36 Books Blog: Cary J. Griffith

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 Cary J. Griffith, author of Gunflint Burning: Fire in the Boundary Waters

Category: Minnesota Nonfiction, sponsored by Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota

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

We are a blessed bunch of writers in Minnesota. We live in a state of readers, and I know of few places that support their writers as well as we are supported here. The Minnesota Book Awards are a case in point. Over the years I’ve seen these awards continue to grow and prosper, so that today, if your book is chosen as a Finalist in any of the categories, it’s truly a blessing and an honor.  I feel fortunate, and I know I speak for all 36 of the Finalists when I say ‘thank you.’

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

The Ham Lake Fire was a man-made disaster, one of the largest Minnesota forest fires in almost a century. That said, the real story of the book is about the men and women, firefighters, law enforcement officers, resort owners, cabin owners, volunteers and others who gave of their time, expertise, and resources to fight the blaze. Above all else Gunflint Burning tells the story of the kind of altruism that is alive and well in northeastern Minnesota, and along the Gunflint Trail.

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?

When I was 18 I was bitten by the writing bug while reading a Hemingway short story. I thought then that a life spent trying to write, to capture the profound sense of place I felt in wilderness and the outdoors, would be a life well spent. Since that day I have been writing at least an hour a day; more when life allows. I published my first book in 2010, 36 years after being captured by that short story. Gunflint Burning is my fifth book. In this trade you’ve got to take the long view, and learn to love the journey.

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?

The Minnesota Book Awards, for instance. But it’s also organizations like the Loft, our rich publishing culture, libraries, and all the other opportunities we Minnesotans have for reading and writing. Not to mention the training and financial support that can also sometimes be found. But first and foremost I think we’re a state rich with readers.  Its a rich fabric; there are a lot of threads to its lovely weave.

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

Filming butterflies. I have a Nikon with a 200 MM macro lens. If I can get within three feet of a butterfly, the creature fills the frame. And I have enough interest and patience to wait for the perfect shot.  Since I was a small boy I have been transfixed by the beauty of butterflies and moths.

What do you love about libraries?

I received my M.A. in Library Science from the University of Minnesota – back when they still offered the degree. So I’ve loved libraries my entire adult life. What I love most, recently, is the way they’ve evolved to be so much more than they were when I was a kid, places to find books. I still love their core value of sharing books – I borrowed one yesterday. But I also love all the ways in which they’ve evolved.  While the world has changed, I believe libraries are in large part responsible for the positive progress, when it occurs, in modern civilization. Thoreau said “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” True enough. But I would also say “In libraries is the preservation of civilization.”

Cary Griffith
Cary Griffith is the author of five books; two novels and three nonfiction books. His titles include Lost in the Wild (MN Historical Society Press (MHP): 2006), Opening Goliath (MHP: 2009, winner of a 2010 Minnesota Book Award), Wolves (Adventure Publications: 2012, winner of a 2013 Midwest Book Award, Minnesota Book Award Finalist), Savage Minnesota (published serially from Memorial Day to Labor Day in the Star Tribune, 2013), and Gunflint Burning: Fire in the Boundary Waters (University of Minnesota Press: 2018).