Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chuck Haga Says Goodbye

A writer I've long considered the Ring Lardner or Damon Runyon of North Dakota, my home state, is retiring from the Grand Forks Herald newspaper after 40 years of writing on deadline for both the Herald as well as the Minneapolis Star Tribune. His name is Chuck Haga, and you've likely never heard of him if you've never read either newspaper. 

That's too bad. You've missed out on some fine writing. 

Chuck Haga might have written for a relatively small, regional newspaper when he wrote for the Herald, but his columns, features and reporting on that "large, rectangular blank spot in the nation's mind," as Eric Sevareid, another North Dakota newsman, once dubbed mine and Chuck's motherland, transcended their roots every bit as much as, say, Alice Munro's short stories transcend her rural Canada. 

I'm not saying Chuck deserves the Nobel Prize, which Ms. Munro just won, but if it were up to me--yeah, I'd give it to him. 

I started reading the Grand Forks Herald religiously back in the 70's and 80's because of Chuck's funny, humane columns that were written with Steinbeckian heart and bucolic simplicity. They related even to me at thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old. How extraordinary for this hayseed wannabe scribe to find a “real” writer from my hometown writing about this dreary backwater and making it much more than a blank spot on my own consciousness! 

Chuck made North Dakota in general and the Red River Valley in particular, seem like a real place--like Huck Finn's Mississippi and Ahab's big, chilly North Atlantic. My provincial home country with its long, cold, bland winters and its ice fisherman's and hockey player's one-dimensional reality was given the same sort of significance as Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

The dimension of Ray Bradbury's Mars...

Having early on found Chuck Haga's newspaper work meaningful as well as entertaining and artful, I've over the ensuing years sought out other newspaper writers to my great enjoyment and enrichment. I can honestly say that I've learned as much about the world and the craft of straight-forward writing from Joseph Mitchell, A.J. Liebling, Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, and Mike Royko, just to name a few other newspaper writers whom I admire, as I've learned from the novels of, say, Ernest Hemingway.

And I have Chuck Haga to thank for that.

Funny how just because a guy or gal writes on deadline on pulp newsprint, he's less esteemed. Well, it ain't right. If you ever get a chance to read Chuck Haga's flowing columns about real people in a real place, you'll see that it is so.

I hope Chuck isn't really retiring but that he's merely leaving the Herald to start a brand new writing career. Or maybe to collect his columns into one, big, fat, entertaining book.

For a sample of Chuck's writing, click here to read his farewell column in the Grand Forks Herald.

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