Discovering the Loft, Discovering Myself

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Posted on Mon, Apr 5 2010 8:07 pm by Robin Sauerwein

In my writing group last week, someone brought up the Loft. A member wanted to know more about it. What is the Loft?

I had to smile to myself because I asked that same question when I was only 17 years old. Hanging on my office wall is one of the first Loft newsletters published in 1979. My friend and I are featured on the front page of that issue in an article titled “Our Great Discovery.” A black-and-white photograph shows two timid teenagers ascending a dark staircase in search of a curious place called the Loft.

I was responding to an ad looking for newsletter help for a writers’ organization.

In those days, the Loft was located above an old delicatessen on Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis. The editor took a photo of us for that issue to show how we literally stumbled upon the Loft:

Upon entering, we got the impression of the ruins of a deserted restaurant: a dusty deli case and an old manual cash register.

We saw a small sign taped to one of the walls: ‘The Loft, Upstairs.’

We turned the corner and discovered a dark, steep stairway. ‘You go first.’ ‘No, you go.’ Finally we went up, placing our feet carefully on each step. At the top of the stairs was a light. Voices that seemed to be faint ghosts heard overhead were now distinctly human. We found ourselves in a room scattered with second-hand furniture. People were sitting in a circle and they halted their discussion.

It turned out we had interrupted a fiction class, but we were in the right place. I looked around the room. Bookshelves with books were everywhere in this dim but comfortable room. I was thrilled! The Loft was a great find for me then as a young writer, eager to learn that there was a place in the Twin Cities that supported writers.

Writing for me has always been about discovery. Part of that discovery was learning who I was as a writer.

After graduating from high school, I attended the University of Minnesota and majored in English. I was fortunate to take classes from poets and writers like Michael Dennis Browne and Patricia Hampl, who were good teachers as well as good writers.

In 1985 Mollie Hoben and Glenda Martin started a biweekly newspaper about women for women known as the Minnesota Women’s Press. I was fortunate again to be one of the many writers who were part of the publication’s debut. This year marks its 25th anniversary.

In 1987, I moved to Maine for a few years and learned that Maine also had a writers’ center. After I contacted them and said I was from Minnesota, the first thing they asked was, “Do you know about the Loft?” My association with the Loft led me to write an article for their newsletter.

It was not until I returned to Minnesota and started taking Split Rock summer classes from the University of Minnesota that I realized the importance of a writers’ retreat where I could work for a week without distraction. That is when I churned out pages of memoir and flash fiction and returned with a new vigor to my creative work. I have been taking these retreats for 12 years now, forming new relationships with fellow writers, some of whom still regularly meet with me to write.

A very good writing friend of mine recently observed that writing for me has always been about community. I hadn’t thought about that idea until then, but she was right. There has always been that drive in me to write about people doing extraordinary things, whether it is polar explorer Ann Bancroft; youth with disabilities leading wilderness adventures; Cheerful Givers, an organization that helps children living in poverty celebrate birthdays; or residents of my neighborhood: a local musician or an elderly woman reminiscing about her teenage years working at the Hollywood Theater in the 1950s. But it has also been about encouraging others to write by hosting readings in the community; the most recent event was an intergenerational reading featuring writers as young as 10 and as old as 89.

Knowing that writing needed to be an integral part of my life, I have taken every opportunity to expand my writing time by asking fellow writers for regular writing dates (one friend and I are going on seven years of writing weekly) or forming a weekly writers’ group (now going on four years) and assigning writing prompts with new writing shared at each meeting. From the support of this group, I have managed to squeeze out a few published pieces. Writing has integrated itself into my daily life. I have taken my writing seriously enough to make sure my life supports it just as I support my own family.

And just last week, my 17-year-old niece asked me for feedback. Reading her writing was like looking back into my old notebooks. Her work was full of the same teenage passion and unbridled creativity I remember in myself. And that sense of urgency to get words on paper is still true today. My response to those pieces was, “You go, girl!”

There are many reasons why people write, and as writers there are many stories we can tell and places we can go with our writing, but the most important thing is that we go.

Since taking the writer’s path, I have been on an incredible journey, taking more steps into unknown territory that I may never have taken if it hadn’t been for that curious place known as the Loft.