Literary pick: Dancer turned poet Mary Moore Easter ‘tells on herself’ in new memoir

The woman on the cover of “The Way She Wants to Get There” is caught by the camera in mid-flight. Wearing a filmy white dress that floats around her, we see an image of a dancer whose joy in movement is written on her smiling face.

That dancer is Mary Moore Easter, known for her poetry readings around town. But she was first a dancer, fighting to fulfill her need to dance even though she was older than most in her early classes with the Hauser dance company and had two daughters and a husband who wanted the house to be clean.

Easter reveals all in her memoir, subtitled “Telling on Myself,” in which she traces her development as a dancer during the decade between 1968 and 1979, when she tried to balance her “trickster body’s” need to move with her duties as the wife of a staff member at Carleton College in Northfield.

She writes about being the first Black family in Northfield where she was startled to see the congregation stand before church services and sing the Norwegian national anthem — in Norwegian. She wasn’t on the East Coast anymore.

A born rule-breaker, Easter was raised in Petersburg, Va., where her parents were on the Faculty of Virginia State College (now University) in a talented family of musicians and educators. Her husband grew up in the Bronx in New York, but both their families set the highest priority on education.

While working with the dance program at Carleton, Easter met prominent visiting dancers who helped her make contacts in New York. Somehow, she managed to move back and forth between Northfield and the high-level studios in the East. Finally, she was an independent dancer/choreographer who called on her Black heritage while embracing the new, modern dance movement. She danced to other people’s choreography and to her own, accompanied by music written by her musician mother.

Multi-talented Easter founded and directed Carleton’s dance program at the same time she was a Cave Canem Fellow at the Foundation for African American poetry. She has won awards in poetry and dance and is now Rae Schupack Nathan Professor of Dance and the Performing Arts Emerita at Carleton, where the dance studios are dedicated to her.

Throughout her story, Easter weaves in our nation’s history of race relations, from slavery to the murder of George Floyd, although she never mentions his name.

“Tracing one Black woman’s efforts toward the goal of an artistic career lays bare contributing factors for 2020’s tumultuous racial upheavals, new understandings of American racial history and global attention to racial injustice,” she writes in the Introduction to her book.

Conversation with Mary Moore Easter

Easter will discuss her memoir (Nodin Press, $19.95), at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, at Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls.

The program is free, but attendees are asked to RSVP.

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