‘I want to read something that tells me about about the strength of black women, the joy of black women.’ – writer Debra J. Stone

In “Grandma Essie’s Vanilla Pound Cake,” writer Debra J. Stone remembers an important moment in her childhood, and Minnesota history, when the adults in the family grappled with the news that her grandparents’ home in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, along with many others, would be destroyed to make way for the I-94 corridor. This pivotal event, whose impact is still felt over 60 years later, is where Lissa Jones and Debra Stone begin their wide-ranging conversation. Stone shares her experience growing up in the Twin Cities’ two most significant African American communities in the 1950s and 60s – St. Paul’s Rondo Neighborhood and the Northside of Minneapolis. She shares her journey to becoming a writer, and her irrevocable connection to Minnesota saying “I can’t get it out of my bones’; the challenges of getting published (but remaining unwavering in writing what she wants and being unbound by the expectations of others); the importance of building and maintaining a sense of community; and the joy of embracing the outdoors and fostering a connection to place through camping, hiking, and biking.

Episode 41 – Debra J. Stone

Minnesota-based writer Debra J. Stone sits down with Lissa Jones for a wide-ranging conversation about writing the stories she wants to read, her upbringing in the Rondo Neighborhood and the Northside, and what it means to be a black woman who loves to bike and camp.


1:45 – ‘Grandma Essie’s Vanilla Pound Cake’ (Read in Random Sample Review)

16:15 – ‘For Whites Only’ (Read in About Place literary journal)

28:15 – ‘A Story’ (Published in Bringing Gifts, Bringing News an anthology edited and printed by George Roberts and Downstairs Press)

Debra J. Stone lives in Minnesota and co-founded the Northside Writers Group, which she has also co-facilitated for ten years. Her poetry has been published in About Place, Wild Age Press, Home Sweet Home Exhibit, in the chapbook “Bringing Gifts, Bringing News, The Saint Paul Almanac and short stories published by Rigorous, Random Sample Review.com, Tidal Basin, Black Magnolia Literary Journal and other literary journals. Debra has received residencies at New York Mills, The Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Study, The Vermont Studio Center, Callaloo and was a participant in The Givens Black Writers Retreat. Recently she was awarded The Loft Mentor Fellowship 2018-19 in Creative Nonfiction.  She has received grants from Intermedia Arts, Beyond the Pure Fellowship, Jerome Foundation for Emerging Writers and the Minnesota State Arts Board Cultural Community Partnership Grant. Currently, Debra serves as Board Member and Engagement Committee Chair for the non-profit independent publisher Graywolf Press. Stone is also an avid biker and can often be seen biking the Twin Cities with the Major Taylor Bicycle Club.

Go Deeper: Additional Materials

Read Debra Stone’s essay ‘Grandma Essie’s Vanilla Pound Cake’ in Random Sample Review.

Grandma Essie’s Vanilla Pound Cake

Nonfiction by Debra J. Stone I was six years old. Summer was here, and every Sunday after dinner we drove to visit Grandma Essie and Grandpa Joe. Interstate 94 hadn’t arrived yet and University Avenue connected our Northside Minneapolis home to Saint Paul, Minnesota, on the other side of the Mississippi River.

Listen to an episode of KFAI’s Truth to Tell which focuses on Settlement Houses in the Twin Cities, including Hallie Q. Brown and Phyllis Wheatley which Stone also discusses.

What Is a Settlement House? They’re Probably Your Neighborhood Community Center

In a rebroadcast of a popular program from 2010, TruthToTell looks at the first two of four major community centers in Minneapolis and St. Paul which started life as Settlement Houses, where well-heeled families bought buildings, lived in poor neighborhoods and served their neighbors and new Americans providing opportunities to eat, play, gather, and learn how to be citizens, homemakers, and speak English, while preserving tradition, language and culture.

Learn more about the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota – ‘The premier African-American bicycling club in…the Upper-Midwest’- named for the great Major Taylor, who in 1899 became the first African-American world champion cyclist.

Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota

bicycling club, bike club, biking, cycling, bicycle, Black, African-American, Major Taylor

Learn about St. Paul’s Rondo Neighborhood and the I-94 project.

LibGuides: Rondo Neighborhood & I-94: Overview

LibGuides: Rondo Neighborhood & I-94: Overview

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