Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

‘Tales of Block E’ is a subject dear to local author’s heart

Posted on 28 August 2017 by calvin

Photo and story by JAN WILLMS
William Burleson 2Characters come to life in Longfellow author William E. Burleson’s recently published book “Tales of Block E: Stories from 1979 on the Most Notorious Block in Minneapolis.”

Burleson (photo right) has put three short stories into the book, and what results is a rich and insightful description of the area in Minneapolis that Burleson said was called “The Hennepin Stretch.” Block E was between 7th and 6th streets, and Hennepin and First avenues. He describes various businesses that were prominent in that neighborhood, such as Moby Dick’s, Shinders and the Venice Café. And the characters who inhabit that section of Minneapolis, although fictional, are drawn from people who were familiar to Burleson as he grew up around Block E.

Burleson, who wrote quite a bit while studying architecture at the University of Minnesota, left writing behind as he pursued a career. But 15 years ago, he returned to writing and will soon publish his 18th short story. He has written a book about the unique struggles of the bi-sexual community, and he has two novel manuscripts, one called “Avenue,” also about Block E, and “Ahnwee Days,” about a small town that has seen better days and a mayor who tries to save it.

He has written numerous fiction and non-fiction pieces for literary journals and magazines.

But his youth spent on Block E has been a special subject for him. “I liked writing about Block E; I had so much intersection with it when I was younger,” Burleson said. He grew up on 24th and 3rd Ave., where his family served as caretakers of a small museum that still exists by the Minneapolis Art Institute. “We lived on the grounds, and I played in the parking lot,” he noted. Then his family moved to a farm for five years until they returned to Minneapolis, on 18th and LaSalle.

“I was an extremely poor kid,” Burleson said. “I had a single mother who worked in a nursing home kitchen.” When Burleson got a job working at the World Theater for minimum wage, he was proud to have it. “Most of the people I knew never had jobs, and nobody went to college,” he recalled.

“I belonged on Block E at that time. I don’t want to romanticize it because that is easy to do. It wasn’t a good place, but it had a lot of flavor.”

“It is a community. That’s what I saw when I lived there,” he said.

After writing several successful nonfiction pieces, Burleson said he thought fiction would be easy. “I was having so much fun writing nonfiction, I thought surely everyone would want to read my fiction,” he explained. “No, they didn’t. So it took me a while to get going on that.”

“Fiction and nonfiction are completely different,” he continued. “For both, I still need to rattle my fingers on a keyboard, and I still have to be able to form a sentence. But with nonfiction, the interest is in the topic. For fiction, I have nothing more than the words. It has to live or die on the words.”

“I had no idea. I love it, but it is so much more challenging. Every sentence needs to be polished to the finest buff I can get it. Every twist of a phrase is important.”

Burleson said that being a writer makes one a god of his own universe. However, the characters in a story have free will. “You may create a character, but you are surprised at the direction that character takes you in. It happens all the time. They say things and do things that surprise you and become their own beings. You have to honor it. They are living, breathing people; if they are not, something is wrong, and they are flat. They have complex motives and desires; they succeed sometimes, and sometimes not—just like us. That’s the goal,” he continued, “to get the reader to care about the characters and all the sub-stories, little ambitions and quirks they have. All have to be present, or they are not rounded human beings.”
According to Burleson, nonfiction is easier to sell. “There is a glut of fiction out there, and the world is full of writers. It’s a difficult marketplace,” he said. With that in mind, he said that today can be a most difficult time and also a most wonderful time to be a writer.

“It is so much easier to write with computers and structurally easier to do. But there is a lot more out there, which makes it a lot harder to get published. And big publishers don’t work with new writers much anymore.”

He said being a writer comes through blood, sweat, and tears. “You just keep trying,” he stated. “You try your luck with contests, online magazines, and online fiction websites through some of the colleges. Writing is fingers on the keyboard, a physical activity, and everything else is secondary.”

Burleson said that if anyone at a writing conference tells how to write a book, you should not listen to them. “There is no one way,” he claimed. “There are people called pantsers, who write by the seat of their pants. They sit down and just start writing, and they write to the end. Then there are plotters, who lay it all out. One of my favorite authors, Richard Russo, spends six to ten months writing an outline, ends up with the outline being 80 pages long. Then he fleshes it out and has his story.”

“When I write short stories, I often pants it out. I have a situation in mind, but the ending is the hard part.”

Burleson works for the state in communications and does his personal writing on weekends and evenings at favorite coffee shops. He said he loves his day job, which also involves writing. “They have to pay me, but if I could write all day long, I would be doing it. I would spend my day drinking coffee and sitting at the Fire Roast, Riverview Café or Lake Coffee House. I have to be out, and have to have chaos and music.”

He said Minneapolis is an incredible place for writers, with the Loft offering workshops and bringing in well-known authors and different groups of writers forming a community. He is currently working with other writers on an anthology of Lake St.

“I have two writing groups now, and we read each other’s work and see the blind spots and talk. Writing can be a community project.”

Reflecting back on Tales of Block E, Burleson said that what he hopes readers get from his book is that this was a desperate block, a poor block, and a lot of unattractive things happened there. “But,” he said, “people were trying to get ahead. They were trying to get a better life for themselves.”

Book event scheduled for Sept. 15
A book event for William E. Burleson, author of “Tales of Block E: Stories from 1979 on the Most Notorious Block in Minneapolis” and Peter Koeleman, author of “Eagles of Longfellow,” will be held Sept. 15 from 4-7pm at Dunn Brothers Coffee, 4648 E. Lake St., and Corazon Gifts, 4646 E. Lake.

Both local authors will be on hand to answer questions and talk about their books. Coffee will be served at Dunn Brothers along with some snacks, and wine will be available at Corazon. Reading and questions will start at 5:30pm. Books will be available for purchase, and there will be an opportunity to interact with the authors.

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