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New Westminster series: ‘Manji, Bruni, Moss and Haass’

ALSO: Nellie McKay at the Dakota; “Black Light” at Penumbra; flutist Claire Chase in SPCO’s “Flights of Fancy”; and more.

Irshad Manji
Courtesy of the National Speakers Bureau

The announcement of a new Westminster Town Hall Forum season is always a reason to pull out your calendar, maybe never more so than now. In Westminster’s February newsletter, the season is titled “Manji, Bruni, Moss and Haass (or, A Nation in Change).” Political and cultural polarization, the media’s role in a democracy, inequality and exclusion, and America’s place in the world are the topics to be covered. Spring’s four guest speakers are:

Tuesday, Feb. 14: Irshad Manji: “From Polarization to Conversation.” Author of “The Trouble With Islam,” recipient of the first Oprah award for “nerve, conviction and boldness,” Manji is founder of the Moral Courage Project at the University of Southern California and an advocate for human rights, social justice, diversity and inclusion.

Tuesday, March 21: Frank Bruni: “Media in the Age of Misinformation.” An op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Bruni writes about Washington politics, higher education, gay rights and the American landscape. His best-selling books include “Ambling into History: A Chronicle of George W. Bush’s First Presidential Campaign.”

Tuesday, April 11: Otis Moss III: “Building the Beloved Community.” Senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, the Obamas’ former church home, Moss has focused his work on community advancement, civil rights advocacy, and social justice activism, calling attention to the problems of mass incarceration, environmental justice and economic inequality.

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Thursday, May 4: Richard Haass: “Shaping a New Foreign Policy.” Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, nonpartisan think tank and educational institution. A former adviser to Colin Powell, special assistant to George H.W. Bush and a senior director on the National Security Council, he is the author of many books on American foreign policy including “A World in Disarray.”

All forums are held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, with music before and a public reception after. All start at noon and last an hour. Free and open to the public.

Minnesota Book Awards finalists

Last Saturday, 27 judges from around the state – including writers, teachers, librarians and booksellers – made the tough decision of naming the finalists for the 29th annual Minnesota Book Awards. Decisions, actually; there are nine categories and four finalists in each. Look for your favorites or wishlist titles among the following. (When books were published by local publishers, we’ve included the publishers, too.)

Children’s Literature: “Tell Me a Tattoo Story” by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler; “This Is NOT a Cat!” by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka; “Worm Loves Worm” by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curator; “Yellow Time” by Lauren Stringer.

General Nonfiction: “Canoes: A Natural History in North America” by Mark Neuzil and Norman Sims (University of Minnesota Press); “Designing Our Way to a Better World” by Thomas Fisher (University of Minnesota Press); “Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction” by Benjamin Percy (Graywolf Press); “The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It” by Shawn Otto (Milkweed Editions).

Genre Fiction: “The Born and the Made” by Robert Spande; “The Heavens May Fall” by Allen Eskens, “Rise of the Spring Tide” by James Stitt; “Stealing the Countess” by David Housewright.

Memoir & Creative Nonfiction: “I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland” by Michelle Lion (Minnesota Historical Society Press); “The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father” by Kao Kalia Yang; “This Is Where I Am: A Memoir” by Zeke Caligiuri (University of Minnesota Press); “The Thunder Before the Storm: The Autobiography of Claude Bellacourt” by Clyde Bellecourt, as told to Jon Lurie (Minnesota Historical Society Press).

Middle Grade Literature: “Little Cat’s Luck” by Marian Dane Bauer, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell; “Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story” by Caren Stelson (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group); “The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse” by Brian Farrey; “Sticks & Stones” by Abby Cooper.

Minnesota Nonfiction: “The Big Marsh: The Story of a Lost Landscape” by Cheri Register (Minnesota Historical Society Press); “The Ford Century in Minnesota” by Brian McMahon (University of Minnesota Press); “Richard F. Lack: Catalogue Raisonné 1943-1998” by Gary B. Christensen, biography by Stephen A. Gjertson (Afton Historical Society Press); “Women of Mayo Clinic: The Founding Generation” by Virginia M. Wright-Peterson (Minnesota Historical Society Press).

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Novel & Short Story: “The Annie Year” by Stephanie Wilbur Ash; “Do Not Find Me” by Kathleen Novak; “LaRose” by Louise Erdrich; “Wintering” by Peter Geye.

Poetry: “May Day” by Gretchen Marquette (Graywolf Press); “Tula” by Chris Santiago (Milkweed Editions); “Unbearable Splendor” by Sun Yung Shin (Coffee House Press); “Yes Thorn” by Amy Munson.

Young Adult Literature: “Assassin’s Heart” by Sarah Ahiers; “LGBTQ+ Athletes Claim the Field: Striving for Equality” by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner Publishing Group); “The Memory Book” by Lara Avery; “Original Fake” by Kirstin Cronn-Mills.

Fun facts: 240 books were submitted to this year’s Book Awards. Two books in the Genre Fiction category, “The Born and the Made” and “Rise of the Spring Tide” were self-published. In the YA Literature category, Kirstin Cronn-Mills is running against herself. Stephanie Wilbur Ash spent three years as editor at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. The most famous author on the list, Louise Erdrich, is also up for a National Book Critics Circle Award for “La Rose.” If she wins the Minnesota Book Award, this will be her sixth. Hmong American author Kao Kalia Yang’s “The Song Poet” is also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; her first book, “The Latehomecomer,” was the first book ever to win two Minnesota Book Awards. Sixteen of the 36 finalists were published by Minnesota publishers. Strangely absent from the list: Kelly Barnhill’s “The Girl Who Drank the Moon,” which just won the Newbery, and Kate DiCamillo’s “Raymie Nightingale.” Both were among the 240 submissions.

The Minnesota Book Awards is a program of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, with presenting sponsor Education Minnesota. Books are submitted for consideration by authors, publishers, and agents. Winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on Saturday, April 8. FMI and tickets.

The picks

Tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 31) and tomorrow at the Dakota: Nellie McKay: “A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton.” Each time we see McKay, we’re even more sure she’s not from Earth. Smart, fearless, zany and unpredictable, she’s a progressive spine of steel beneath a sweetly smiling girlish exterior. She comes through the Dakota often, always with something different. This time it’s her original cabaret show “A Girl Named Bill,” in which she portrays Billy Tipton, a jazz pianist, bandleader and agent who was born a woman but lived as a man. In songs, jokes, and sometimes bitter stories, she tells the story of Tipton’s life, with her band members – Alexi David on bass, Cary Park on guitar and Kenneth Salters on drums – gamely playing supporting roles. The New York Times called it “one of the best concerts of 2014.” Explicit language and contents; not for the kids. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($35-$50).

Wednesday at Hamline Midway Library: Fireside Reading Series: Stephanie Wilbur Ash, “The Annie Year.” A neighborhood public library since it opened in 1930, the Hamline Midway is the only one of the original 12 branch libraries with a working fireplace. Each winter, the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library make the most of it with weekly readings by Minnesota authors who have published a new work in the previous year. If you go to hear Stephanie Wilbur Ash, you can congratulate her on becoming a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award. (Next week’s reader – Feb. 8 – is another finalist, Benjamin Percy.) 7 p.m. Free. Here’s the line-up for the rest of the series.

Opens Thursday at Penumbra: “Black Light: A Soulful Embrace of Love and Life.” Jomama Jones, the sparkly alter ego of Daniel Alexander Jones, returns to the Cities with a performance that uses songs, stories, humor and conversation to speak to our current moment and ask us to look to the future together. Part of the Claude Edison Purdy Festival, “Black Light” will be followed on Feb. 4 and 11 with “Uncomfortable,” a new work examining race, gender and homelessness by Penumbra Summer Institute grad BriAnna M. Daniels. FMI and tickets ($25 adults, $15 students/youth). Ends Feb. 12.

Thursday at the Heights Theater: “Girls Will Be Boys: A Silent Film Program.” Two silent films, Hal Roach’s “What’s the World Coming To?” (1926) and “The Snowbird” (1916), explore issues of gender identity long before anyone talked about changing signs on bathrooms. Author and subject expert Laura Horak of Carleton University (in Canada, not Carleton College in Northfield) will introduce both and lead a Q&A after. Presented by the Heights and the U of M. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12).

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Friday at the Ordway Concert Hall: The SPCO with Claire Chase: “Flights of Fancy.” An evening of music inspired by the human fascination with flight. Sounds like the light, hopeful respite we could all use. MacArthur Fellow and flutist Chase performs in three of the six works featured on the program, a mix of music by Thomas Ades, Kaija Saariaho, Couperin, Dai Fujikara and Respighi (“The Birds”). 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($33/$53, kids and students free).