Remembering Brenda Ueland's Words


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Last January I received an email from a Minneapolis city planner informing me that a demolition permit has been submitted for the house of writer, feminist, and activist Brenda Ueland.

Brenda’s home, demolished!? How could they? Brenda was one of Minnesota’s best-known and most beloved writers. Tearing down her house, the place she lived and wrote for the last three decades of her life, (1954-1985), would be like tearing down her friend Upton Sinclair’s house in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s house across the river in St. Paul. How could they even consider such a sacrilege?

For me, this was personal. Brenda was my step-grandmother. During the last couple years of Brenda’s life I turned time and again to her for advice and counsel about everything from how to be a good husband, a loving father, and a real man, to how to make a difference in the world. Brenda’s encouragement helped me start the Utne Reader.

The city planner’s message turned my world upside down. For the next 11 weeks I dived into a full-out effort to save Brenda’s house. My life was all Brenda, all the time — day, night, and in the middle of the night. I sent email alerts to the people on the neighborhood distribution lists where she lived, and wrote personal letters to writers, scholars, and historians around the world, asking them to testify as to Brenda’s historical significance. Scores did.

I joined a group of neighbors and Brenda fans to form the BUGS (Brenda Ueland’s Gang of Seven) to save the house. We created a Save Brenda’s House Facebook page. Two of the BUGS hired a preservation lawyer. Midnight phone calls, sidewalk demonstrations, letters to the media, backyard confrontations, and lobbying city hall all followed.

Mysterious interventions from “over Yonder” occurred. I consider them grace notes. I was frequently reminded of Brenda’s words:

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