The Coffee House Press Writers and Readers Library Residency Program

In The Stacks with Hans Weyandt: Miniatures

Within the bounty of the Special Collections there is a sub-category that I never figured out how to accurately search for. Through sheer luck I stumbled upon two books in the catalog whose titles intrigued me.

The first is by Mark Twain and its title, The Shame Is Ours, was something I’d never heard of. I figured that I’m no Twain scholar and that it was possible there was another work of his I haven’t read. When I arrived the next morning Bailey had already pulled all of the 25 books I’d requested the previous day. On top of the cart were two small envelopes with call letters written on them. I opened one and found the Twain. It is something that could fit in a jewelry box and, probably, that is where it belongs. It has a basic, speckled, cover with title only. This was toward the last days of the Ferguson, MO disaster. It felt quite right for me to read this little work. It’s not a book in the most basic sense. It’s a letter from Twain to the head of Yale’s Law School informing him that, if Warner T. McGuinn, one of the first African-American students at Yale Law School, was admitted, Twain would cover the expenses. It is a small treatise on race and that we are still, very clearly, struggling with.

The second mini book was a small blue book titled Historic American Flags. It easily fit in the palm of my hand and each image was an old stamp. All of them were pretty—many versions of the Stars and Stripes. My two favorites are probably the First Navy Jack from 1775 that includes the now Tea Party hijacked snake and ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ statement. The second is also from 1775 and is the Washington Cruiser’s flag with a simple evergreen tree and the words ‘An Appeal to Heaven.’

Most of the smaller offerings in Special Collections are scattershot and have no easily recognizable theme. Bailey told me there are a couple hundred of these mini books. I’m glad two found their way to me. I’ll be back to search out more.

Hans Weyandt is currently a writer-in-residence at the Central branch of the Hennepin County Library. Hans has worked at four independent bookstores in St. Paul and Minneapolis over the past 15 years. He is the former co-owner of Micawber’s Books and the editor of “Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores” published by Coffee House Press. He currently works at Sea Salt Eatery, Moon Palace Books and Big Bell Ice Cream.

Join us at Central library tomorrow at 6:15 pm for a tour of the collection and a conversation with Hans. Visit our Facebook event page for more info.

In The Stacks with Hans Weyandt: A Temple for the Mind

I’ve been in the library’s Special Collections for three of the past four days it has been open, trying to find its pace and rhythm if there is such a thing. And the idea I’ve come to is that this room and its contents are a kind of spiritual home for me. While not a sacred space in the usual sense, it is one for me. I’ve been in truly spiritual places: mosques and cathedrals, Mt. Masada and the Holy Sepulchre—-and found in them beauty and been awed by their history. But none have made me feel an overall sense of peace. So at the risk of seeming outrageously blasphemous I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that this place, and its boundless information and art, are a kind of temple for my mind.

Taking a step back, it was starting to dawn on me that one of the main goals for any artistic residency is a concrete project at work. The main problem with this, from my standpoint, is that I’m not an artist. I can’t draw or paint at all—almost everything I saw in my son Elliott’s kindergarten classroom last year was far beyond what I could ever hope to put on paper. Eireann Lorsung, in the previous CHP In The Stacks residency, put together a Book of Hours that is its own work of art.

So the reality of what I was doing—being in this place and perusing—was seeming a little, um, not artistically productive in a concrete way. I’ve read “Leaves of Grass” in its entirety in one sitting and I’ve stumbled through a decent portion of the 1,067 maps in Special Collections (each of them expertly cataloged with title, creator, contributor(s), and a fairly in-depth description). That’s fine, I suppose, and an awful lot of fun—but what does it achieve?

So I’ve gotten away from the idea of producing something and become okay with the idea of acting as an ambassador for the Special Collections. There are people, and I have been at various points in my life, who want the things they love to remain hidden. A band, a restaurant, a tiny part of the city that you don’t want discovered by the masses. Yet I want nothing of the sort for this place. I want more people to come see it for whatever reasons they choose. Maybe to research their family history or to learn about their neighborhood. Maybe to read some Walt Whitman. Or to dip into the pleasures in Lamb’s Royal Cookery published in 1710. If we think food porn is a relatively new fad, this book disabuses that idea immediately.

Maybe these new visitors will spend some time looking at some of the handmade books by local artists. I cannot stop looking at, and admiring, What It’s Like Here by Jim Moore. The poem itself is a treat and the art of the book makes it all the better. As a bookseller, one of my true hopes was to point more ‘normal’ people to poetry. Most people find it obtuse or too arty or whatever. And those things can be true. There is also, however, a great joy in sitting down with a poem of Whitman’s or of Jim Moore’s that slows us down and makes us appreciate the care and attention that went into creating it.

A former professor of mine, who was also a Benedictine monk, once told me that a prayer can begin with almost anything. “I celebrate myself…” is about as good as anything as far as I’m concerned. And its one part of what has made this place seem holy to me in its own way. Or, if that is taking matters a bit too far, it is certainly part of my own practice of mindfulness. Anyways, it’s better than yoga, for me, because it doesn’t require the tight black pants.

Hans Weyandt is currently a writer-in-residence at the Central branch of the Hennepin County Library. Hans has worked at four independent bookstores in St. Paul and Minneapolis over the past 15 years. He is the former co-owner of Micawber’s Books and the editor of “Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores” published by Coffee House Press. He currently works at Sea Salt Eatery, Moon Palace Books and Big Bell Ice Cream.

Join us Thursday, September 18th at 6:15 pm for a tour of the collection and a conversation with Hans.. Visit our Facebook event page for more info.