The 21st annual Minnesota Book Awards were announced Saturday night, and if you weren’t one of the 700 guests at the big gala, you could still get a play-by-play via Twitter — unless you’re one of those people who think such gimmickry spells the end of literature as we know it. Because sometimes, you know, 140 characters just isn’t enough to say it all; people are still writing books, and Minnesota authors produced some great ones last year. From a nominee field of 319 titles, these were the winners.
Award for Children’s Literature: Susan Marie Swanson, “The House in the Night” (Houghton Mifflin Company). My thoughts? Swanson’s book was too beautiful not to win; those stunning woodcuts make it a work of art. However, I was secretly rooting for Duluth cartoonist Chris Monroe; her “Monkey With A Toolbelt” is a hoot, and a big hit with actual kids.
Award for General Nonfiction: Catherine Friend, “The Compassionate Carnivore” (Da Capo). Foodie titles have been a huge boon to book publishing (and ostensibly, to grocery-selling, unless we’re too busy philosophizing about food to actually cook), so this win was a bit predictable.
Award for Genre Fiction: Julie Kramer, “Stalking Susan” (Doubleday). The competition in this field was especially intense, and it could easily have gone to William Kent Krueger, who almost always cleans up the genre category, but Kramer’s debut was so creepy and well-crafted that it was a pleasure to see her win.
Award for Memoir & Creative Nonfiction: Kao Kalia Yang, “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir.” Yang’s elegant memoir about coming to St. Paul from a Hmong refugee camp should be become part of the Minnesotan canon. It goes a long way toward demystifying what has become a quiet force in local culture. This book also won the Reader’s Choice Award.
Award for Minnesota: Barbara W. Sommer, “Hard Work and a Good Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota” (Minnesota Historical Society Press). Books like this one make a good case for a new CCC for these times. Someone, send a copy to the White House, please. Just look at what the CCC did for Minnesota; it’s in the book, and all around us.
Award for Novel & Short Story: Louise Erdrich, “The Plague of Doves” (HarperCollins Publishers). Erdrich is a total pro, and continues to sharpen her skills with every book, so this win should surprise no one.
Award for Poetry: Heid E. Erdrich, “National Monuments,” (Michigan State University Press). And another Erdrich wins! A celebration party at Birchbark Books seems in order.
Award for Young People’s Literature: Brian Malloy, “Twelve Long Months” (Scholastic Press). I haven’t read this one, but I will now; dark horse Malloy beat out a field of much more established nominees, including refugees from adult literature, so this must be one good book.
The second annual Book Artist Award was presented to Paulette Myers-Rich for her body of work. Check out an exhibit of her photographs at St. Paul’s Central Library, 90 W. 4th St., through May 1.
Patrick Coleman, the Minnesota Historical Society’s acquisitions librarian extraordinaire, took home the Kay Sexton Award. In his 30-year tenure, Coleman has taken a good collection of books about Minnesota and turned it into the premiere collection of printed material about Minnesota available in the world, making the MHS Library one of the preeminent research libraries in the country. This is good, no, vital work, because the past just can’t be tweeted.