Author Deborah Jacobs
Gathering “kindness stones” with her grandchildren has inspired her most recent work—Stone Gathering: A Reader
WRITTEN BY Laurel M. Hall
LIFE PASSIONS: WE ALL HAVE THEM. However, it is rare for an individual to see their life’s passion come to fruition. But that’s exactly what Deborah Jacobs has been able to do.
In her new quarterly literary anthology, Stone Gathering: A Reader, Jacobs, a Brainerd Lakes Area native, has in her retirement embarked on a new mission: to get short-form literature into as many readers’ hands as possible. Stone Gathering is designed to be portable. It is a compact book with a velvety gray softcover; each issue is paired with an original photograph by a local photographer reflecting the natural beauty of Minnesota. Stone Gathering contains about twenty pieces of short fiction, short essays, and poetry—all fewer than four pages in length. The pieces have almost exclusively been published in other venues previously. Contributors for the first two issues have included such esteemed writers as Bao Phi, Linda LeGarde Grover, Ross Gay, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Wendell Berry.
It is of utmost importance to Jacobs that short-form literature—or “little lit,” as she affectionately calls it—not be reserved for the halls of academia, but instead be accessible to everyday readers in their daily lives. Not that there’s anything wrong with academia or Masters of Fine Arts programs and the work they produce, she emphasizes, but preconceived notions often put a limit on who can be enriched by it. Jacobs
has made it her mission to bring this literature to the people who think poetry, short fiction, or short essays aren’t for them—certain that it isn’t too difficult and one doesn’t need advanced training to appreciate it.
Jacobs strongly believes that she is uniquely equipped to do this particular work at this time in her life. Her background, as a literature professor and writer, gives her confidence: “There is a sense that everything in my life has led to this point and I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I have the skills and tools to find literature that will appeal to many people, not just those in academia.” She formed Danielle Dufy Literary—an homage to her chosen name in high school French class—and its imprint French Press Editions in 2018 to create a home for Stone Gathering.
To say that Jacobs is committed to the local community would be an understatement. To make her vision of Stone Gathering a reality, she enlisted the expertise of Chip and Jean Borkenhagen of River Place Press in Aitkin, which Jacobs says has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole process. Bang Printing of Brainerd creates the final physical product, and Jacobs has traveled thousands of miles to directly sell her publication to local, independent booksellers and other book-friendly businesses. A person interested in obtaining a copy may order a subscription online, but it will never find a home on Amazon or at a big box store. For Jacobs, it’s all about building relationships with the readers and booksellers.
“I knew I would have to move at my own pace, build my own readership, and connect to readers one by one,” Jacobs said.
To increase Stone Gathering’s reach and accessibility, she has been holding pop-up book club events that don’t require attendees to read the material beforehand. Instead, participants each take a turn reading a piece from Stone Gathering and reflecting on its meaning for them. At heart, she says, “I am not a salesperson—I am a lover of language and a professor.”
While talking with Jacobs, her excitement for the project is palpable. “They say work isn’t work if you love what you do.” Her oldest grandson loves to page through the Stone Gathering (too young yet to understand the poetry and prose within) and asks her about the pieces and their contributors. “Is that work?” Jacobs asks, rhetorically. “Everything I do is part of it, and it is part of everything.”
Living in the Nisswa woods north of Brainerd, Jacobs finds the natural world a source of joy and wonder. The first issue of Stone Gathering opens with the poem “Perhaps You Can Hear It?” by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, which extols “an open field” and “the sincerity of wild strawberries.” Stone Gathering was named for the joy and anticipation inherent in giving away kindness rocks. What are kindness rocks? Small, palm-sized stones that have been found, painted with an inspiring or joyful message, and placed in spots where strangers are apt to find them or gift to a loved one; a small act of kindness paid forward to another human being. Jacobs enjoys creating kindness rocks with her grandchildren: wandering the lakeshore to find just the right stone and choosing a message to paint. She writes about how similar to poetry and other “little lit” these rocks can be: “these small writings can be pocketed, held, studied, meditated upon, shared, or kept as treasures.”
Stone Gathering: A Reader is available by subscription at danielledufy.com
and as individual copies at local independent bookstores and book- friendly businesses.
The Friends of the Brainerd Public Library will host Jacobs for a reading and discussion of Stone Gathering: A Reader at the Brainerd Public Library on Monday, March 2 at 12 noon. The public is welcome at this free event—accessible to all who wish to join.
As much as she promotes local independent bookstores, Deborah Jacobs is a fan of local food, too. Here are her picks for the best of northern Minnesota eats:
- Three Cheers restaurants: Prairie Bay in Baxter, Iron Range Eatery in Crosby, Sherwood Forest in Nisswa, and Dock 77 at the Quarterdeck Resort in Nisswa.
- Cheeseburgers at The Fort in Fort Ripley
- Veggie Fajitas at El Tequila in Baxter
- Udom’s Thai in Hackensack
Recommended Short Fiction and Poetry
Once you’ve read Stone Gathering, you may find yourself convinced to try other sources of “little lit.” Here are Deborah Jacobs’ recommendations.
- Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl
- The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
- Tiny Crimes: Very Short Tales of Mystery and Murder edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto