The poet and writer Rodney Nelson died on April 12, 2021 in Fargo, ND. He was 78. He was born on November 13, 1941 in Fargo to downtown Fargoans, who, when he was one, moved to Seattle, WA where he spent a wartime toddlerhood. On returning to North Dakota in 1945, the family could not find a house in Fargo so bought one in the nearby town of Christine, ND. Rodney attended grades one through six there. He went to other public schools in Oregon and western North Dakota until his newly divorced mother returned the family to Fargo in time for him to enter tenth grade at Central High School. Rodney’s first main interest was classical music which he performed on clarinet and piano in high school, at Concordia College, and in the U.S. Navy music program. He also composed, arranged, and orchestrated. The fascination of the written word drew him away from music. The counterculture of the 1960’s provided a further distraction. Arriving in San Francisco two months before the rise of the Haight-Ashbury and all it represented, he found himself in the middle of it. Ensuing decades saw him taking up a variety of jobs and adventures, including helping to realize the first computerized phone book delivery system in the San Francisco Bay Area; preparing mail-order catalogs for China Books and Periodicals, at the time the only American retailer licensed to import printed matter from the People’s Republic of China; serving as dialysis technician on the Navajo Nation; copyediting doctoral dissertations; and working as a licensed psychiatric technician at Ironwood State Prison in the Mojave Desert of California. He also managed to become a mountain trekker in middle age, marry a North Dakota State University Cheerleader, appear in the 2000 Who’s Who in America, and do some writing. Rodney’s poetry achieved national publication starting in 1970. In a few years, he turned to prose narrative. His novels The Boots Brevik Saga, Home River, and Villy Sadness did well with a small readership but were never exposed to a larger one. Coming back to Fargo in 2004, he returned to poetry and entered a “late flowering” that surprised him. Wide publication in online and print journals followed, along with the publication of several books. The latest is Kawabota’s Lake. His papers are in the archives of the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo. Related papers archived there are those of his memoirist mother, Eva Nelson; maternal grandfather, O. S. Gunderson, a frontier lawyer; and Dakota Arts Quarterly, which he edited for five years. When asked to come up with an epitaph, Nelson quoted one of his own poems: “the meadow is time/ and I’m not to cross it again.” He is survived by his son, Steve Nelson; a daughter-in-law; and two grandchildren. All live in Springfield, Oregon. Predeceasing him were parents, Rudolph and Eva Nelson; sister, Barbara (Robert) Kurkowski; and stepdaughter, Leslie Gould.

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  1. My condolences to Rodney’s friends and family. He was a good storyteller and an interesting conversationalist. He was clear in his convictions, and you could count on Rodney for interesting insights and recommendations for reading and for travel. Cheers to a life interestingly lived.

  2. I remember his dedication to the Fargo Public Library. He was a great volunteer who gave many gifts to the Fargo community through his service at the Fargo Public Library.

    Though the tears with sadness never cease, my hope for his family and friends is the tears with laughter flow as they remember the happy times shared. God gave us memories so we might have roses in December (Barrie).

    To have died and giving the gifts he gave to this world is truly a testament to a life lived with goodness and grace.

  3. I consider myself one of the lucky ones who got to be a part of Rodney’s life. Because of him, many of us at the Fargo Public Library had way more fun than we probably should have!  Not everyone appreciated Rodney’s astute and whip-smart sense of humor as much as I did, but his clever capers could make even the most normal routines seem interesting! Rodney will be greatly missed, and the memories of the many laughs we shared will be cherished forever.

  4. Our condolences for family and friends of Rodney. I am a distant cousin of Rodney’s. We shared the interest in researching the family tree. Rodney was curious to locate “lost” lines of the family he had heard of, but lost contact. We spent countless hours talking about what information Rodney located. He was a master detective. He even wen to visit Idaho to see some “re found” cousins. He would visit the graves of distant cousins if he could find them. He pursued every clue he found. We only met in person once in 2014 when I came to Fargo, but we spoke often. I have his voice in my memory and will hold as long as I can. A very unique man, and I never heard him speak ill of anyone.
    RIP Rodney.

  5. I have just learned of Rodney’s death. He /his poetry will be missed. I knew Rodney mainly through his poetry. I will never forget the day I met him. He came to my home to meet me, and introduced himself with a poem he wrote. It was written in a unique form which was almost breathless when read out loud. It seemed to me Rodney used words in all their aspects– sound and meaning, accentuated tonal or rhythmic qualities. . Rodney never wasted a word in his poetry. Every word was perfectly placed, the effect stunningly simple and clean, close and clear. I followed his poetry off and off through the years–the off more because of my own unstable situation than anything to do with with him. He was more constant than I have ever been. Returning to his work each time, I found that same melancholy longing, that always present awareness of and wistful connection to the land, the prairie, his old family homestead– the constant prayer for one more chance to touch in memory once again the deepest things that run in blood and namesake. I was fortunate to meet him and have never known anyone else like him. I wondered more than once if he wasn’t more at home in memories of the past and things and people long gone than those reflected in present times. But then –I remember how easily he lit up, with his words, an image both in past and present time connecting and infusing life to both. I will miss hearing from him. I was so fortunate for having ever met him and read his work.

  6. I knew him in 1963 when he was in the navy and I in the marine corps. We spent a month together and I have never forgotten him. The most brilliant person I’ve ever known. I loved to listen to him play Bach on the piano. What great conversations we had. There were times when I thought he could read my mind. All these years later I think of him often. RIP.

  7. Rodney Nelson was my uncle and I am very lucky to have had such a wonderful person in my life. We had some interesting conversations when I was growing up and he was always regarded as absurdly brilliant with a sense of humor that’s without equal. He would come to visit us on the farm, waking early to go on walks that took him seriously deep into the countryside. I think of how he would like to watch football without the sound on.
    There was a poem hanging on the wall
    where he sat while smoking his pipe in late afternoon. I think Bob had written it when Larry had suffered from cardiac arrest at an early age. I think about it as the family dissappear one by one.

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