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Dessa in the back row of a creative writing class at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Feb. 25, 2020. Photo by Joe Tougas.

I probably am the only remaining Minnesotan unfamiliar with Dessa’s music. I know who she is — how could I not? She’s a Minnesota media darling (she knows it — her Twitter handle is @Dessadarling).

Hip-hop is not my favorite music genre. But when Dessa came to MSU-Mankato Feb. 24-26, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to check her out. I went to her sold-out performance on Feb. 24. And since she was visiting campus as part of the Minnesota Storytellers series, she also popped into several classes to interact with students.

Hip-hop may not be my preferred form of conveying words, but I admire anyone who can craft a narrative and pour emotion into it. Dessa also conveys her words through more traditional writing. I enjoyed her book of essays, My Own Devices. If you want to know how to construct an essay, read this book — she’s a master of the craft. (I also recommend listening to the book).

I sat in on a creative writing class she visited and took some notes:

  • What’s the opportunity cost? If she could choose between putting out another book or album, or gaining thousands of Twitter followers through a set of “killer tweets,” she’d choose the former.
  • What sets Minnesota music apart? I asked her. I’ve put a lot of thought into this and have my own theories. She said it’s introspection, especially when it comes to hip-hop. Landscape plays a major role, too.
  • “Write something beautiful.”
  • Take your curiosity seriously. Prioritize your curiosity. (I’m so glad she said this because there was a student of mine in the class and I harp on that constantly).
  • The last good books she read were Bonk and Normal People.
  • Address not only the big questions in a piece of writing, but also the subtext.

I like when artists come to campus because I get a little creativity and inspiration boost along with the students. My big takeaway from her visit: Read the book again (or actually read it, because I listened to it first) and deconstruct some of her essays to see what makes them work so well.


My own signed copies. I’m excited to listen to the CD. I know I like orchestra music, and I think I’d like listening to Dessa sing with the Minnesota Orchestra over Doomtree.