Scott King, founder of Red Dragonfly Press, dies at 56

Rachel Hutton, Star Tribune
·3 min read

After an early career as an engineer, Scott King shifted gears to found Red Dragonfly Press, a publisher of gorgeous, handmade poetry chapbooks, including his own. He was a naturalist who documented his encounters with camera and pen, and the author of several books on insects. He was a translator of Greek and a DIY home renovator. He was a beloved husband, father and friend.

His life wasn't necessarily prosperous, but it certainly was rich, King once told the Northfield News, in a profile titled "A True Renaissance man."

When he died on April 2 at 56, it was almost as if five people died, remarked his friend Freya Manfred, one of Red Dragonfly's most-published poets.

King grew up in northern Minnesota, and when he was earning degrees in chemical and environmental engineering, he met his wife, Lisa, on a volleyball court. His short poem "Marriage" summed up their relationship: "A husband and a wife. No, it's more than that. And even more."

The couple lived in Northfield for more than two decades and raised a daughter, Lida, who King honored in two volumes of poetry.

Using vintage typesetting and printing equipment, Red Dragonfly served as the press-in-residence at the Anderson Center, Red Wing's artist haven. King took his role as publisher literally, letterpress printing all the pages and binding them by hand with needle and thread.

Red Dragonfly Press was lauded by the Star Tribune as a "Best of Minnesota" and King's artful books became "collector's items, and the envy of all us poets who wanted to be published by him," said longtime friend Thomas Smith.

Another prolific Red Dragonfly poet and friend, James Lenfestey, called King "the rare combination of technical genius and poetic soul."

Friends described King as more an observer than talker. Endlessly patient. A consummate craftsman who was generous, ego-free and easy to work with. He was a brilliant mind and voracious reader, who was constantly learning and exploring. Friends said he excelled in whatever his many interests directed him toward. They were baffled by how much he accomplished.

Working as a naturalist, King photographed phantom midge larvae and wrote notes such as, "Today I set off for the wooded pond on a utilitarian endeavor, that is to procure some benthic invertebrates as food for a dragonfly nymph I'm rearing."

He maintained a blog called "Of Books and Bugs" and collected a year's worth of daily naturalist journal entries into a book, "Following the Earth Around." His "Flower Flies of Minnesota" is forthcoming next month from Pollination Press.

When visiting friends' homes, King would poke around in the backyard for a few minutes and identify more flora and fauna than his hosts had noticed in all their years living there. And he passed along tidbits of his casually encyclopedic knowledge of nature, such as the difference between a grass and a sedge (flat vs. three-sided).

"He was constantly drawing your attention to what is around you that you might not be seeing or noticing," said Manfred, speaking to King's ability as both naturalist and poet. "He was interested in matters of the heart and of the spirit and of the multiplicity of the earth."

Grieving his friend in a poem, Smith wrote: "I'll be poorer without your guided walking tours of the land that entranced and delighted you down to its most minute inhabitant, that you recorded with a scientist's precision while translating into the imaginative landscape of a poem." King is survived by wife Lisa and daughter Lida. Services have been held.

Rachel Hutton • 612-673-4569