‘The Dead Fitzgeralds’
returns Scott & Zelda to their rightful place. 

Summit Hill author Danny Klecko will launch his new book The Dead Fitzgeralds on Saturday, September 24, at Subtext Books in downtown Saint Paul. The book is a eulogy to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, a couple whom Klecko calls America’s saddest sweethearts, and the date is the anniversary of F. Scott’s birth in 1896 in his family’s home at 481 Laurel Ave. in Ramsey Hill.

Klecko
Danny Klecko tips his cap to F. Scott (in bronze at right) and Zelda Fitzgerald and the literary legacy of Saint Paul in his new book of verse, "The Dead Fitzgeralds." Photo by Brad Stauffer

The Dead Fitzgeralds is a tribute not only to Scott and Zelda, but to other people Klecko views as being significant to the literary landscape of Saint Paul. That group includes his friend, the city’s late poet laureate Carol Connolly, aka the Duchess.

“As a kid, I had an art teacher who told us, when painting, you should always try to put all your favorite things on the canvas at the same time,” he said. “That’s why the Fitzgeralds, the Duchess and Saint Paul became a natural fit.”

Klecko’s new book began to take shape as he launched his second book at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2021. “The nation’s capital isn’t that far from Rockville, Maryland, where Scott and Zelda are buried,” Klecko said. “The experience left me depressed. Scott and Zelda came from cities that were proud and distinct.” They deserved to be buried in a place of more “metropolitan sensibilities,” where they might be better appreciated, he said.

The Dead Fitzgeralds “explores loss and vindication,” Klecko said. “All too often, when an artist dies, people choose to focus on his or her shortcomings or failures. I’m eternally grateful to F. Scott and the Duchess for their contributions to writing. I want to take every opportunity to remind people how lucky we are to have great literature.”

A baker by trade, Klecko titled his first book Hitman-Baker-Casketmaker: Aftermath of an American’s Clash with ICE, which won a Midwest Book Award for poetry in 2020. His new book began to take shape as he launched his second book, Lincolnland, at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2021.

“The nation’s capital isn’t that far from Rockville, Maryland, where Scott and Zelda are buried, so I paid them a visit,” Klecko said. “The experience left me depressed. Scott and Zelda came from cities that were proud and distinct.” Those were Saint Paul and Montgomery, Alabama, respectively. Klecko felt the Fitzgeralds deserved to be buried in a place of more “metropolitan sensibilities,” where they might be better appreciated. It was on those graves in Rockville that his book’s themes of loss and vindication took root.

 

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Fitzgerald, for all of the praise afforded his writing, has been criticized for his personal choices, Klecko said. And Zelda has been undervalued as a writer in her own right, he added.

Immortalizing the Fitzgeralds as he honors Saint Paul

Klecko decided he could best immortalize the Fitzgeralds in a book about them and his love of literary Saint Paul. In The Dead Fitzgeralds, he writes of his own development as a writer; his relationship to the Duchess, who encouraged his admiration for the Fitzgeralds; and the Fitzgeralds’ lives after leaving Minnesota for the last time. 

Among the locations cited in The Dead Fitzgeralds is 599 Summit Ave., the home where F. Scott worked on his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in the summer of 1919, and Klecko’s home just up the street. Klecko said he was told by the Duchess and other Saint Paul authors that this neighborhood is the best place to live if you want to be a writer.

One of those authors was Patricia Hampl. Klecko read many of Hampl’s books while he was working on The Dead Fitzgeralds and immersing himself in the literary spirit of Saint Paul.

“One of the main things I wanted to accomplish with my book was to honor Saint Paul,” he said. “Fitzgerald’s Saint Paul was very different from mine, so I ended up reading Patricia Hampl’s books. Nobody captures Saint Paul as well as she.”

More to come on Zelda’s bed and a love of literature

The Dead Fitzgeralds is the first in a trilogy. Klecko is already at work on the other two books. The second will be titled Zelda Fitzgerald’s Bed. It will revolve around the time Klecko spent in Montgomery, Alabama.

Klecko first introduced his book on Scott and Zelda at the Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, which is located in a mansion where the couple lived for a time. “The Fitzgeralds kept separate rooms,” he said. “I slept in Zelda’s bedroom. Let’s just say the experience was mystical. In Montgomery very little emphasis is placed on Scott. It’s almost all Zelda, and Zelda was the driving force in that relationship. I find her to be uplifting. Scott was an uptight guy, so some of his Minnesota landmarks seem less celebratory.”

In the final volume of the trilogy, Klecko plans to write about his experiences reading with homeless people in Saint Paul. “This book will be a series of stories focused on the foundation I’ll be starting,” he said. “My goal is to bring literature and conversation to the homeless. Just the other day I saw a guy camped out in front of a coffee shop. I went in and bought an orange juice and gave it to him with a copy of (Fitzgerald’s) The Great Gatsby. The guy took the O.J., but handed back the book, indicating he only read stories about wizards.”

Klecko also wants to encourage young people to read Fitzgerald. “My son is a high school teacher in Saint Paul,” he said. “He introduced me to a librarian who said that students are rarely assigned book reports any more. It’s believed that young people won’t engage. So instead of doing book reports, it’s now common for young people to study a single paragraph from a book. Can you imagine covering Gatsby in a paragraph? I’ve been talking with the Saint Paul Public Library about piecing together some Fitzgerald programs that’ll be relevant in our modern era.”

The book launch for The Dead Fitzgeralds will begin at 1 p.m. at Subtext Books, 6 W. Fifth St. Admission is free and open to all.

— Anne Murphy

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