Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune, where she has worked since 1996. She is the author of "News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist," winner of a Minnesota Book Award.

Posts about Local authors

Pushcart Prizes announced

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel Updated: January 16, 2014 - 12:44 PM

The Pushcart Prizes were announced today, and the list is long and illustrous. Andrew Dubus III, Natasha Trethewey, Louise Gluck, Amy Hempel, Pam Houston, Lorrie Moore ... Three Minnesota writers are among the nearly 70 winners:

Charles Baxter, for his story, "What Happens in Hell," published by Ploughshares

Jude Nutter, for her poem, "Love Like That," published in Briarcliff Rerview

Matt Rasmussen, for his poem, "After Suicide," published in Water-Stone Review, the literary magazine published by Hamline University.

The Pushcart Prizes honor stories, essays and poems published by small presses.

For a full list of winners, go here.

Props, jokes and poetry

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel Updated: December 18, 2013 - 10:21 AM
Danny Klecko reads at the University Club.

Danny Klecko reads at the University Club.

The women weren't exactly sedate, but they read from printed scripts--poetry, book excerpts, essays--and they mostly kept to the time limit. Within those constraints, though, there was much room for laughter and poignancy, as Heid Erdrich read poems that she had "sneaked into" her new cookbook, "Original Local," and Mary Lou Judd Carpenter read from a memoir she has written about her parents, "Miriam's Words: The Personal Price of a Public Life." (Her father was congressman Walter Judd, and the memoir draws heavily on the letters of his wife, Miriam.) Eleanor Leonard read an essay about lighting the candles on a tree and singing "Silent Night."

But the men! Whoa! Less reading than performance art, spoken word, with props.

Last night's Readings for Writers (holiday edition), coordinated and emceed, as usual, by St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly, was unexpectedly raucous and, at times, side-splittingly funny. Not what you might expect for a literary evening at the sedate and dignified University Club.

Mike Finley pulls poems out of a sock

Mike Finley pulls poems out of a sock

Poet Mike Finley, blue-eyed and cherubic, pulled a tinsel-bedecked hat out of a bag, placed it solemnly on his head, then pulled out a big gold Christmas stocking and began fishing around inside of it, drawing out slips of paper at random and reading them. Not poems, exactly, but more than jokes, they first startled, then amused the audience. (The first one: "Why / is that frisbee / getting bigger? / and then it hits me....")

Poet and memoirist Ted King pulled on a Santa hat, claimed that Ted King couldn't make it and had sent Santa in his place, and then began spinning fantastic stories, seemingly off the top of his head, about the original Santa giveaway (which involved theft).

Baker-poet Danny Klecko never opened his prop bag, just pounded it on the podium dramatically as he read a poem about urging one of his pastry chefs to steal Garrison Keillor's salt and pepper shakers. Was that what was in the bag? The last line of the poem tells us that the contents "I'm not at liberty to discuss."

At 9 p.m., just as Tim Nolan, the last poet of the evening, approached the podium, a dozen or so people screamed, "Snow emergency!" and fled to move their cars. Nolan looked wryly at Connolly and said, "You mention my name and people head for the door."

He carried only a sheaf of paper with him, but it turned out that he, too, had props: As he read his final poem, "Shoes," he removed his shoes and placed them on the podium in front of him. He made it almost all the way through the poem before stopping, sniffing the air, and saying, "Oooh, my shoes stink." And then, "That's not part of the poem."

The annual event is free but passes the hat for Public Art St. Paul.

Meet your favorite author at your favorite bookstore

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel Updated: November 22, 2013 - 11:36 AM
Sherman Alexie.

Sherman Alexie.

When you’re out shopping for books the Saturday after Thanksgiving (as of course you will be), do not be surprised if some of your favorite writers are manning the cash registers or tidying up displays. Walk up to them. Ask for a recommendation. That’s why they’re there.

Saturday, Nov. 30, is not just "Small Business Saturday," but it's also “indies first” day — a day when writers show support for independent bookstores by helping out for a few hours. Writer Sherman Alexie came up with the plan, which has been embraced by hundreds of authors across the country. ("Hello, hello, you gorgeous book nerds," his open letter begins.)

Lists are still being firmed up, but here’s what we know so far (and you can check the map to find out what's going on in your favorite store): 

Chapter 2 Books in Hudson, Wis., Michael Norman and Stephanie Bodeen;

Red Balloon, Saint Paul: Debra Frasier, Nancy Carlson, Kurtis Scalleta, David LaRochelle, Brian Farrey, Lauren Stringer, John Coy

Addendum Books, Saint Paul (in a corner of SubText Bookstore): Dawn Klehr, William Alexander, Nancy Carlson, Catherine Clark, John Coy, Brian Farrey, Kevin Kling, Christopher Lincoln ("Billy Bones"), Mary Losure, Carrie Mesrobian, Chris Monroe, Laura Purdie Salas, Kurtis Scaletta, Pat Schmatz, Lauren Stringer, Stephanie Watson, Jacqueline West

Micawber's, Saint Paul: Peter Geye and Nicole Helget

Birchbark Books, Mpls: Heid Erdrich 

Common Good Books, Saint Paul: Mary Losure and Sarah Stonich

Magers & Quinn, Mpls: Andy Sturdevant 

SubText, Saint Paul: Sarah Stonich.

Valley Booksellers, Stillwater: Julie Kramer, Erin Hart, Colleen Baldrica, Stephanie Landsem, Charlie Quimby

Monkey See, Monkey Read in Northfield. Benjamin Percy

The Bookstore at Fitger's in Duluth: Erin Soderberg.

The Cambridge library apologizes

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel Updated: November 14, 2013 - 11:56 AM

When last we blogged, Cambridge, Mass., writer Katherine A. Powers had tried to donate a copy of her new book, "Suitable Accommodations," to her hometown library and had been refused.  Why do we care? Because her book is a collection of letters written by her father, Minnesota writer (and National Book Award winner) J.F. Powers

Powers had noticed that the library system she had patronized for 40 years didn't own a copy--other Massachusetts library systems had the book in their collections, including Boston, but not Cambridge. So she brought a copy down to the library and offered it to them.

And they said no.

The reason, they said, was that they only accept donations of books that are on the New York Times best-seller list, and while the Powers book had been published by FSG and had been widely reviewed, it was not a best-seller.

The library director was out of town when all of this happened, and Monday was a holiday, and it wasn't until yesterday that the whole thing was resolved--more or less.

Powers and the director met, the director said that refusing the book had been a mistake, and that the staff member who had rejected the book had made a mistake. (But the library policy apparently says otherwise.)

In any case, the director agreed to now accept the donation of the book, but it was too late; Powers had already donated the book to a more willing library, the one in nearby Maiden, Mass.

So will the Cambridge library now pay to add a copy to its collection? Stay tuned for a possible Chapter Three...

Several Minnesota titles make the semi-finals in Goodreads' best reads

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel Updated: November 12, 2013 - 3:39 PM

Because we are Flyover Country, and thus aw-shucks dirt-kicking provincial, we are allowed to claim every author who not only was born here and lived here for a time (or lives here still), but also every author who was educated here, is here on fellowship, or who has summered up the Shore. (This would include Pat Conroy, whose sister lived in Minneapolis for awhile--he'd visit her, and then head up the Shore.)

We draw the line at including writers who have simply spent the night or changed planes at MSP International. We do have some pride.

So in that vein, we should all be bursting with pride at the number of Minnesota authors who have made it to the semi-finals in the annual Goodreads Best Books competition. There are perhaps overly many genres, but we won't argue with that--all the better for highlighting more and more books! (Though the books don't always seem to quite belong with the genre--is Colum McCann's "TransAtlantic" really "historical fiction"? And is Joyce Carol Oates' "The Accursed" really "horror"? Well, maybe.)

It should be no surprise that the busy and prolific Neil Gaiman is a finalist -- in three categories. (Fantasy, middle-grade and picture book.) Fortunately, because he lives in western Wisconsin and flies in and out of the Twin Cities, we get to claim him. 

So. To the list. If you are a member of Goodreads (and it's easy to join, though controversial, since they were acquired by Amazon) you can vote. There are 25 semifinalists in each of 20 categories--a lot of books! Though some, such as Helene Wecker's highly praised "The Golem and the Jinni," are in multiple categories. (Fantasy, and Debut Novel.) (Wecker is a Carleton grad, and, thus, one of us.)

I'm not going to give you all the titles. You can find those yourself on But here are the Minnesota books (or Minnesota-tinged books). More than a million votes have been cast already, so it's quite impressive to make the seminfinals. Be proud!

Fiction: "The Orphan Train," by Christina Baker Kline. (She summers in Minnesota, and the book is partially set here.)

Mystery and thriller: "Ordinary Grace," by William Kent Kruger. (A resident of St. Paul.)

Fantasy: "The Golem and the Jinni," by Helene Wecker, and "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," by Neil Gaiman.

Horror: "The Fate of Mercy Alban," by Duluth writer Wendy Webb, and "Red Moon," by Benjamin Percy, writer-in-residence at St. Olaf College.

Nonfiction: "I Wear the Black Hat," by Chuck Klosterman. (Born here!)

Poetry: "Black Aperture," by Matt Rasmussen. "Incarnadine," by Mary Szybist (published by Minnesota's Graywolf Press). (We'll find out next week about the National Book Award -- both are in the running.)

Middle grade: "Fortunately, the Milk," by Neil Gaiman

Picture book: "Chu's Day," by Neil Gaiman.

Now go do your civic duty, and vote! Voting ends Saturday, and you can vote on the finalists beginning Monday. Good luck.



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