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Minnesota Book Awards honor winners in nine categories at virtual ceremony Thursday night

Minnesota Book Awards honor winners in nine categories at virtual ceremony Thursday night
on Apr 30, 2021
Minnesota Book Awards honor winners in nine categories at virtual ceremony Thursday night
Winners of the 2021 Minnesota Book Awards were announced Thursday in a live-streamed, virtual ceremony, emceed by readers from across Minnesota. Facilitated by Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, the awards are presented by sponsor Education Minnesota. In addition to winners in nine categories, the annual Kay Sexton Award was presented to Alexs Pate. Here are the winners (*indicates a Minnesota-based publisher).

Children’s Literature, sponsored by Books For Africa

“Big Papa and the Time Machine” by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Shane Evans (HarperCollins Publishers) Big Papa’s grandson is not feeling like going to school. He’s feeling scared, so they hop in Big Papa’s time machine to learn about all the ways a person can be brave. In dreamlike images from Big Papa’s life, Bernstrom and Evans explore crucial moments of African American history — happy and sad — inviting the young and old to share their stories of courage across time. Bernstrom is the author of “One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree,” and “Gator, Gator, Gator!” He has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults degree from Hamline University. He lives in Worthington.

General Nonfiction

“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) As a fledgling birdwatcher, Slaght had a chance encounter with one of the most mysterious birds on Earth, the Blakiston’s fish owl. His five-year journey searching for this enormous, enigmatic creature in the remote forests of eastern Russia provides a rare glimpse into the everyday life of a field scientist and conservationist and serves as a reminder of the beauty, strength, and vulnerability of the natural world. Slaght is the Russia and Northeast Asia coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society. His work has been featured by the New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC World Service, NPR, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, and Audubon magazine, among others.

Genre Fiction, sponsored by Macalester College

“The Deep, Deep Snow” by Brian Freeman (Blackstone Publishing) Deputy Shelby Lake was abandoned as a baby, saved by a stranger who found her in the freezing cold. Now, years later, Shelby is the one who must rescue a missing child, but the case is growing cold. When a tantalizing clue comes to light, Shelby must confront a dark lie that will leave no one’s life untouched – including her own. Freeman is a Minnesota Book Award-winner and New York Times bestselling author of more than 20 psychological thrillers and was named the official author to continue the famous Jason Bourne  franchise.

Memoir & Creative Nonfiction, sponsored by Bradshaw Celebration of Life Centers

“Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify: Essays by Carolyn Holbrook” (University of Minnesota Press*) Holbrook’s life is peopled with ghosts — of the girl she was, the selves she shed and those who have caught up to her, the spirits she’s encountered, and also the beloved souls she’s lost and those she never knew. Holbrook has heeded the call to tell the story of her life, and to find among its chapters the lessons and necessary truths of those who have come before. Holbrook is a teacher and founder of the More Than a Single Story discussion series. She is the recipient of Hamline University Exemplary Teacher Award, the Kay Sexton Award, and many arts fellowships and  grants.

Middle Grade Literature, sponsored by Education Minnesota

“What if a Fish” by Anika Fajardo (Simon & Schuster) Half-Colombian Eddie Aguado has never really felt Colombian. Especially after Papa died. As if by magic,  Eddie — who has never left Minnesota — is invited to spend the summer in Colombia with his older half-brother. But as his adventure unfolds, he feels more and more like a fish out of water. Will Eddie eve  figure out how to be a true Colombiano? Fajardo is the author of “Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family,” a Minnesota Book Award finalist, and has earned awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Loft Literary Center, and the Jerome Foundation.

Emilie Buchwald Award for Minnesota Nonfiction, sponsored by Bookmobile

Minnesota’s Geologist: The Life of Newton Horace Winchell” by Sue Leaf (University of Minnesota Press*) Tracing Newton Horace Winchell’s path to becoming a leading light of an emerging scientific field, ”Minnesota’s Geologist” re-creates the early days of scientific inquiry in Minnesota, when one man’s passion for learning could unlock secrets of the state’s distant past and present landscape. This first telling of Winchell’s life story is set against a backdrop of Minnesota’s geological complexity and splendor. Leaf is an author and trained zoologist who has written multiple books on environmental topics. She is also editor of the newsletter of the Wild River Audubon Society of east-central Minnesota.

Novel & Short Story, sponsored by College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University

‘Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel” by Kawai Strong Washburn (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan Publishers) In Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, 7-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. Instead, Noa is delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, making his story the stuff of legends. Folding tales of Hawaiian gods into a family saga, this is a story of exile and the pursuit of salvation. Washburn was born and raised on the Hamakua coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. His work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, McSweeney’s, and Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, among others. He was a 2015 Tin House Summer Scholar and 2015 Bread Loaf work-study scholar. This is his first novel.

Poetry, sponsored by Wellington Management Inc.

“Homie: Poems” by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press*) Homie is a bright elegy, a friendship diary, a war cry. It comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer. Smith acknowledges that in this country, in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, but the collection is an ode to the friendships that offer salvation. Smith is the author of “[insert] boy” and “Don’t Call Us Dead” — a finalist for the National Book Award. They have won the Forward Prize for Best Collection, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Lambda Literary Award.

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) If Greer Walsh could only live inside her head, life would be easier. She’d be able to focus on math or volleyball or her best friend. She wouldn’t spend time worrying about being the only Kennedy High student whose breasts are bigger than her head. Greer’s story is of a girl finding her way out of her oversized sweatshirt and back into the real world. Zimmermann is a multiple-time champion of the Twin Cities Moth and Word Sprout story slams, and she was chosen to participate in the 2018 Listen To Your Mother storytelling show. This is her first novel.


Alexs Pate received the previously announced Kay Sexton Award, sponsored by St. Catherine University. Pate is an author, teacher, mentor, artist and leader in the Twin Cities literary community. He is president and CEO of Innocent Technologies and is the creator of the Innocent Classroom, a program for K–12 educators that aims to transform U.S. public education and end disparities by closing the relationship gap between educators and students of color. Pate is also the New York Times bestselling author of five novels, two of which are Minnesota Book Award-winners; a children’s book; and two works of nonfiction. He is the editor of the collection “Blues Vision:  African American Writing from Minnesota.” He has taught at Macalester College, the University of Minnesota, Naropa University, and the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Creative Writing Program, where he also earned an MFA. Source: twincities 

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