A Homecoming: Steve McCown headlines return of writers series


Nathan Kronbeck

The First Tuesday Laureate Writers Series was returned on Oct. 4 at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse after a two year hiatus.

Gabriel Hathaway, Editor-In-Chief

The return of First Tuesday Laureate Writers Series was off to a rough start last Tuesday Oct. 4, as the doors to the Blue Heron Coffeehouse were locked and lights were off when people started arriving. This did not deter participants, Steve McCown, the headlining poet, joked they would have the reading right there on the sidewalk. Shortly after saying so, a semi roared down Second Street drowning out any further comments. Luckily, before long someone arrived with keys and the event was able to commence at 7 p.m.

This evening marked the grand return for the First Tuesday Laureate Writers Series which had been on a two year hiatus because of COVID-19. The event was also a homecoming for Steve McCown, who grew up in Winona and attended Winona State University for his undergrad. 

McCown’s surname will likely ring a bell for many students and faculty at Winona State who may first think of McCown Gym. The McCown gymnasium in Memorial Hall was named after Steve’s father, Luther McCown, who served as Winona State’s athletic director for 29 years (1948-1966). 

Steve McCown is himself an accomplished writer and teacher. McCown graduated from Winona State University and earned a master’s degree in English at Northern Arizona University. McCown has taught English and drama for 30 years in California and Arizona since then.

First Tuesday Laureate Writers Series was created by Emilio DeGrazia and Ken McCullough, two previous Winona poet laureates, and has been running for more than a decade. The honor of poet laureate has been around since Chaucer, according to McCullough, but in Winona, the city appointed position has been around since Fall 2007. The job of a poet laureate is to promote art and poetry through a variety of events, activities, speakers and more. 

“It is spreading the word, in the beginning it was the word and there is some alchemy in the word,” McCullough said. 

DeGrazia, a former English professor at Winona State, opened the event quipping that McCown was a brat from one of his classes. After that introduction, McCown took over and thanked the organizers for the opportunity and started in.

“T.S. Eliot wrote something once that has always stuck with me over the years. He wrote: ‘After all our journeys we come back to the place where we started and know it for the first time.’ Even though I grew up in Winona and went to high school and college here, I really didn’t know Winona until I moved away from it,” McCown said.

McCown went on to read several poems of Winona from his youth. Many of the places may be familiar to the audience, Latsch Island, fallout shelters under Winona State, a dump and a swamp where Westfield Golf Course is now. McCown reflected on these places and other places and experiences he’s had throughout several poems.  

First Tuesday Laureate Writers Series has hosted a wide range of speakers beyond just poets. In the past the event has hosted novelists, journalists, poets from everywhere, Winona locals and more. McCullough commented how the event is not strictly academic and that they try to invite a variety of speakers.

A crowd of people waited outside as the doors of the coffeehouse stayed locked. First Tuesday Laureate Writers Series was created by Emilio DeGrazia and Ken McCullough, two previous Winona poet laureates, and has been running for more than a decade. (Nathan Kronbeck)

“In general we have invited people that we may have some connection with, but in general is it not an academic connection,” McCullough said.

Once McCown finished his reading, there was a 10 minute break then an open mic. McCullough explained why the open mic is so important.

“I think it is important just to have a venue for one thing where we have an open mic,” MuCullough said. “The open mic is this part ‘B’ of the laureate series and bringing in writers outside of the academic community is important.” 

This event was sponsored by the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, in cooperation with the Blue Heron Coffeehouse.

The First Tuesday Laureate Writers Series has a promising future with continued events every month. The next laureate series will be on Nov. 9 and will feature Kimberly Blaeser, a poet laureate and author of five poetry collections. The next day Blaeser will also speak at Winona State.