Meet Aaron Brown, Iron Range author, college instructor, and radio show host

aaronbrownHome: The woods of Itasca County outside of Hibbing, MN
Book: Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range (2008)
Radio Show: Great Northern Radio Show

In a Nutshell:
Aaron Brown could easily be dubbed the Garrison Keillor of
the north. He possesses a keen eye for the attributes that make Minnesotans Minnesotan—specifically, Iron Rangers. His writing aptly portrays the people and politics of the Iron Range with sensitivity and humor, even as he fights for a new vision of its future. He believes that with the right choices, Rangers can beat their mining rap and provide a stable economy for people who love northern
Minnesota’s outdoors.

His Story:
Every Iron Range teenager is faced with a question: “Will you stay, or will you go?” Brown dreamed of moving to Chicago and becoming a famous writer. But after graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Superior in 2001 and landing a job at the Hibbing Daily Tribune he realized his future lay closer to home. As editor of the newspaper, he saw plenty of
untold and worthy stories right on the Iron Range.
“People think Iron Rangres are backward or don’t understand the outside world, and there is a reason people here distrust outsiders. It’s part geographical, part cultural and related in part to the way the region formed rather quickly 100 years ago,” Brown says. He believes its fate has often been determined by outside forces, and yet outsiders have rarely gotten a glimpse of the culture that exists alongside the region’s mining history. “The Range can be painted by a broad brush, but it’s a really unique area. There aren’t a lot of people writing about the range. Because I’m from here, I can access the stories and tell them in a more honest way… I am able to say things I think are true without worrying about people saying I don’t understand.”
He tells those stories through his column for the Tribune, his blog “Minnesota Brown”, on the Great Northern Radio Show and in his memoir, Overburden: Life on the Mountain Range. His book speaks to what he calls the Range’s lost generation—he and his peers, who grew up after the collapse of mining. It earned him a reputation in places like Duluth and the Twin Cities, and now he’s often seen as someone who can provide context for Iron Range politics. “When something Iron Range-related occurs in the political or economic sense, [people outside the range] turn and see what I have to say because I condense it down and make it clear,” he says.

Why Read Aaron Brown:
The Iron Range is more than a “drive-by” region for Minnesotans on their way to the wilderness. Rangers are answering the same question faced across much of northern Minnesota: how to build a stable economy while also preserving its most valuable characteristics. Brown champions a new economic paradigm where strategies like solar projects and high speed Internet make it possible to live in an outdoor mecca and make a solid living. He’s not afraid to speak out on the politics of the north and often dissects the latest political developments on his blog. In his own words, “If I’m going to take a chance and advocate for this area to be something special in a new century I may or may not be successful, but I’m still going to document the stories and the happenings of this place because I think the people deserve that.”

On Doing a Radio Show:
The Great Northern Radio Show, Brown’s latest project, is a throwback to the variety shows of yore. Much like Prairie Home Companion, it tells the stories of the Iron Range through comedy sketches and music. Brown and his troop travel to a different Range city for each episode and weave that city’s history into the show. When it comes to answering the questions of the day, Brown believes that storytelling can be more powerful than politics.
“It’s an old fashioned thing to do this variety show and obviously we have another man doing it on a much larger scale,” he says. “I think it makes us feel less helpless. It tells us we’re here, we’ve left a mark. That’s why we do art. It’s liberating a story and in doing so we become stronger.”

Where to find Aaron Brown:

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