Sunday, February 5, 2017

Donna Salli

A Novelist’s Notion
“I feel like I’ve tossed a corked bottle into an ocean current-
there is a sense of wonder and mystery. It’ll go where it goes.”
For Donna Salli her published book “A Notion of Pelicans” is like a quiet miracle. She found it gratifying to know the book is out in the world, apart from her.
Donna Salli is Finnish-American, on both sides of a large extended family. She was born and raised in Michigan along the shores of Lake Superior and like the characters in her debut novel, “A Notion of Pelicans”; she has a fascination for the big lake. She is a fiction writer, poet, essayist, and playwright.

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts she also holds an MFA in Poetry. She has taught English at Central Lakes College for 19 years. It was here she was able to teach her first love poetry. She is drawn to this art form because it focuses on sounds. Poetry entails carefully choosing every word to create a rhythm, music that the reader experiences even when silently reading. The form is compact and visual.

Since retirement Donna has had more time to devote to her craft of writing. She writes in multiple genres. Her creative work focuses on family, heritage, spirituality, changing gender roles, and other social issues. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. Her play, The Rock Farm, about a Finnish-American family living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, has staged productions in Finland, Michigan, Central Lakes College and recently at Vermilion College Theater in Ely, MN.

“A Notion of Pelicans” is Donna Salli’s debut novel. The story unfolds with her evocative prose in the first chapter as she describes the landscape along the North Shore of Lake Superior in the late 1800’s. A storm is brewing and Lavinia Hoope Hansen keeps a vigil for her husband who is off on a walk. Her concern for Henry’s safety mounts. An unexpected appearance by a flock of pelicans overhead at first appears like a puzzling encounter to Lavinia. At that given moment Lavina has her curious notion. She envisions the plat of land around her as hallowed. It seems to be a message delivered by the heavenly messengers, pelicans. In time Lavina went on to become the founder of Pelican Church built along the North Shore.

A hundred years later, the church continues drawing people with the legend that one solitary pelican still circles overhead watching its people. Narrated from the perspectives of four different female members of Pelican Church each has a notion of her own. Scenes are created that give the reader an intimate look into their complicated lives as well into the depths of their marriages, family relationships and past history. Many of these women’s stories have been tucked away but as they unfold so does forgiveness and healing. Donna’s deft hand creates smooth transitions between each narration. Her writing is strong and uses precise language, well-crafted sentences and skillful use of dialogue to move the story along at a good pace keeping the reader engaged.

Multi-layered “A Notion of Pelicans” offers much to ponder as these compelling characters peel away layers of emotions and choices. Book club discussion questions, information about the author and future events are available at
A visit by Donna to The Novel Women book group.
Brainerd January 2017

Article submitted by Sue Ready to Lakes Area Living Magazine February, 2017


  1. This is an excellent summary of poetry: Poetry entails carefully choosing every word to create a rhythm, music that the reader experiences even when silently reading. The form is compact and visual.

  2. I am sooooo curious about Donna's book. I met her once-she was lovely and as you know, we have many of the same friends :)

    1. How about a April lunch and you can borrow my book? Indeed she is a lovely gracious lady whose words resonate in a lyrical and poetic form.