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Minnesota Book Awards finalists; Arts Advocacy Day is now Arts Action Week

Of the 36 books up for awards, 13 were published by Minnesota-based presses and one was self-published.

The finalists for the 2021 Minnesota Book Awards were announced on Saturday, one category at a time, on social media. In case you missed the rollout, here are the finalists in the order they were revealed.

But first, a few facts: The Minnesota Book Awards is a yearlong program of the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, the Library of Congress’ designated Minnesota Center for the Book.

Kao Kalia Yang
Kao Kalia Yang
Finalist Louise Erdrich is a five-time Minnesota Book Award winner. Kao Kalia Yang, who’s up for awards in two categories, has won four previous awards. Poet torrin a. greathouse won the 2020 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry. Alan Page and his daughter, Kamie Page, have written four children’s books together; they are first-time finalists for the award. Proceeds benefit the Page Education Foundation.

Of the 36 books up for awards, 13 were published by Minnesota-based presses and one was self-published.

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This year’s Minnesota Book Awards will be the 33rd annual and the second virtual. The 2020 Book Awards ceremony, originally scheduled for April 28 at the Ordway Concert Hall, was one of the first big public events that had to be rethought, and quickly. That this year’s ceremony on April 29 will also be virtual is a reminder of how long the pandemic has been shaping our lives.

And the finalists are:

Memoir & Creative Nonfiction: “Somewhere in the Unknown World” by Kao Kalia Yang (Metropolitan Books/ Macmillan Publishers); “Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify: Essays” by Carolyn Holbrook (University of Minnesota Press); “Unglued: A Bipolar Love Story” by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Boyle & Dalton); “The War Requiem” by Kaia Solveig Preus (Essay Press).

Alan Page and his daughter, Kamie Page, left, have written four children’s books together; they are first-time finalists for the Minnesota Book Award.
Screen shot
Alan Page and his daughter, Kamie Page, left, have written four children’s books together; they are first-time finalists for the Minnesota Book Award.
Caren Stelson
Caren Stelson
Children’s Literature, sponsored by Books for Africa: “Bee Love (Can Be Hard)” by Alan Page and Kamie Page, illustrated by David Geister (Page Education Foundation); “Big Papa and the Time Machine” by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Shane Evans (HarperCollins Publishers); “A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story by Caren Stelson, illustrated by Akira Kusaka (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group); “The Most Beautiful Thing” by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Khoa Le (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group).

Ray Gonzalez
Ray Gonzalez
Poetry, sponsored by Wellington Management, Inc.: “Catrachos” by Roy G. Guzmán (Graywolf Press); “Feel Puma: Poems” by Ray Gonzalez (University of New Mexico Press); “Homie: Poems” by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press); “Wound From the Mouth of a Wound” by torrin a. greathouse (Milkweed Editions).

Genre Nonfiction, sponsored by Macalester College: “The Deep, Deep Snow” by Brian Freeman (Blackstone Publishing); “From the Grave: A McKenzie Novel” by David Housewright (Minotaur Books/Macmillan Publishers); “Get Idiota” by Nate Granzow (Self-published); “Things We Didn’t Say” by Amy Lynn Green (Bethany House Publishers).

Young Adult Literature, sponsored by United Educators Credit Union: “My Eyes Are Up Here” by Laura Zimmermann (Dutton Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House); “Unscripted” by Nicole Kronzer (Amulet Books/Abrams); “Where We Are” by Alison McGhee (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Simon & Schuster); “The Whitsun Daughters” by Carrie Mesrobian (Dutton Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House).

Jonathan Slaght with a Blakiston’s fish owl. The owl is holding a trout in its beak.
Photo by Sergey Avdeyuk
Jonathan Slaght with a Blakiston’s fish owl. The owl is holding a trout in its beak.
General Nonfiction: “100 Cookies: The Baking Book for Every Kitchen, with Classic Cookies, Novel Treats, Brownies, Bars, and More” by Sarah Kieffer (Chronicle Books); “How the Streets Were Made: Housing Segregation and Black Life in America” by Yelena Bailey (University of North Carolina Press); “The Language Warrior’s Manifesto: How to Keep Our Languages Alive No Matter the Odds” by Anton Treuer (Minnesota Historical Society Press); “Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl” by Jonathan C. Slaght (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan Publishers).

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Middle Grade Literature, sponsored by Education Minnesota: “CatStronauts: Digital Disaster” by Drew Brockington (Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group); “The Littlest Voyageur” by Margi Preus, illustrated by Cheryl Pilgrim (Margaret Ferguson Books/Penguin Random House); “Lukezilla Beats the Game” by Kurtis Scaletta, illustrated by David Sossella (Capstone Editions); “What if a Fish” by Anika Fajardo (Simon & Schuster).

Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich
Novel & Short Story, sponsored by College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University: “Bliss” by Fredrick Soukup (Regal House Publishing); “The Night Watchman” by Louise Erdrich (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers); “Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel” by Kawai Strong Washburn (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan Publishers); “The Things You Left” by Raki Kopernik (Unsolicited Press).

Emilie Buchwald Award for Minnesota Nonfiction: “Daybreak Woman: An Anglo-Dakota Life” by Jane Lamm Carroll (Minnesota Historical Society Press); “Elizabeth Scheu Close: A Life in Modern Architecture” by Jane King Hession (University of Minnesota Press); “Minnesota’s Geologist: The Life of Newton Horace Winchell” by Sue Leaf (University of Minnesota Press); “A Woman’s War, Too: Women at Work During World War II” by Virginia Wright-Peterson (Minnesota Historical Society Press).

Like the 2020 Minnesota Book Awards Virtual Ceremony, 2021 will be free to view, with registration required. The annual Kay Sexton Award will also be presented that evening.

Catching up with Sheila Smith: Arts Action Week

On Dec. 29, Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA), announced her retirement after 25 years of running the strongest arts advocacy group in the United States. In late January, nonprofit arts consultant and former MCA board chair Jennifer Halcrow was tapped to serve as interim director. On Monday, Halcrow started working with Smith through the transition. Smith will step down at the end of February.

Sheila Smith
Courtesy of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts
Sheila Smith
Between now and then, Smith will run a little something called Arts Action Week, normally Arts Advocacy Day, MCA’s signature annual event. During Smith’s watch, Arts Advocacy Day grew from 100 people to more than 1,000. Each year, arts advocates from across the state would journey to the Capitol to meet with legislators, remind them of the importance of the arts to our lives and our economy, and ask them to support arts funding.

No one will journey this year. Like the 2021 Minnesota Book Awards, Arts Action Week will be virtual for the second year in a row.

We spoke with Smith by phone on Monday morning.

MinnPost: Arts Advocacy Day 2020 was originally scheduled for March 19. It went virtual in a hurry. Can you take us back to what that was like?

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Sheila Smith: The world closed down four days before Advocacy Day. We had set up in-person appointments with 201 legislators. It took a month to do that. We had printed all of our materials. The office was full of boxes for the people who had registered. I think it was near 1,000. They were all getting ready to jump in their cars and drive to the Capitol, and then the world shut down.

We actually called off Advocacy Day two days before the governor imposed the shutdown, because we could see it coming. We shifted to having everybody write emails to their legislators instead.

It was so traumatic. It seems like a million years ago now.

MP: This year’s event will take place Feb. 16-19. Why a week instead of a day?

SS: It’s just logistics. If we’re going to be organizing Zoom meetings with all 201 legislators, it’s impossible to run 201 Zoom meetings in one day.

The advantages of doing it virtually are attendees don’t have to get in their cars and drive six or seven hours from the far reaches of Minnesota to see their legislators in person. This will be easier, and we’re hoping to get more attendance at meetings with legislators because people can just pop into a Zoom.

MP: How will people know about the Zoom meetings scheduled with their legislators?

SS: They sign up. If we secure a Zoom with their legislators, we will email them the time, date and call-in info.

MP: Will we see a new Creative Minnesota report this year?

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[Note: Creative Minnesota provides factual, research-based information about the arts and culture economy in Minnesota. It first came out in 2015, then every two years through 2019.]

SS: No. The Creative Minnesota study came to a screeching halt because of COVID. It required a very large audience survey component, and there were no audiences to survey. We did other parts of Creative Minnesota, but we can’t do the big study. We’ve updated the arts education data project to cover all schools K-12, so that’s new.

MP: Will Creative Minnesota continue? Will you still be part of that?

SS: The plan is to continue. I’ll keep the wheels turning until they hire a new director at MCA full-time. That should happen sometime in the spring.

Arts Advocacy Day 2019 (pre-COVID)
Courtesy of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts
Arts Advocacy Day 2019 (pre-COVID)
MP: What do you especially hope will happen during Arts Action Week?

SS: I hope that a lot of constituents call in to talk to their legislators about the importance of the arts to our communities. And that the result of these calls is that state arts funding is protected.

We’re in early days in the legislative session, and there will be lots of things happening. People need to be vocal about protecting arts funding, and the state has a deficit. The sands are shifting on that pretty frequently. People didn’t know how COVID was affecting the budget. It turns out it’s affecting some parts more than others. Will we get federal dollars for COVID relief? That would make it less of a crisis. There are a lot of questions, and we need to be on our toes to make sure legislators know that we think the arts are important and arts funding should be protected.

MP: What else would you like people to know?

SS: I’m proud of how much we have grown the advocacy community in Minnesota. We’ve trained thousands and thousands of people to be advocates, and I believe in them and trust them to protect arts funding in the future.

Also, it’s two weeks out from Arts Action Week. The sooner people sign up, the better, because we have to sort out the complicated logistics of setting up all these Zooms with legislators and connecting the advocates with them.