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No, It's Not Like the Movie: Experience Fargo-Moorhead Through Books, Movies


Most people not from the area hear the word “Fargo” and immediately think of the macabre 1996 Coen brothers film of the same name. That’s fine, because at least people have heard of “Fargo.” But once you come here, you quickly realize that the motion picture version of this city is vastly different than the actual community.

Fortunately, many books, movies and even television shows exist to provide a glimpse of the area you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.

Author Marc de Celle has written two books sharing stories about unexpected acts of kindness that are everyday occurences here. He gathered these true stories after moving to Fargo in 2005 from Phoenix and quickly realized Fargo -- and the people who live here -- stood out from other places. He cites an experience where he tried to prepay for gas at a Fargo station and went inside. The clerk explained that he hadn’t pumped any gas yet, so he should come back in after doing so.

He was astounded.

“Things like that happened repeatedly and left me speechless,” de Celle explained. After so many incidents like that, he started using “Fargo” as an adjective, which ultimately lent itself to the titles of his books: “How Fargo of You” and “Close Encounters of the Fargo Kind.”

The feedback he receives about his books often includes a version of “Finally! Someone explains what the real Fargo is like!”

Marc de Celle has written a new book titled,
Marc de Celle has written a new book titled, "Close Encounters of the Fargo Kind." David Samson / The Forum

For author and blogger Alicia Underlee Nelson, the real Fargo -- as well as the state of North Dakota -- can be found anywhere creativity occurs. Her book “North Dakota Beer: A Heady History” chronicles the development of beer brewing (and drinking) from pre-statehood to the craft beer scene dominating the local landscape. With her interest in craft beer, a background in the restaurant industry and an education in journalism, Underlee Nelson was uniquely qualified to write a book that required a deep dive into the history and culture of the area.

“You can’t see a city the same way after learning about its history,” she said. “Pioneers built this city on the fly, and Fargo learned with every new wave of people coming off the train. Fargo evolved, and it still evolves.”

She mined known sources, such as local and state archives and historical societies, as well as a few nontraditional places, like small-town cafes and individual, private collections.

“Hearing things in people’s own words, like their drinking stories, was infinitely more interesting than anything I could have written,” she explained.

“North Dakota Beer” was published in July 2017, but Underlee Nelson has been writing about lifestyle and culture for years through her blog, Prairie Style File. That’s where she explores “what’s beautiful and what’s next in the upper Midwest.”

She said she enjoys highlighting “the overlooked” places people don’t even realize may exist nearby.

“So many people don’t take the time to see the amazing things around us,” she explained. Newcomers have a distinct advantage because they are naturally curious, but she encourages long-time residents to explore their hometown the same way a new resident might.

“Ask questions of local people,” she said. “When you find a place you like, ask, ‘Where else should I go?’ ”

Emily Beck, executive director of the Fargo (N.D.) Theatre, stands near the downtown icon. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Emily Beck, executive director of the Fargo (N.D.) Theatre, stands near the downtown icon. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

This post is repurposed from Danielle Teigen's article"Books and movies and shows, oh my! Get a glimpse of Fargo-Moorhead through fictional and nonfictional art". It appears in its original format in the 2018 Impact Magazine. Click to read the entire 2018 issue of IMPACT here.

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