Stillwater resident River Urke wears many hats: self-published poet, author, artist, non-profit art & literary organization president, web editor, and she isn’t one to slow down, even as she faces life with Multiple Sclerosis.
“All of this started when I first became disabled (in 2002) because of my MS,” Urke said. “My daughter was two, I was a single mom and I’d always written. But after my diagnoses and dealing with my three paralysis relapses I needed something to keep my mind active. So I started writing a weekly column called River’s Ruminations it just kind of took off from there.”
The 39-year-old’s books include “Stumbled & Standing, Women’s Obsession with Shoes,” and her current work called “Spirit Songs,” a collection of full-length personal poetry that she currently has entered in a contest. She’ll learn whether she’s won the contest in April.
Her first book Stumbled & Standing was a labor of love for Urke. A memoir based on her experience with her MS diagnoses, Urke was inspired by feedback she received from submitting a poem to the organization MSworld for publication.
“A lot of people told me that it was inspiring, and helped them see their diagnoses in a different way.” Urke said.
So she sat down and brainstormed other ideas that those with MS and their family members could connect with.
“I’m not one who wallows in self-pity, it’s really one of my pet peeves” Urke said. “If I’m having a bad day I normally don’t tell anyone and after I wrote Stumbled & Standing and sent it to my family and friends I got a lot of calls from people. Some called me in tears, some called me and were angry with me. But I felt that that book opened their eyes and helped them understand and that’s what I hope others get out of it too.”
Her second book Women’s Obsession with Shoes is a collection of women’s stories involving experiences they had with their shoes.
“I love to hear and share other people’s stories,” Urke said.
Stories in the book include one about a girl who lost her moccasins at a pow-wow, to a six-foot woman making a claim on a man’s chest in stiletto boots and then to China, where laughter carries cross-culturally. Urke said the book is humorous and funny and she hopes that it sparks some memories for people too.
Urke does all of these things from within her company TwoWolvz Creations LLC, a non-profit group she established that’s dedicated to encouraging and fostering imaginations of youth with the help of artists around the world and locally through publications, contests and projects. The books are self-published through Urke’s publishing company Twowolvz Press.
“I’ve always loved to write, and I’ve been artistic my whole life,” Urke said. “Imagination is huge for kids especially without art in schools these days.”
Urke also advances the love of art forward with the project she calls her ‘baby,’ the website www.therivermuse.com. The River Muse is an online art and literary journal with seasonal publications of poetry, columns, photography and much more. It aims to provide readers with interesting and thought provoking materials from contributors all around the globe. She is the editor and puts out a quarterly online publication. The rest of her team comes from places as far away as Jerusalem, Texas, and a variety of other places.
“My family thinks I’m crazy since all of this doesn’t really pay. I joked with them when my latest proposed community ed class was approved that I’ve finally got a paying gig,” Urke said. “But I love it ya know? It’s opened my mind a lot. I’ve made it a non-profit in Minnesota and I’m trying to figure out a way to make it a non-profit on a national level.”
In the face of all odds she taught herself how to do all of this. How to create an online publication, how to start a business and how to format a book. And she’s not done learning. She plans to head back to school to get her masters degree as soon as she can and dreams about being a college professor one day. She’d love to teach an American Indian Studies class somewhere so she could educate others about her Ojibwe heritage which she says is a very strong theme in most of her personal poetry. There are days that she says are tougher than others. She deals with pain and her typing speed has decreased so she’s not able to turn out as many works as she’d like, but she takes it all in stride.
“Because of MS I see things in life I wouldn’t be aware of. Before I was the energizer bunny, I was wonderwoman and I was going non-stop at one million miles an hour,” Urke said. “MS forcing me to slow down has given me the time to do things that I never would have before.”
One could still say that she’s unstoppable.
Urke’s books Stumbled & Standing, and Women’s Obsession With Shoes are available on amazon.com, at Kowalski’s gift shop and at select book stores. For more information on Urke, check out her website www.rivermaria.com