36 Books Blog: Maureen Aitken

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 Maureen Aitken, author of The Patron Saint of Lost Girls

Category: Novel & Short Story, sponsored by Alerus

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

Thrilling. I’ve watched these awards from afar for years and always admired the talented people who made it to the finalist category.

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

This is my first published book, so the idea that people are reading fills me with appreciation. I’m grateful for every part of this process, from the publisher, to the reviews, to people emailing me with insights about it. One reviewer, Téa Franco, did this amazing analysis of poverty as the central conflict in the stories. I was so moved by her interpretation, because it captured the deeper challenge of the work.

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 come from a family of writers. My grandmother wrote a column for a local newspaper and my grandfather was an editor at The Detroit Times. My mother wrote about food. They inspired me. I published in journalism for years, then moved to Minnesota for graduate school. I published stories and prose poems in journals for a long time, won some awards, and kept writing until I collected a set of stories, submitted them, and eventually won The Nilsen Prize.

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?

Since I moved here for graduate school, I’ve been surrounded by writers. The University of Minnesota MFA program offered intense practice through a strong community. The Loft, bookstores, and libraries brought in the best writers from around the country. I also got a job teaching writing at the University of Minnesota, so I met other writers there. Maybe it is the mix of job opportunities, community, and enrichment. There is always a place to learn or find inspiration.

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

Good is a hard word to quantify, but I can say I am a dedicated meditator. I lost my mother to dementia and my sister to cancer, one after the other, both terminal illnesses from the start, and both heartbreaking. I was part of a caretaking team for them and to stay sane I wrote and learned meditation. Writing and meditation saved my life.

What do you love about libraries?

Libraries are the ultimate anti-consumerism network. You talk to wise librarians for free, get books for free, learn about new worlds from those books, and then get to question the status quo for free. Yes, our taxes help fund libraries, and yes, sometimes you might pay fines, but that is nothing compared to the intelligence and wonder you will find there.

Maureen Aitken
Maureen Aitken is the recipient of the Nilsen Prize for her collection of stories, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls. The collection has earned a Kirkus Star and three of its stories have received Pushcart Prize nominations. Her fiction has been published in journals such as Prairie Schooner, The Journal, Puerto del Sol and the international anthology, The Bering Strait and Other Stories. Her work has received a Minnesota State Arts Board’s Artist Initiative Grant, a Loft Mentor Award, a grant from the SASE/Jerome Foundation, and an award from Ireland’s Fish Short Story Prize. Aitken holds an MFA degree from the University of Minnesota and teaches in the University’s Department of Writing Studies. She is currently working on a memoir about art and a novel.