36 Finalists Blog: Andy Sturdevant

Each day leading up to the 32nd annual Minnesota Book Awards announcement, we’ll be featuring an exclusive interview with one of our 36 finalists.

Interview with Andy Sturdevant, author (with Bill Lindeke) of Closing Time: Saloons, Taverns, Dives, and Watering Holes of the Twin Cities, part of the Minnesota Nonfiction category

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

It’s exciting! I’ve read MNBA winners and finalists for years, and in fact used many of them in research for this project and others. Doug Hoverson’s Land of Amber Water comes to mind.

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

We tried to focus on histories that aren’t often recorded in the historic record. We hope that even if you don’t know all of the specific bars, you’ll recognize something familiar in many of them.

Share something about your writing process and preferences. For instance, where is your favorite place to write?

People keep asking us about “doing research” and making the universal “glug-glug” symbol with their right hand, like we wrote the whole thing while out at bars with a drink in hand. That was true maybe 5% of the time. The truth is, though, bars are hard places to get work done, which is the whole point of bars. A very large percentage of the book was written in libraries around the metro area. A library, unlike a bar, is a place where you can both work and relax, depending on how you’d like to approach it.

Since my reading and writing life began during my youth in the 1980s, I feel very comfortable and relaxed in the libraries built just before that period, surrounded by exposed brick and brutalist concrete. I have a running list of libraries around the metro built in the ’60s and ’70s where I like to work. I’ll pick one, set up there for an afternoon, and enjoy the ebb and flow of a neighborhood library over the course of a few hours. In the SPPL system, the best example of this type of ’60s/’70s gem would be the Hayden Heights branch.

Minnesota has a reputation 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 easy access to archival materials is enormously important. We probably used seven or eight distinct archives during the process, from the Minneapolis Collection at Hennepin Central to the Ramsey County Historical Society, and each one had so much material easily available, and was staffed by such knowledgeable, enthusiastic people. In researching a chapter on the Hollyhocks Club in St. Paul, a Prohibition-era speakeasy, I marveled at the fact that Paul Maccabee’s full, multi-decade catalog of notes, interviews and letters assembled in researching his book John Dillinger Slept Here could be wheeled up from the archives to me in a matter of minutes.

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

I made really good turkey burgers. Breadcrumbs, parmesan and gelatin are the secret. You can’t cook turkey like ground beef!

What do you love about libraries? Watching the people! One of my favorites parts of working in a library is spending a few hours in a branch, and watching the activity unfold over that time. It’s kids and older folks in the morning, teens in the afternoon, people running in after work in the early evening, and everyone else in-between.

Andy Sturdevant is an artist and has written two previous books of local history.