Minnesota poet and social rights activist Ethan McKiernan dies of brain tumor complications – Twin Cities


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Ethan McKiernan, a Minnesota poet and advocate for the poor, has died of complications from brain tumors. Her death was announced this morning at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Minneapolis, where she was a longtime member of the community.

McKiernan, who was 70, is the author of five collections of poetry. His latest album, “Light Rolling Slowly Backwards: New & Selected Poems”, premiered in August at the Celtic Junction Arts Center in St. Paul.

Ethan McKiernan

His previous collections are: “Caravan” (11989), “The One Who Swears You Can’t Start Again” (2002), “Sky Thick With Fireflies” (2011) and “Swimming With Shadows” (2019). The last three were published by the Irish company Salmon Poetry, one of the most important publishers in the Irish literary world.

Former owner of Irish Books and Media in Minneapolis, McKiernan’s passing won her praise from friends and fellow poets, who described her as “full of grace and light” and “a wonder.” As a street worker for St. Stephen’s and People, Inc., she was known to care for and help the homeless and the poorest of the poor.

McKiernan was part of Irish royalty in the Twin Cities.

His father, Eoin McKiernan, was head of the English department at the University of St. Thomas and founder of the Irish American Cultural Institute to preserve the proud heritage of Irish Americans. In 1999 he was named by Irish America magazine one of the greatest Irish-Americans of the century, along with Pres. John F. Kennedy and artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

Ethna McKiernan attended the Visitation Convent in St. Paul and was a two-time recipient of the Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in Poetry. His first collection was nominated for the Minnesota Book Award and his work has been the subject of numerous anthologies, notably in “Notre Dame’s Book of Irish American Poetry” and “33 Minnesota Poets”. She holds an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers.

Susan Millar DeMars, Irish poet and author of short fiction films, spoke at the launch of McKiernan’s new book. “I will say that Ethna’s work contains the best qualities of Irish and American poetic practice,” DeMars told the audience. “She uses metaphor, music and a sense of place like an Irish poet while having faith in colloquialism, anthemic and societal criticism as in Walt Whitman (and) Langston Hughes.”

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