Sweet Connections: Karen Babine

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Karen Babine
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Midsommar Dag
Issue: 8.3

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Based out of the Twin Cities, Karen teaches composition at North Hennepin Community College. She also travels around the country in her Scamp Camper. Sounds like a great pastime! You can find out more about her at www.karenbabine.com, and www.assayjournal.com.

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

My second book, All the Wild Hungers, which contains the piece that Sweet published will be released in early January 2019 (open for preorders now!) and that’s been really exciting.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

My next project is about the 2014 Scamping trip I took by myself from Minnesota to Nova Scotia to research my dad’s family, who were among the first French Acadians to Nova Scotia in the 1600s. It’s been fun to revisit that trip, especially in light of my niece and elder nephew being old enough to go camping with me by themselves.

Babine scamping

Who is your favorite author?

Paul Gruchow is my all-time favorite, particularly Boundary Waters, as it was the first book I ever read that taught me that I could write about Minnesota, I could write about rural Minnesota, it could be published, and people could care. I didn’t have to write about more exciting places. I was a sophomore in college at the time and it was the most important moment of my writing life. Right now, though, I’m revisiting Boundary Waters, as well as Sigurd F. Olson’s writing about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the 1950s, as Olson (and his writing about the place) was instrumental in getting it protected. It’s really important right now, as various protections for the place are being repealed by the current administration, to think about the relationship between writing about place and advocacy.

Honorable Mentions go to Tim Robinson, my favorite Irish essayist, and my current favorite books these days are Julija Sukys’ Siberian Exile and Elizabeth Rush’s Rising.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Since I’ve spent so much time in Irish literature over the course of my career, most of my favorite poems come from that direction. My favorite poem is William Butler Yeats’ “The Stolen Child,” which is the only poem I have completely memorized, but I’ve got a soft spot for James Russell Lowell’s “The First Snowfall,” which my grandma used to recite any time it snowed. My favorite poems seems to be event-specific like that. My favorite story is on that line between story/novella—Andrea Barrett’s “Ship Fever,” which is about that horrible summer of 1848 on Grosse Ile, Quebec. I’m particularly drawn to any work that has a deep connection, in one way or another, to the natural world and the way it exerts itself on the humans that find themselves there.

What inspires you to write?

It’s amazing how I don’t really believe in inspiration anymore, as I used to, the flurry of an idea and writing so fast so I wouldn’t forget. A lot of my work is research based, as even that provides really essential questions for me to explore. These days, I’m much more of the mind of the novelist Will Weaver, who once told me, when I asked him if he kept a writing schedule: “Yes, because it would be a shame if the angel of fiction showed up and I wasn’t there.” I try to keep to a schedule of Morning Pages, three longhand pages before I do anything else in the day, which is sometimes hard to maintain during the semester, but it’s the work of being a writer—and that always feels good, even if I don’t get anything earthshattering from it.

What is your favorite Sweet?

I really love to cook—and bake—which is one thing that made All the Wild Hungers so much fun to work on. I kept finding expensive cast iron pots and pans, as well as Nordicware cake pans, in my thrift stores at ridiculous prices, and that gave me a canvas. I’ve taken over the spare bedroom with my implements, which I’ve started calling the Cook Nook, which is now a running joke in the family. My favorite cake is probably Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Perfect Pound Cake, which is indeed perfect, and the last time I messed with it, I wanted to replicate a really good Bailey’s Raspberry Truffle ice cream I had, so I replaced the milk in the recipe with Baileys, then made a ribbon in the middle of the cake with raspberries and chocolate. It was insanely good. Today, I’m taking advantage of the fresh zucchini a friend gave me and I’m making a coconut lime zucchini cake in my Citrus Slice pan. Should be good!

Karen dessert

Remind us to come visit you the next time you are in a baking mood!

Thank you, Karen, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

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