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Poetry opened the doors: Hedin honored for his written works and for creating a center that fosters others' works

Anderson Center Executive Director Robert Hedin will receive the Sexton Award for his literary contributions, both personal and professional.

For Robert Hedin, receiving the Kay Sexton Award is not about his writing skills. Rather, it is recognition of the role the Anderson Center plays in promoting literacy in Minnesota.

Hedin will receive the Sexton Award April 13 at the 25th annual Minnesota Book Awards Gala in Minneapolis. It is presented annually to an individual or organization in recognition of longstanding dedication and outstanding work in fostering books, reading and literary activity in the state.

Hedin, a local poet, editor and translator, is the founding director of the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, which is in its 18th year as the largest artist community in the Upper Midwest.

He has received numerous awards for his writing, including two Minnesota Book Awards, and has edited the Great River Review, a literary journal launched in 1977 at Winona State University and moved to the Anderson Center in 1997.

"The award is well deserved," said Sean Dowse, executive director of the Sheldon Theatre and former chairman of the Anderson Center Board. "He has worked very hard over the years. It is recognition that he has gloriously earned."

Dowse acknowledged that the honor brings recognition to the Anderson Center's accomplishments supporting writers and promoting literacy.

For six months of the year, the Tower View estate is home to writers, artists and scholars from around the world who spend two to four weeks in residency while working on their projects.

The center also presents several events for writers and readers throughout the year, most notably the Celebration of Minnesota Children's Authors and Illustrators in September. That event has attracted upwards of 20,000 people -- including many children -- since it began 14 years ago.

The book fair is one of his favorite events, Hedin said. In addition to promoting Minnesota's finest children's authors and illustrators, it also fosters "the joys of reading and the importance of literacy" for young people.

According to Minnesota author Sheila O'Connor, one of several people who nominated him for the award, "Whether Robert Hedin is tending to the immediate needs of the current residents, planning future literary events, working with the greater community on arts outreach, or promoting the work of Minnesota writers, his leadership and generosity set the tone for the Anderson Center."

"I love this place," Hedin admitted, pointing out that he has devoted about one-third of his life to the Anderson Center.

He was an established poet long before returning to Red Wing, his home town, where he founded the artists' retreat in 1993.

Hedin began writing poetry in high school after being assigned to analyze a Dylan Thomas poem as an 11th-grader.

"I remember it as though it happened a few weeks ago," he said.

"The language revealed a whole other side to itself," filled with similes and metaphors, allusions and symbols. "I realized there was a whole other world lurking under the page; each word a door."

Hedin studied at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. He taught at the university level and has served as poet-in-residence while also writing, translating and editing nearly two dozen books of poetry.

Having lived in both worlds, Hedin is very much aware "how extraordinarily fortunate I am to have been able to read and write poetry my whole life."

Working writers and artists essentially have two jobs, Hedin said. "One is the day job for which they are paid and the second is their creative work." Too often, daily obligations pull them away from that work.

"This side of the creative story is not told very often: How difficult it is to create when there are so many obstacles," such as jobs, families and the need to make ends meet, he said.

When they're at an artist community, writers can put aside those obstacles.

"The Anderson Center is a place where the creative journey is lauded and takes center stage every day," Hedin said. "The residency program provides writers and artists what they need the most -- uninterrupted time in order to do their work."

Like other writers and creative people, he said, "In many ways I've led a double life."

When he taught, he had vacations and holidays during which he could focus on writing. Since becoming director of the Anderson Center, he must consciously make time for writing.

"I get up at 5:30 every morning to write, from 5:30 to 7. Otherwise it's just weekends," he said.

Hedin described himself as "thrilled and humbled" to receive the Sexton Award. Named for Kay Sexton, a book buyer for many years at Dayton's and B. Dalton Bookstores in the Twin Cities, it is sponsored by Common Good Books.

Hedin previously received Minnesota Book Awards for "Keys to the Interior: 25 Years of the Great River Review," and for "Old Glory," a collection of war poetry.

He also was nominated for his original work in "The Old Liberators" and for a book of translations of poems by Olav H. Hauge, "The Bullfinch Rising from the Cherry Tree."

This spring Hedin will be releasing his newest work, a collection of 20 poems. "Poems Prose Poems" is a collaborative work with two Tower View artists -- Art Kenyon, whose etchings illustrate the book, and Scott King of Red Dragonfly Press, who is printing it at his letterpress operation.