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This year's Minnesota Book Awards are held at the St. Paul Union Depot.

This year’s Minnesota Book Awards are held at the St. Paul Union Depot.

Many people don’t realize this, but few states have anything like what we have in the Minnesota Book Awards. For one, many states don’t even have an awards ceremony that recognizes the best of literature in the past year. And if states do give out awards, I doubt it matches the extravagance and importance that Minnesota places on its annual awards.

The Minnesota Book Awards is like the Academy Awards of statewide literature. There are nominees, who are winnowed down to finalists, and then a panel of literature experts picks one winner in each category.

The gala on April 5 provides an excuse to dress up and mingle with the Minnesota literary crowd. This year, anyone can buy a ticket and get treated to champagne, dessert, and music amid the elegant backdrop of the St. Paul Union Depot.

It’s easy to find a thriving literary community in big cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Portland represents the West Coast with all of the amazing writing talent living there. But between the coasts, you’d be hard-pressed to find a commitment to writing and literature better than what we have in Minnesota. The Loft, MFA programs, the Book Awards, the plethora of private, state, and regional grant opportunities, the public who come out in droves to readings, along with the writers who call this place home all combine to foster a unique and supportive writing culture. I’m so proud to call myself a Minnesota writer, and thrilled to have been picked a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards in the Memoir & Creative Nonfiction category.

I got to know several of my fellow finalists and their work at the “Meet the Finalists” event March 14 at The Loft in Minneapolis. Thirty-two books are finalists in eight categories: Children’s Literature, General Nonfiction, Genre Fiction, Memoir & Creative Nonfiction, Minnesota, Novel & Short Story, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature.

I thought I would offer some observations about this year’s book awards.


Wolves apparently are popular. We have WOLVES, by Cary J. Griffith in genre fiction, and LITTLE WOLVES by Thomas Maltman in novel & short story.

Native Americans

Literature about Native Americans remains relevant to this state. There was a surge of interest lately, especially in 2012, which marked the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War. In 2013, Gwen Westerman and Bruce White won for MNI SOTA MAKOCE: THE LAND OF THE DAKOTA, and this year the book received the Hognander Minnesota History Award for the best book about Minnesota history published in the preceding two years.

This year, finalist books dealing with Native American issues include:

  • THE GIRL WHO SANG TO BUFFALO: A CHILD, AN ELDER AND THE LIGHT FROM AN ANCIENT SKY by Kent Nerburn (memoir & creative nonfiction)
  • MODERN SPIRIT: THE ART OF GEORGE MORRISON by W. Jackson Rushing III and Kristin Makholm (Minnesota)

A book with one word

A one-word book made the list: MOO! By David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. Technically it’s a two-word book, but you’ll have to read it through to discover the second word!

Big names

We’re proud of our literary community in Minnesota. So many talented writers! But these finalists have received national acclaim for their works:

  • Norah Labiner
  • Matt Rasmussen
  • William Kent Krueger

In addition, highly regarded presses based in Minnesota are represented—Coffee House Press and Graywolf Press. These presses routinely gobble up national book awards.

The press with the most-est

The University of Minnesota Press has six finalists for this year’s awards in four categories. I’m proud to be affiliated with this amazing publisher!

The Mankato area represents

Not only do we have something great going on in Minnesota, but the Mankato area’s reputation as a literary mecca only grows stronger. My town has had some great representation at the Book Awards in recent years, and this year is no exception. Along with myself, Thomas Maltman is a finalist (see above). He attended MSU-Mankato’s highly regarded MFA program. Carrie Mesrobian in the Young People’s Literature category graduated from Mankato West. And Matt Rasmussen (Poetry) teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and was a National Book Award finalist.

If I may say so myself, next year’s Book Awards also has a lot of Mankato potential. Stay tuned!