Minnesota writer Larry Millett is a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award in two categories; the children’s literature category is a hotbed of competition with all nominees previous winners; and Star Tribune editorial writer Lori Sturdevant has been nominated for her biography of Rosaline Wahl.
The winners will be announced on April 18 at the annual Minnesota Book Awards gala event at the Historic Union Depot in St. Paul’s Lowertown. Here are the finalists:
Children’s Literature, sponsored by Books For Africa: “It’s an Orange Aardvark,” by Michael Hall; “Little Puppy and the Big Green Monster,” by Mike Wohnoutka; “Water Can Be… ,” by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija; “Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold,” by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen.
General Nonfiction, sponsored by Minnesota AFL-CIO: “Harriet Beecher Stowe,” by Nancy Koester; “My Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks,” by Brenda J. Child; “New Scenic Café: The Cookbook,” by Scott Graden with Arlene Anderson; “Queer Clergy,” by R.W. Holmen.
Genre Fiction, sponsored by Alerus Financial: “Fallen Angel,” by Chuck Logan; “The Life We Bury,” by Allen Eskens; “The Secret of Pembrooke Park,” by Julie Klassen; “Strongwood: A Crime Dossier,” by Larry Millett.
Minnesota: “Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota,” by John J. Moriarty and Carol D. Hall; “Her Honor: Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women's Movement,” by Lori Sturdevant; “Minnesota Farmers Market Cookbook,” by Tricia Cornell; "Minnesota’s Own,” by Larry Millett, photography by Matt Schmitt.
Novel & Short Story, sponsored by Education Minnesota: “A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James; “In Reach,” by Pamela Carter Joern; “The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons,” by Heather A. Slomski; “Stillwater,” by Nicole Helget.
Young People’s Literature, sponsored by The Creative Writing Programs at Hamline University: “Ambassador,” by William Alexander; “Leroy Ninker Saddles Up,” by Kate DiCamillo; “West of the Moon,” by Margi Preus, “The Witch’s Boy,” by Kelly Barnhill.
Previously announced are the Book Artist Award, which will be awarded to Harriet Bart, Philip Gallo and Jill Jevne, and the Kay Sexton Award, which will go to Mary François Rockcastle.
Tickets for the Minnesota Book Award gala are $50 and are available at www.thefriends.org or by calling 651-222-3242.
Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302. On Twitter: @StribBooks
The crush of people started early: in the foyer of Open Book, through the lobby, up the famous winding staircase to the second floor. Graywolf Press folks hustled past the line, privileged, no need to wait--they were the publishers, after all, of the evening's poet, and they had a lot to do.
"I feel like I'm at a rock concert," one young woman said as the crowd inched up the stairs.
And she wasn't far wrong; poet Claudia Rankine is a literary rock star. Her newest collection, "Citizen: An American Lyric," was a finalist for a National Book Award and is a finalist in two categories (poetry, and criticism) for a National Book Critics Circle award.
Rankine, who teaches at Pomona College, was in Minneapolis on Friday night after spending most of the week at the College of St. Benedict in Collegeville, doing readings and talking to students.
The performance hall at the Loft was at capacity (about 200 people); three overflow rooms held a couple hundred more, hooked up by video and not always reliable audio. Macalester College professor Marlon James, author of "A Brief History of Seven Killings," introduced Rankine.
"I can't tell you how quickly I responded to that e-mail that said did I want to introduce Claudia Rankine," James said, chuckling, calling himself one of her biggest fanboys. "Even at its most boldly confrontational, 'Citizen' grabs us with its big heart. It's the pre-Ferguson book that feels post."
Rankine, quiet, thoughtful, measured, talked about the beginnings of her book. "I went to friends and asked them, 'Will you tell me a story where race entered the room?'" she said. They did, and she listened. These stories found their way into the first section of "Citizen," story after story, written in the second person the more to involve the reader, written plainly and nearly without emotion, but story after story, one building on another to devastating effect.
A friend ("you" in the piece) went to her first therapy appointment at the therapist's house, and the therapist screamed at her to get out of her yard.
Rankine ("you" in the piece) asked a friend to babysit while she went to the movies. On her way home she got a call from a neighbor, warning her about a "menacing black guy" in front of her house, casing the joint. Don't worry, the neighbor says; he's already called the police.
And when the menacing black guy turned out to be Rankine's friend who had stepped outside to make a phone call while babysitting her children, she suggests to the man that in future, he stay in the back yard. "He looks at you a long minute before saying he can speak on the phone wherever he wants. Yes, of course, you say. Yes, of course."
The crowd at the Loft was perfectly silent as she read this piece, and then Rankine looked up and said, "That's the tortuorous and complicated and sick thing about racism. I want to protect you from my neighbor, and my way of protecting you is to curtail your rights. It's insidious."
For another part of "Citizen," Rankine asked her friend Rupert, an attorney in Los Angeles, to tell her about the times he had been pulled over by the cops. Rupert and his wife came over to Rankine's house, and "one of the things that surprised me was that she had never heard any of his stories," she said. "And as he told them I could see him getting angrier and angrier."
She read some of Rupert's stories in her quiet, strong voice: "Get on the ground. Get on the ground now. I must have been speeding. No, you weren't speeding. I wasn't speeding? You didn't do anything wrong. Then why are you pulling me over? Why am I pulled over? Put your hands where they can be seen. Put your hands in the air. Put your hands up."
After the reading, the audience questions came slowly at first, as though everyone needed some time to absorb the words they had just heard. One man had no question but merely wanted to thank her for reminding him that he is not alone.
A woman asked about Rankine's emotions as she was writing the book. "There were things that distressed me," Rankine said. "The piece about the therapist really shocked me." But when she was writing, she was concentrating more on the language than the feelings behind them. "Sometimes it takes weeks to figure out the right order of the words, or the words themselves," she said.
A teacher asked how to respond to white students who read "Citizen" and feel defensive. Rankine suggested that defensiveness is only one way a person can respond, and that the teacher might consider asking her students to look for other ways, too.
"We are all struggling around this," she said. "The only chance we have is engagement."
The executive director of the country's largest literary center will step down from her job in August. Jocelyn Hale has run the Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis since 2007, and served on its board of directors for five years before that.
"I love this place," Hale said in an interview this morning. "I used to come here and take writing classes. I'll always be cheering it on."
Hale, 51, will see the Loft through the mammoth AWP convention in April--the Association of Writers and Writing Programs is the largest writers conference in the country, expected to bring about 17,000 writers, editors, publishers, students and professors to the Twin Cities--and plans to leave after the Loft's 40th anniversary celebration Aug. 21 and 22.
That anniversary, she said, seemed a good time to introduce a new executive director.
During her eight years as executive director, the Loft successfully completed a major endowment drive, launched a significant online learning curriculum, increased its outreach to children and communities of color, and expanded its free programs.
"We now have online students all over the country," she said. "In Tel Aviv, London, Mumbai!"
Hale gave all credit to her staff. "I know how to hire good people," she said, "and then get them what they need to do their jobs."
Hale is not retiring, but now that her children are all in college she said she and her husband will travel, and she will explore her options. Her job will be posted on Friday.
You don’t have to spend National Readathon Day reading “Beowulf,” one of the oldest texts in the English language, but you could. And if you did, you would have a lot of company.
This Saturday (Jan. 24) has been designated National Readathon Day by the good bookish folks at the National Book Foundation, and people across the country are being challenged to read for four hours straight, from noon to 4 p.m. (Snack breaks acceptable.)
The good bookish folks at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis’ Uptown are taking this one step further: They challenge people to read in Old English for four hours. They are hosting a marathon session of “Beowulf,” the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language. The event will begin precisely at noon with these immortal words:
“Hwæt! Wé Gárdena in géardagum þéodcyninga þrym gefrúnon· hú ðá æþelingas ellen fremedon.”
(Although chances are they will be translated into standard English, which would sound more like this: "So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness." )(Seamus Heaney translation.)
And on it will go until the poem ends right around 5 p.m.
The bookstore has lined up a host of willing readers, including novelist Peter Geye and National Book Award-winning writer Will Alexander, but a few five-minute slots remain open. Sign up at http://tinyurl.com/lbq2pb6.
Donations and pledges raised during the Readathon will go to the National Book Foundation, which supports reading, writers, and the National Book Awards.
It's not like she didn't have anything else to do. Minnesota writer Kate DiCamillo, the Library of Congress Ambassador for Young People's Literature, author of more than a dozen books (with a new novel coming out next year), and in-demand public speaker, has now signed on to be the first National Summer Reading Champion, working with the nonprofit Collaborative Summer Library Program.
DiCamillo will appear in a series of public service announcements, participate in a national media campaign, and appear at events across the country. The aim of the program is to encourage families and children to take part in library summer reading programs--and it dovetails nicely with her work as Ambassador, which is also to promote reading.
Reading--especially families reading together--has long been a passion of DiCamillo's, who grew up with a mother who read to her and indulged her love of books. (Once Kate checked a book out of the library so many times her mother finally went up the librarians and asked if they could buy it. They told her, "You know it doesn't work that way.")
DiCamillo, the author of "Because of Winn-Dixie," "Flora & Ulysses," and many other books, is one of the few writers to be honored twice with the Newbery Medal. She has also won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, the Christopher Medal, and many other honors. She lives and writes in Minneapolis and was honored last month by the Star Tribune, which named her the artist of the year.
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