times per week. Contact or for more information.

Get moving: this month is called “Movember” by some exercise enthusiasts. Exercise is a great way to avoid stress and maintain health. If you can’t get outside, no worries; St. Olaf offers plenty of other opportunities to get moving. From the rock climbing wall to the swimming pool not to mention the two weight rooms and tracks, Skoglund provides easy and fun ways to stay fit. If you prefer group workouts, try an intramural sport, Zumba or yoga.

Attend concerts, plays and sports games: with campus musicians gearing up for Christmas Fest, there will be multiple concerts held in the later part of the month details can be found on the Events Calendar. Deep End APO will also be putting on “Clybourne Park” on Nov. 7 through Nov. 9 in the Mellby lounge. Additionaly, the St. Olaf Department of Theater will present “The Love of Three Oranges,” which will open on Nov. 14.

November also means the conclusion of the fall sports seasons and the start of winter sports. There will be many opportunities to cheer on a variety of St. Olaf teams, from football to basketball to hockey.

Have a Pinterest party: November is a great time to take advantage of fall’s seasonal flavors. Grab some friends and whip up a pumpkin pie, apple crisp or sweet potato casserole. Alternatively, look online for creative ways to use leaves to make great dorm decorations.

Write Blog, Novel: November is also National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Writing month. NaNoWriMo offers a Web site with help planning and writing a novel over the span of November. The Creative Learnings Community holds weekly Writing and Creating Groups on Thursdays from 3-5 p.m. in the Art Barn, and welcomes all who want to work on a writing or any creative project. The Manitou Messenger also welcomes new writers to submit articles or original pieces.

Whatever you choose to do this month, be sure to take a break from classes to spend time with friends and enjoy the transition into winter.


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