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Creating a children’s literary space in Detroit Lakes: an interview with Katie Sonneman

Detroit Lakes resident Katie Sonneman is currently working on establishing a literary and performing arts center for children. To show your support and keep up to date on this project, you can like PAGES Children’s Literary and Performing Arts Center on Facebook.

When did you first get the idea for a literary center?

It started about six months ago. I was thinking about turning thirty (in November of this year) and what I wanted to do for my thirtieth birthday party. I had all these ideas: a big party with friends, Vegas, a cruise, and realized they were all very selfish. I knew could use my thirtieth birthday money to help other people. After contemplating ways I could do this, I came to the conclusion that I could take my degree (I have a B.A. in English and am getting a M.F.A. in creative writing) and apply it to something that could help the community.

What do you hope to provide for the children of Detroit Lakes?

I read a statistic recently that said last year 80% of American homes did not purchase a single book. It is so sad. This statistic told me we do not value the written word enough in this country.

Here in Detroit Lakes, we are lucky to have a wonderful children’s library program run by Dotz Johnson who works so hard to provide fun activities for children. I want to supplement this with another location for children to go to after school and during the summer where they can work on creative endeavors: writing poetry, short stories, journaling, writing and performing one-acts, comedy, short plays; get some homework help; or simply sit in a comfortable chair and read a book.

Is there currently a similar establishment set up in Detroit Lakes?

Detroit Lakes has a few places for specifically geared toward children. The Backyard (an indoor playground) at the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center is only a year old and is an excellent place for children to get exercise. The Boys and Girls club has tons of fun activities all year long as well. Of course, the library is always fantastic. But there isn’t a location devoted specifically to children that focuses on enhancing the creative arts within the community. This is where I hope PAGES Literary and Performing Arts Center comes in. There will be writing clubs (with a different theme each month), book clubs for children of different ages, small stage performances—imagine the Loft Literary Center combined with a performing arts center, only tailored for children.

How big a building will it be?

This would vary depending on where I build a new facility or acquire one already in existence. My dream is to have a mini-library stocked with everything from children’s picture books to young adult novels encompassing a few couches, chairs, and a pile of beanbag chairs in the corner for the kids to find a quiet nook. I would also love tables, chairs, and writing supplies for those budding creative writers and a separate area for a small stage for performing arts, where the older kids can perform one acts, poetry slams, maybe even stand-up comedy that they have written.

What have you done so far?

Right now I am in research mode! Trying to figure out 501(c3) requirements is a doozy in itself. I am learning about grant writing, running a nonprofit, fundraising. I believe extensive research is imperative to starting any large business endeavor.

Who’s working with you on this?

Right now I am just a woman with an idea. However, I hope to change that in the near future.

What’s next on the agenda?

The next big step is finding some passionate people to jump on the bandwagon with me. Right now I am a one-woman show and I know that I cannot do this on my own. I am lucky that I live in a great community that values education so I hope to get in contact with other people who want to help me bring another resource to the children of the lakes area.

How long do you anticipate it will take?

My goal is to have the facility open its doors in two to three years.

Why do you want to do this?

Because I wish a place like this existed when I was young. I loved to read as a kid, and was one of those teens who filled dozens of notebooks with poems and other creative works, but didn’t have a community of other youth who loved reading and writing like I did to share my work with. I didn’t get that kind of environment until I attended college almost a decade later. I strongly believe we should nurture our children’s talents and expose our children to as many self-exploring opportunities as possible.

I have a nine-year-old whose name is Amara and the best way to describe her is to say, “Amara lives in Amara land.” She is a dreamer. Highly creative and loves to read and write stories. I would love to see her in an environment with other children who love the arts as much as she does. But it isn’t just for children who are already passionate about the arts. My oldest is almost eleven and is a total science buff, but she sees how much fun her sister has in performing on stage and has expressed interest in wanting to write things for her sister to perform. I want to give her that opportunity. I want this to be a safe, nurturing environment where children will not be afraid to try something new and exciting.

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