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On Books

Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune, where she has worked since 1996.

2 Minnesota poets win national awards

Heid E. Erdrich. Photo by B. Fresh Photography and Media.

Heid E. Erdrich, photo by B Fresh Photography & Media

Five poets--including two from Minnesota--have been chosen as winners of the 2019 National Poetry Series. Each poet will be awarded $10,000 and publication. Their books will be published by a variety of publishers. The winners include Heid E. Erdrich of Minneapolis, whose manuscript, "Little Big Bully," will be published in 2020 by Penguin Press, and Michael Torres of Mankato, whose book, "An Incomplete List of Names," will be published by Beacon Press.

The other winners are "Field Music," by Alexandria Hall, to be published by Ecco; "Fractal Shores," by Diane Louie, to be published by University of Georgia Press; and "Thrown in the Throat," by Benjamin Garcia, to be published by Minneapolis's Milkweed Editions.

The National Poetry Series was established in 1978 to recognize and promote excellence in poetry.

Judges for this competition have, over time, included Margaret Atwood, Robert Bly, Billy Collins, D.A. Powell, Mark Doty and Maxine Kumin.

Lesley Nneka Arimah wins the Caine Prize for African Writing


Lesley Nneka Arimah. Photo by Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Lesley Nneka Arimah. Photo by Tom Wallace, Star Tribune


Lesley Nneka Arimah, who lived for many years in Minnesota, has won the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story, "Skinned," which was published by McSweeney's. "Skinned" had previously won the National Magazine Award for Fiction. Arimah had been shortlisted for the Caine Prize twice before. The prize carries an award of £10,000, which is about $12,000.

Arimah was born in the United Kingdom, grew up in Nigeria and earned her MFA at Minnesota State University at Mankato. She has previously been honored with the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 prize. Her 2017 story collection, "What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky," won the Kirkus Prize, a Minnesota Book Award and the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. She was the Star Tribune Artist of the Year in 2017.

According to the press release from McSweeney's, " 'Skinned' envisions a society in which young girls are ceremonially ‘uncovered’ and must marry in order to regain the right to be clothed. It tells the story of Ejem, a young woman uncovered at the age of fifteen yet ‘unclaimed’ in adulthood, and her attempts to negotiate a rigidly stratified society following the breakdown of a protective friendship with the married Chidinma. With a wit, prescience, and a wicked imagination, ‘Skinned’ is a bold and unsettling tale of bodily autonomy and womanhood, and the fault lines along which solidarities are formed and broken.

"The incredible power of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s 'Skinned' is in how it reflects the rancor directed at so-called “unruly” women by locating the familiar within the unfamiliar. With an expert touch of the strange, this inspired story thrusts the reader into a disorientingly recognizable world and in turn thaws our understanding of human sensitivities and the nuanced hierarchies of power. Our literary landscape is better for this story reaching the large audience that it deserves."