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Suzann Nelson, humorist and author, says she has several sections in her brain. These are roughly divided into Norwegian, Nerd-dom, and Nonsense and each section holds predominance for 10 to 12 years. After graduating from high school in Evansville MN, she attended and graduated from Augsburg College. She also studied at the University of Oslo and did considerable graduate work at the University of Minnesota.
She directed Skogfjorden, Concordia College’s Norwegian Language Village in the ’70’s, and the Northern Minnesota Citizens League in the ’80’s and early ’90’s. She says that part way through 1994, the Nerd-dom part of her brain was overtaken by the Norwegian and Nonsense sections. Naturally, she called one of her old college friends, Janet Letnes Martin, for guidance. (At that time, Janet had authored five books, including Lutheran Church Basement Women). That guidance led Suzann straight to the kitchen table where she and Janet began drinking coffee and laughing right out loud! One of them happened to have a pencil handy and in the next six months Suzann and Janet wrote, published and distributed three books.
Many laughs and gallons of coffee later, they formed their own publishing company, ‘Caragana Press.’ It was named after the Caragana hedges found at farms throughout the Midwest. (Both Suzann and Janet had picked the “pea pods” from the hedges as little girls and fed them to their dolls). Since then they have co-authored and published six more books, and they have a laundry tub full of ideas for more. Suzann says, “I write for money and therapy, and I need plenty of both!”
One of their books, Growing Up Lutheran, won the Minnesota Book Award for Humor and has been made into a wonderful musical, Church Basement Ladies. It opened at the Plymouth Playhouse in September, 2005 and will run through December, 2006.
Along with writing and publishing books, these two 100 percent Norwegian-Lutheran farm girls design and market humorous products (hotdish trivets, dishtowels and t-shirts) which complement their stories and trigger fond memories…and they are working on a new book, Growing Up Rural, and a sequel to the musical.
Suzann also presents lots of programs for organizations and conventions. She calls her favorite presentation “Hotpads, Hotdishes and Hotflashes: How we got the way we are.” She figures it’s her job to jog people’s memories, and their job to laugh. So far this arrangement has worked out well. When she and Janet perform together they are known as Those Lutheran Ladies.
Suzann has lived in Grand Rapids, MN since 1980. She hopes that she will never become as famous as Grand Rapids-born Judy Garland because Suzann doesn’t want her house moved to the south end of town to become part of a museum. She says if she had to keep her house open to tourists six days a week, she’d have to spend all her time dusting and starching doilies and she’d have to trade in her flannel nightgown for some real clothes!
Like almost every other practical person, Suzann’s goals have changed. Her goal used to be “to sit by a pool and endorse checks.” But at this point in her life Suzann says, “All I want is to sell enough books and hotflash hankies to keep my utility and mortgage bills paid and to remember where I tossed my checkbook so I can pay them.”
Suzann and Janet often gave programs individually and together. When performing together they were known as ‘Those Lutheran Ladies’.