Utne Reader founder Eric Utne shares his ‘Far Out’ life in new memoir – Twin Cities

Eric Utne, Minnesota native and visionary founder of the Utne Reader, didn’t intend to write a memoir but that’s what happened. “Far Out Man: Tales of Life in the Counterculture” (Random House, $28), tells Utne’s personal story, forever intertwined with the magazine he says “captured the zeitgeist for a lot of people,” after it was founded in 1984. (Zeigeist in German means “the spirit of the times.”)

Utne and his life partner, Jeri Maeve Reilly, are moving from St. Paul to a new home two miles outside Taylors Falls, not far from the St. Croix River that Utne has loved since he was a boy. They were still surrounded by boxes when he took time to talk about “Far Out Man,” the title of which is a play on words.

Utne’s name is derived from his ancestral Norwegian village of Utne, which loosely translates as “far out.”  But the title also harkens to the hippie culture of which Utne was a part in the 1960s, when “far out” was an exclamation that could mean anything.

Back to the unfortunate manuscript. “I thought I was growing older and I talked about being an older baby boomer,” Utne, 74, recalls of the book that was shopped to 25 publishers, all of whom rejected it. But 19 editors said, at some point, “Eric sure has a great platform.”

“I asked myself what I could do with that feedback from the publishers,” Utne says. “I threw together some chapters and it sold right away. Suddenly there was this memoir I had to write. I asked myself what I’d gotten myself into.” (His son said the book’s subtitle should be “Just a bunch of stories I probably shouldn’t be repeating in public, anyway.”)

“Far Out Man” traces Utne’s life from growing up in Roseville in the late 1940s and ’50s, through getting kicked out of Gustavus Adolphus College for participating in an act of protest that turned into vandalism, dropping out of architecture school at the University of Minnesota, and traveling to explore the countercutlure. He talks about his marriages, children and publications.

Utne was in Boston when he met his first wife, Peggy Taylor, with whom he had a son. With $3,000, the couple founded The New Age Journal, but the strains of a business partnership ended their marriage and they divorced in 1981. The publication, which was left in Taylor’s hands, was purchased in 2004 by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.


In 1979, Utne married Nina Rothschild. They had three sons and gave birth to Utne Reader, which began as a 12-page newsletter that summarized articles in other publications. Their two-room office above the food co-op in Minneapolis’s Linden Hills neighborhood was so small one editor worked in a closet. If someone was going to flush the toilet they had to alert their colleagues who were on the phone. (They eventually moved to more upscale digs near Loring Park.)

Utne Reader was filled with perspectives percolating on the edges of the arts, culture, politics, business and spirituality. Circulation grew from 27,000 in 1984 to nearly 300,000 in 1990.

The magazine anticipated dozens of mainstream and counter-cultural phenomena — the 1987 stock market crash, the mythopoetic men’s movement, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, media concentration, pressures on the family farm, online dating, community building and cyber-spying by the government.

Before long, Utne Reader was so well known it popped into popular culture with references on “The Simpsons” (Lisa had a subscription), and “Family Guy,” where the martini-drinking dog is reading a copy. TV host Jon Stewart quoted from it. And Eric Utne’s name has been used in the New York Times crossword puzzle more than 50 times.

— to www.twincities.com

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