‘The Dead Fitzgeralds’ Celebrates Zelda, Books, Writers and the St. Paul Era – Twin Cities

This crazy, high-spirited book isn’t just about Fitzgerald. It is about the mad passion that is literature. It’s about being buzzed with reading and writing, and it’s about the sacred friendships of lovers of words, poems and stories, gossip and the music that underlies the way we let’s talk. Or how we keep silent, letting the mystery full of stars overwhelm us. – Patricia Hampl on “The Fitzgerald Dead”

Danny Klecko felt the presence of Zelda Fitzgerald when he stayed in her elegantly restored room at the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum and Airbnb in Montgomery, Ala.

Danny Klecko at the Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Ala., where he launched his book, “The Dead Fitzgeralds” on August 13, 2022. Behind him are the Brooks Brothers costumes worn by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2013 film, “ The Great Gatsby.” (Alaina Doten / Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum)

Klecko, a St. Paul baker/poet and sometimes impresario, was in Montgomery last weekend to launch his book “The Dead Fitzgeralds,” in the town where Zelda was born. The locals were interested in this Yankee who wore a chef’s uniform when he signed copies of his book. He later hosted a Zelda tribute show at a nearby bar

“I visited the Hemingway house (in Florida), and it was interesting,” Klecko recalls. “But I have to tell you, I slipped into bed around 1 a.m. and when you spend a night where Zelda slept, there’s a sense of intimacy.”

Klecko, who refers to himself in the third person (as in “No one on three planets loves Klecko like I love Klecko”), is on a mission to bring renewed attention to the Fitzgeralds, especially to Zelda. The daughter of wealthy parents married St. Paul native Scoot Fitzgerald early in her career. They were the darlings of two continents, the embodiments of the Jazz Age.

“In St. Paul, we know a lot about Scott, who wrote ‘This Side of Paradise’ at 599 Summit Ave., but in Montgomery, it’s Zelda all the way,” Klecko says. “A lot of people I met there wanted perspective on St. Paul and on Scott. But you can’t understand it without understanding her because their lives were so intertwined.

Klecko is working with the Friends of St. Paul Public Library to organize events around the Fitzgeralds and perhaps a book club focused on Scott Fitzgerald short stories.

“The Dead Fitzgeralds,” written in free-form poetry that has a surreal feel, is both a memoir and a tribute to St. Paul and Klecko’s mentor and best friend, St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly .

We walk with Klecko through four miles of Summit Avenue mansions as he shares interesting tidbits about great homes by address. It recalls how the Fitzgeralds lived in the town, which they left forever in 1921 after the birth of their daughter, Scottie.

“My book smells more St. Paul than any other book written,” Klecko says in his unhumble way.

“This is the golden age of poetry in the capital. There is no city in the country as unique as St. Paul. I’m the least deserving character in this book but no one else would write it, so I did. My goal is that when I die there will be a literary Mount Rushmore in St. Paul. I want two of the faces to be me and Carol Connolly. The other two can be disputed. (It’s the kind of comment that worries people who don’t understand Danny Klecko.)

Klecko, who grew up “a tough Polish kid” in California, has been a baker his entire adult life. A former owner of St. Agnes Bread Co., he is production manager for Grandma’s Bakery in White Bear Lake. One of his previous books, “Hitman-Baker-Casketmaker: Aftermath of an American’s Clash with ICE,” won a Midwest Book Award. His most recent books are “3 am Austin Texas” and “Lincolnland”.

This new book is special for him, however, as it explains the importance in his life of his friendship with Connolly, who died in 2020.

“I didn’t write ‘The Dead Fitzgeralds’ – Connolly did,” said Klecko, who refers to Connolly in the book only as “the Duchess.”

“The problem with my role in Connolly’s life was that she took me for her protector,” he recalled. “Our relationship was unique. She loved me differently than anyone else in my life, understood me better than my mother, my wife, my children. I wanted people to know how wonderful she was.

Carol Connolly, left, poses for a photo with Danny Klecko before the Readings by Writers Valentine program at the University Club on Summit Ave.  in St. Paul on Tuesday, February 17, 2015.
Carol Connolly, left, poses for a photo with Danny Klecko before the Readings by Writers Valentine program at the University Club on Summit Avenue in St. Paul on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

Kecko, who had never taken a writing class, credits his mentor with opening the doors to writing and literature for him by forcing him to participate in his writing group and attend his long series of University Club readings, where he first became interested in the Fitzgeralds.

The first part of “The Dead Fitzgerald” concerns Klecko’s adventures with Connolly, who was old enough to be his mother, but that didn’t matter. They rode in Klecko’s bread delivery truck and attended literary events together.

After presiding over his Readings by Writers series for nearly 20 years, Connolly gave Klecko sage advice on how to make a good (reading) set and capture an audience.

“Keep your gaze on a swivel,” she ordered. “Use your full volume range. Frame yourself with confidence. Don’t talk to the audience before a show. Make it obvious you came prepared. There’s nothing worse than a poet fumbling with her book on the podium trying to decide what to read.

Klecko, who eulogized Connolly at his funeral, did not cry after his death. So far.

“I was trained to keep my emotions inside,” he said. “When I read my book after it was finished, there was no one home and I put a blanket over my head and screamed. I missed her so much.”

Connolly, who was friends with people in politics, the writing community and women’s rights organizations, also gave Klecko what you might call marketing advice.

She told him that if he wanted to be a writer, he had to be in the right place – Summit Avenue. So he sold his house and moved into a mansion around the corner from the building where Ftizgerald wrote his first novel.

Poet and baker Danny Klecko wore his grandmother's bakery uniform in White Bear Lake when he signed copies of his new book,
Poet and baker Danny Klecko wore his grandmother’s bakery uniform at White Bear Lake as he signed copies of his new book, ‘The Dead Fitzgeralds’ on August 13, 2022 at the Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, To the. (Alaina Doten / The Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum)

Klecko’s neighbor is Patricia Hampl, a MacArthur “genius grant” recipient and best-selling author from St. Paul who lives in the Laurel Avenue building where Fitzgerald was born and who writes a generous tribute to “The Dead Fitzgeralds” which is printed on the back of the book.

Klecko admits he took the Duchess’ advice on what we would call creative non-fiction.

“She would tell me I have the right to lie if it’s more interesting,” he said. “Nobody gossiped more than her and I. My book is about 80% true and 20% Kleckoisms.”

The Duchess and Klecko talked a lot about the Fitzgeralds and their work, especially that iconic green light on Daisy’s dock in “The Great Gatsby” which Connolly saw as a symbol of the energy associated with writing.

“She made me realize that there was good energy and bad energy,” Klecko said. “In each of my chapters, I had to stop and take inventory of the energy around the people and events I was writing about and try to capture it. It’s not always easy to do. »

Another trait Klecko learned from the Duchess was to write quickly.

“It’s better to have a quick process,” he says. “I learned from the baking industry that if something sits on the table too long, people get bored. I must have told my story about the Duchess while she was still floating here, seeing admirers enjoying her.

LAUNCH OF “THE DEAD FITZBERALDS”

Why Danny Klecko Launched His New Book in Montgomery, Ala. ?

Book jacket for "The Dead Fitzgeralds"“Because they have a Fitzgerald Museum and we don’t,” he replies. “Every time Klecko throws something, he raises the bar.”

The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to the Fitzgeralds, attracting fans from as far away as Japan. The couple lived in the historic home from October 1931 to February 1932, when their golden days were behind them.

During the couple’s stay in the house, where the museum is now on the ground floor, they were both working on projects. Scott Fitzgerald completed a significant portion of “Tender is the Night” and Zelda described his only novel, “Save Me the Waltz.” The well-known photo of Zelda wearing a tutu, holding her cat, was taken in one of these rooms.

Scott didn’t stay very long. They were in bad financial shape due to Zelda’s psychiatric hospital bills and bad spending decisions, so Scott left for Hollywood to work as a screenwriter. The couple who symbolized youth and cheerfulness would never live in the same house again.

Klecko says Montgomery could be a sister city to St. Paul. “The neighborhood where I was staying had the same architecture as Summit Avenue,” he says, “the same commitment to fountains, greenery, statues.”

He liked the quote from the museum’s executive director, Alaina Doten: “I’ve always thought of the Fitzgeralds as America’s lovers.

‘DEAD FITZGERALDS’ LAUNCH

  • WHAT: Launch in Saint-Paul of “The Dead Fitzgeralds” by Danny Klecko celebrating the 127th birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the centenary of his novel “The Beautiful and Damned”.
  • WHEN OR: 7 p.m. Saturday, September 24, SubText Books, 6 W. Fifth St., St. Paul
  • ADMISSION: Free
  • PUBLISHER/PRICE: Paris Morning Publications ($15)

AN ODE TO SCOTT BY KLECKO

I don’t know why it bothered me, but it did
I wanted to know how to thank the dead
Not that I wanted to thank all the dead
Just F. Scott Fitzgerald
Over the years, Scott has placed
Treasure upon treasure in the middle of my way
I pick them up, each and every one
And I marvel at their splendor
I wonder how each of his stories
Seems to be written exclusively
For my pleasure.
I wanted a chance to say thank you
To even the score
But Scott was dead, and I was alive
I wanted to know how to thank the dead
Not that I wanted to thank all the dead
Just F. Scott Fitzgerald

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