Remembering the author and storyteller Jim Northrup

Ojibwa humor writer, poet and Vietnam vet Jim Northrup died Monday after a battle with cancer.

Ojibwa humor writer, poet and Vietnam vet Jim Northrup died Monday after a battle with cancer.

Jim Northrup was devastatingly funny. That means two things. He was a naturally funny writer and speaker, a gifted storyteller. But Northrup also used his humor to heal the devastation of mind, body and spirit.

Northrup died Monday after battling cancer and other health ailments for the past couple years.

If you’ve heard of Northrup, you’ve probably seen the words “Ojibwa writer” attached to his name. And certainly, Northrup was probably the most famous Ojibwa writer to ever live, certainly the funniest and perhaps the most emotionally impactful.

Northrup wrote about his people, their struggles and joys. He wrote about war, its honors and horrors. He did the most important thing any writer can do, turn the life people lead into something dignified on the page, something that can be handed down the generations as a book or as a story spoken aloud.

We almost had Jim on the Great Northern Radio Show in 2014, but his health wouldn’t allow it. I’m grateful I got to see him speak a couple different occasions at Hibbing Community College and elsewhere. We’ll never know how his Annishinabe game show sketch would have played on the radio. I wouldn’t dare try it with anyone else.

I think first, Jim was just a great writer — a writer who described his surroundings as a way of improving them, a writer who talked about things that were real. Had he been born in some other place he’d be the funniest whoever in wherever that is, too.

Northrup was Ojibwa, though, and he lived his life in service and celebration of his people. May we all do as well as he.

Jim had spoken very candidly about his coming death in a number of news stories. MPR had one recently, and the Duluth News Tribune another. They are worth reading to better know the man, but also as a lesson about how to die with peace in your heart, and acceptance for what comes next.

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