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Big Names Highlight Good Thunder Reading Series

Series season begins with Roxane Gay visiting Sept. 10.

Robb Murray, Mankato Free Press, 9-3-2015

It would be definite understatement to say Diana Joseph is excited about the 2015-16 Good Thunder Reading Series.

Sitting outside the student union on a picture perfect day at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Joseph rattles off the names of the writers lined up to come, including Lynda Barry, the Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist, PHemingway Foundation Award winner Susan Power (no, that’s not a typo, it’s actually called the PHemingway Foundation) and, of course, Roxane Gay.

“Do you know how lucky we are to have her?” Joseph says, leaning in close like she’s revealing a secret. “I booked her five seconds before she exploded.”

Roxane Gay (pictured) is one of the country’s emerging and most powerful essayists, and just days after booking her to come to Mankato, she began garnering the kind of accolades that, had Joseph tried to book her a few weeks later, might have meant she wouldn’t be coming to Mankato (or at the very least would have meant a higher booking fee.) But, alas, the writing gods looked favorably upon Good Thunder — the annual reading series that for decades has brought great writers to town — and Gay will, indeed, be in Mankato. And soon. She’s the first marquee writer on the schedule with an appearance set for Sept. 10.

Joseph’s excitement isn’t some sort of solitary admiration. Critics everywhere — OK, well, maybe not everywhere, but A LOT of critics — have sung Gay’s praises:

  • “There are writers who can show you the excellence of their brains and writers who show you the depths of their souls: I don’t know any writer who does both at the same time as brilliantly as Roxane Gay. Bad Feminist shows this extraordinary writer’s range–in essays about Scrabble, violence, fairy tales, race, The Hunger Games, longing, and Sweet Valley Confidential, Gay is alternately hilarious, full of righteous anger, confiding, moving: Bad Feminist is like staying up agreeing and arguing with the smartest person you ever met. Stop reading this blurb. Start reading this book.” — Elizabeth McCracken, author of “Thunderstruck and Other Stories
  • “Roxane Gay is so great at weaving the intimate and personal with what is most bewildering and upsetting at this moment in culture. She is always looking, always thinking, always passionate, always careful, always right there.” — Sheila Heti, author of “How Should a Person Be?”

And Time Magazine in 2014 said, “Let this be the year of Roxane Gay.”

It is her collection of essays titled “Bad Feminist” that has catapulted her to national prominence.

Her unique writing voice and command of the language make her a perfect fit, Joseph says, for the Good Thunder brand.

Just a few weeks later, another literary superstar comes to town.

“I am bounce-off-the-walls excited about Lynda Barry,” Joseph said.

Lynda Barry has become well known in writing circles for the writing workshops she holds.

But she’s been well known nationally for her comic strip, “Ernie Pook’s Comeek.” She’s also written three graphic novels — “The Good Times are Killing Me,” “Cruddy,” and “One! Hundred! Demons!” She’s also published a memoir-ish book called “What it is,” and it is this work on which she bases her creativity-inducing writing workshops.

That book has won the comics industry’s 2009 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.

She was briefly involved romantically — not that this has anything to do with anything — with Ira Glass of This American Life fame.

Also, she’s been a vocal opponent of wind turbines, and has advocated for better, more clear regulations regarding their use in residential areas.

Barry will be doing the writing workshop in Mankato that has Joseph so excited. In fact, she requested additional time.

Usually, writers who come to do Good Thunder Reading Series talks are booked for an hour for the afternoon workshop. Barry, however, is scheduled for a workshop that will run two and a half hours. Beyond the visiting writers, the Good Thunder Reader Series plans to continue and expand its community outreach initiatives. This year they’ll be working with Wilbur Frink and her Aktion Club Theater, a nonprofit organization that works with adults with developmental challenges.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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