Each day leading up to the 2019 Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony, we’ll be featuring an exclusive interview with one of our 36 finalists. Learn more about these incredible local writers and gear up to see the winners announced live in person April 6.
Interview with Shannon Gibney, author of Dream Country
Category: Young Adult Literature
How does if feel to be a Minnesota Book Award finalist?
It feels absolutely fantastic. The literary community here is bar none excellent and so supportive, which is one of the reasons I stay in Minnesota. My fellow finalists’ books are superb — it is so validating to be in their company.
Tell us something about your finalist book that you want readers to know.
This is the book I wished existed about the historical and ongoing collision between Africans and African Americans, through the specific lens of the Liberian and Liberian American history. I hope that readers will come away from reading Dream Country with the knowledge that you cannot tell the African American story without telling the Liberian one, and that Liberia is forever entwined with African America — for better and worse.
Let us know a little bit about your writing life. What brought you to a writing career and how did you become a published author?
I’ve been writing forever — basically since I could read. It’s just my way of making sense of the world, and working through questions about being a human being I find perplexing. Publishing is another thing entirely from writing, and that has been quite a journey. I think I published my first journalistic pieces and poetry when I was 20, and have published a whole bunch of individual pieces in various publications since then. It wasn’t until 2015 that I published my first book, though, See No Color, a YA novel that was fortunate enough to win a Minnesota Book Award. Speaking of fortunate, I’ve been extremely lucky to work with my visionary editor, Andrew Karre, on both books — he was instrumental in me getting my first contract.
Minnesota is often ranked highly as a state that values literature and reading. In your experience, what is it about our state that makes it such a welcoming place for writers and book creators?
In my experience, what sets Minnesota apart from other places with vibrant literary communities is that writers and readers here are not just about enjoying and producing their own work or work they themselves appreciate — they also want to create avenues of support for others. There are not many places that have that spirit of good literary citizenship. This state needs to do a lot more to provide literary resources across ALL communities, though — especially lower income and communities of color.
What is something you are good at that few people know about?
Ummm….Eating cookies?? So. Good at that. So good.
What do you love about libraries?
Everything. When I was younger, I wanted to actually live in the library. I used to go down to the lower level of the University of Michigan library when I was in high school and just smell the dusty old volumes stacked up there. Loved that smell — still love it. And my first job was as a book shelver at the Ann Arbor Public Library. I even got locked in a library in college because I was so absorbed in reading a book I loved that I completely zoned out and didn’t hear they were closing. Security had to come get me… As an adult, probably the thing I love most about libraries is that they leverage public funding to provide essential services — from warmth, to community computers, to classes on just about anything you can imagine and want to learn — for everyone, but especially those who are often overlooked by the social safety net. The library might be the only largely unchallenged, unabashedly socialist institution in America.
About Shannon Gibney
Shannon Gibney is a writer, educator, activist, and the author of See No Color (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), a young adult novel that won the 2016 Minnesota Book Award in Young Peoples’ Literature. Gibney is faculty in English at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, where she teaches critical and creative writing, journalism, and African Diasporic topics. A Bush Artist and McKnight Writing Fellow, her critically-acclaimed new novel, Dream Country, is about more than five generations of an African descended family, crisscrossing the Atlantic both voluntarily and involuntarily (Dutton, 2018). In October 2019, University of Minnesota Press will release What God is Honored Here?: Writings by Indigenous Women and Women of Color on Miscarriage and Infant Loss, which she co-edited with writer Kao Kalia Yang.