As we begin our 30th anniversary season of the Minnesota Book Awards, I can’t help but reflect on the storied history of the program and how many times it almost ceased to exist. In addition to the gratitude I will convey to certain individuals who fought to save it over the years, I think it’s important to pause and ask the question – why was it worth saving? Why does the Minnesota Book Awards program mean so much to our literary community and to our state?
Over the next few months leading up to the 30th ceremony, we’ll be asking that very question to people who have been touched by the program, but today I’d like to offer you my own thoughts, having been intimately involved with it for almost half of its life.
I believe stories connect us. Stories help us better understand each other and our world. And hearing and celebrating the stories of fellow Minnesotans unites us as neighbors. The author who stands in front of a room full of people from her state feels humbled and energized that her neighbors are now champions of her words. The reader who listens to the newly-awarded writer feels a sense of pride that this person calls the same place home. Writers who challenge us to confront truths about our state, nation, and society bring us closer together. These connections matter. And with one of the only state awards programs of this scale in the country, they are uniquely ours.
This is why Mary Ann Grossman wrote in the Pioneer Press on the 10th anniversary of the Book Awards “There certainly will be a future, because nearly everyone in the literary community – publishers, authors and illustrators, librarians, booksellers – believes the Book Awards are important.” This is why we have gone from 36 submissions in 1989 to an average of 250 in recent years. This is why so many people worked so hard to save the program over the years. Because it matters.
I’m very proud to be part of something so extraordinary. Here’s a look at some of the key moments that shaped the Minnesota Book Awards program. I have the utmost gratitude to the individuals and organizations listed below who helped get us to 30 years. Thank you to them and to you, and here’s to the next 30.
Director of the Minnesota Book Awards
Minnesota Book Awards Evolution
- 1988: The Book Awards is created by The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library as a part of the Minnesota Festival of the Book, run by Mary Ida Thomson, past president of The Friends’ Board, Scott Walker, founder of Graywolf Press, and more.
- 1989-98: Roger Sween, a librarian with the Minnesota Department of Education’s Library Development and Services and editor of the literary journal Minnesota Reviews, almost single-handedly keeps the program going for a decade.
- 1999-2006: The Minnesota Center for the Book and the Minnesota Book Awards program moves to the Minnesota Humanities Commission, with the assistance of Pat Coleman, Minnesota Historical Society Acquisitions librarian, Kay Sexton honoree, and past president of the MN Center for the Book.
- 2007-present: The Book Awards returns ‘home’ to The Friends, again with the help of Pat Coleman.
- 2012: Largely due to its work with the Minnesota Book Awards program, The Friends is designated by the Library of Congress as the Center for the Book in Minnesota, charged with promoting books, reading, literacy, and libraries throughout the state.
- 2017-2018: The Minnesota Book Awards celebrates 30 years of stories.