36 Books Blog: Alison McGhee

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 Alison McGhee, author of What I Leave Behind

Category: Young Adult Literature, sponsored by United Educators Credit Union

How does if feel to be a Minnesota Book Award finalist?

It makes me so happy, especially because we live in such a literary state. Books, and the arts in general, are celebrated in Minnesota. Every year, looking at the list of book award finalists fills me with gratitude that I live in a place where the arts are so valued.

Tell us something about your finalist book that you want readers to know.

At heart, What I Leave Behind is a book about seeing beyond your own loss into someone else’s. It’s about the profound connection that happens when you realize that your private world of wonderment and sadness is shared by pretty much everyone in the world. Will, in his small and ongoing acts of kindness, reminds me that no matter what we are going through personally, it helps to help someone else.

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?

Looking back, I think I was a lonely child, and books were solace. I learned so much about the world, about human relationships, about the power of language itself to hurt and heal and transcend the experience of living. Storytelling has always been my way of coping with the world as it is, while trying to create the world I want. While I’ve always been a writer, it was a slow process toward publication . . . writing pretty much every day for more than ten years before I had a book good enough to publish.

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?

Where to begin? The Loft, for one. When I first moved here, I took classes at the Loft and met other like-minded people, some of whom I’m still friends with. Independent bookstores, for another. Places like Magers & Quinn and Wild Rumpus and Red Balloon and Common Good Books and too many others to count are magical places for writers. The emphasis on the arts in our state, backed up by places like the State Arts Board, MN Artists, Rain Taxi and many other organizations means that a beautiful sense of literary community permeates my entire life in Minneapolis.

What is something you are good at that few people know about?

I’m really, really good at being double-jointed. My double-jointed fingers have captivated/horrified many an audience throughout my life. Also, I’m super good at hosting solo late-night dance parties in the dark in my living room. 🙂

What do you love about libraries?

What I most love about libraries is that they are quintessentially egalitarian. Everyone is welcome at a library. Everyone is equal at a library. If you don’t have a computer at home, you can use a computer at the library. If you don’t have books at home, you can borrow them from a library. If you don’t have a quiet place to study, you can study at the library. If you need a meeting room, you can borrow one at the library. We are all both owners and patrons of our libraries. Also, I love librarians. They are my heroes. Make no mistake about it, librarians are on the front lines of democracy.

Alison McGhee
Alison McGhee is the critically acclaimed and New York Times bestselling author of novels and picture books for both adults and children. Her work has been translated into over twenty languages, and she is a four-time Minnesota Book Award winner.