Jon Hassler was one of the most beloved writers to come out of Minnesota in the twentieth century. Here author Ed Block gives us the first book-length study of his life and work. Block begins with a biographical sketch recounting Hassler’s Catholic education, and goes on the describe his career as a teacher in a succession of towns in central Minnesota. The remaining chapters focus on the novels and short stories Hassler crafted from these experiences, from the various personal relationships he nurtured, sustained, and sometimes lost over time, and from his own fertile imagination.
Hassler’s small-town roots and the sensitivity he developed as a teacher to the aspirations and frustrations of youth both contribute to his gently satiric but deeply humane renderings of middle American life. Backbiting and gossip, family break-ups, depression, addiction, the problems of aging, and other social issues figure prominently in his work, but, as Block amply demonstrates, they’re counterbalanced by Hassler’s lyrical celebration of nature and the everyday and his far from sentimental insights into the role played by friendship, love, loyalty, and self-respect in bringing meaning to people’s lives.
Born in Wisconsin, Ed Block grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. He skied in northern Minnesota and fished Arrowhead Country streams in high school and college. He graduated from St. Thomas College in St. Paul and then attended Stanford University, where he earned his PhD in English and comparative literature. He taught for thirty-five years at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin before retiring as emeritus professor in 2012. He invited Jon Hassler to Marquette for a reading in 1996, and the two corresponded for years. He has published a number of articles and essays on Hassler. He and his wife live in Greendale, Wisconsin, where he continues to write, tend a garden, and visit old friends in Minnesota.