Plainview writer Jon Hassler’s legacy endures – PostBulletin.com
Does his childhood home still know him?
With more than a dozen people attending a reading of Hassler’s memoir, “Days Like Smoke,” at the Community Center in Plainview, the answer appears to be yes — for now.
Ian Leask, publisher at Edina-based Afton Press, said he intends to keep Hassler’s legacy alive.
“He is the most powerful Minnesota novelist there is,” Leask said. “He represents the calm, quiet, studious, high-integrity sense of who we think we are in Minnesota.”
Hassler moved to Plainview at age 10, and stayed there after graduating from high school in 1951. He won recognition for his work and was a regents professor emeritus and writer-in-residence at St. John’s University in Collegeville.
So why would Plainview forget a successful former resident?
Small towns are changing, and the people interested in reading about life in them are dwindling, Leask explained.
Emilio DeGrazia, professor emeritus of English at Winona State University, who was part of the reading panel, said as towns and the farms around them change, people’s sense of connection to the place and its history diminishes.
Across the street from the center where the reading was held, the former Jon Hassler Theater and Rural American Arts Center building now sits empty, after closing in 2014. Hassler died in 2008 at age 74.
“I just don’t want to see (Hassler) go out of print and get forgotten,” Leask said.
Even in the 1990s, when Hassler was alive and writing, people said trying to build a connection between Plainview and Hassler was an uphill battle.
Ken Flies, formerly of Plainview, got to know Hassler, who was about 10 years his senior. Flies moved back to Plainview in the mid-’90s and was asked by town leaders to generate tourism ideas for Plainview. Flies suggested Hassler, whose works he became familiar with through stage adaptations.
“They said, Jon who?” Flies recalled.
Despite that, Hassler’s childhood home was saved from demolition. Flies asked Sally Childs, founder of Twin Cities-based Lyric Theater, to bring a production of “Dear James” she adapted for the stage to Plainview. It was performed to a standing-room-only crowd in a church.
“They didn’t have a theater or auditorium back then,” Childs said.
Childs took on the role of artistic director of the Jon Hassler Theater when it was established in Plainview by Sally and Dean Harrington.
Childs said she could sense Hassler’s affection for Plainview from his writing.
“He turned the people in Plainview into interesting, well-rounded characters,” she said.