Saturday night's fun: The Minnesota Book Awards gala

  • Blog Post by: Laurie Hertzel
  • April 16, 2012 - 10:31 AM



 The emcee, once again, was Jeff Kamin, hearty, funny, bookish--he kept things moving along briskly while confessing that he had only guessed about half of the winners correctly, and that included the ones that had been previously announced.

The ceremony, once again, was in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown St. Paul, possibly the only place that has a room big enough to hold everyone who wanted to be there--writers and publishers, readers and booksellers, honorees past and present, TV cameras, and the band (the Willie August Project)

The centerpieces were handmade by Bridget O'Malley and Amanda Degener, the women of Cave Paper, winners of this year's Book Artist Award.


The Willie August Project

The Willie August Project

on The Minnesota Book Awards gala Saturday night was a glittering event of sparkly black clothes, jazzy music, free-flowing wine, lots of cheers (and cheer), and the occasional Standing O.


Nancy Paddock, for instance, who won the award for memoir and creative nonfiction, seemed visibly moved when her name was called. Everyone at her table erupted in whoops and cheers, and they all stood to applaud her as she made her way to the podium.

Her memoir, "A Song at Twilight," is the story of how both of her parents descended into Alzheimer's disease.

"My mother always told us if we fought  over her stuff, she'd haunt us," Paddock said. "We didn't fight over her stuff, but she haunted us anyway. This book was sort of an exorcism."


Allan Kornblum, this year's Kay Sexton Award winner.

Allan Kornblum, this year's Kay Sexton Award winner.

 Allan Kornblum got a standing ovation when James Lenfestey introduced him; Kornblum, the winner of this year's Kay Sexton Award, came to Minnesota "trailing clouds of glory and with printers' ink on his hands," Lenfestey said.

Kornblum, the founder of Coffee House Press, is now working on a book about the history of books. The research has been fascinating, he said, and he recently uncovered the first recorded request for a book--an Egyptian pharoah wanted "a collection of curses so he could have victory over his competitors. A reminer that books can be used for good as well as evil," Kornblum said.


Jim Rogers and Gerard Smyth

Jim Rogers and Gerard Smyth


As is traditional, the winner of the University of St. Thomas's O'Shaughnessy Award, which goes annual to an Irish poet, read at midpoint of the evening. Gerard Smyth said, "My poems tend to be quite short bcause I worked for many years in my day job as an editor."

And when Ed Bok Lee received the award for poetry, he looked out at the audience and said, "I did a reading last night in Washington, D.C., and it was about three white people among about 80 blacks and Asians. And now it's reversed."

Lee referred to poetry as "kind of like the crazy aunt of the literary family--or the drunken uncle, or the coked-up-meth-head uncle. Or even the family dog. Most useful when it's sleeping and dreaming or barking at someone."

Later in the evening, as John Reimringer (last year's winner in the novel and short story category) announced this year's winner, he said that if poetry is the family dog, fiction is John F. Kennedy. "Fiction writers get to dream of things that never were, and say, why not?"


Fiction winner Gregory Blake Smith, and finalist Kevin Fenton

Fiction winner Gregory Blake Smith, and finalist Kevin Fenton

 Fiction winner Gregory Blake Smith beamed out at the audience and said, "My wife said I didn't have any chance of winning this."

The final award of the evening, the Readers Choice Award, went to Kurtis Scaletta for "The Tanglewood Terror," so it is very good that he did not go home early. (But who did? The wine was flowing...) He thanked the band for its "wend-around-tables music". And he thanked "everyone who voted for me and answered my constant pleas on Facebook."

Here is a list of all the winners. And for more photographs, visit our Facebook page at

General nonfiction: Shawn Lawrence Otto, "Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America"

Children's literature: Laura Purdie Salas, "BookSpeak! Poems About Books"

Memoir and creative nonfiction: Nancy Paddock, "A Song at Twilight"

Minnesota: Julie L'Enfant, "Pioneer Modernists: Minnesota's First Generation of Women Artists"

Genre fiction: Richard A. Thompson, "Big Wheat"

Poetry: Ed Bok Lee, "Whorled"

Young people's literature: Brian Farrey, "With or Without You"

Novel and short story: Gregory Blake Smith, "The Law of Miracles"

Readers' Choice: Kurtis Scaletta, "The Tanglewood Terror"

Kay Sexton Award: Allan Kornblum

Hognander Minnesota History Award: Mary Lethert Wingerd

Book Artist Award: Cave Paper


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