36 Finalists Blog: Alison McGhee

Alison McGhee, author of Where We Are

Young Adult Literature category, sponsored by United Educators Credit Union

Each week leading up to the 33rd annual Minnesota Book Awards announcement, we are featuring exclusive interviews with our 36 finalists. You can also watch the authors in conversation with their fellow category finalists here.

In a year defined by a pandemic and its fallout, virtually everything about our lives has changed in some way. How has COVID-19 impacted your writing habits and preferences? Has the unique zeitgeist of the past year influenced your writing output in any ways that you can pinpoint?  

The pandemic definitely changed the way I think about and process my writing. A book typically takes years to write and edit and turn into a physical object, and the conditions of the last year have made that timeline feel so much longer. Seeing friends and family and readers only online makes me want immediate connection, so, almost by instinct, I’ve upped the frequency of my blog posts, started a weekly podcast, instituted a continuing series of one-day Zoom workshops, and started weekly back and forths with readers on my social media accounts. The instantaneity (is that even a word?) of connection has been a great counterpoint to the long, solitary loneliness of book writing as well as the long, solitary pandemic itself. 

Would you tell us one or two things about your finalist book that you are particularly proud of, and why? (Sure, it may feel a bit un-Minnesotan to say so, but it’s not boasting if we ask!) 

Where We Are grapples with the urgent, timely issue of people who take their cues from, and reshape their lives around, the dictatorial mandates of a charismatic leader. I’m proud of the fact that readers write me to say that they couldn’t put the book down, and that it made them look around at the political and personal landscape in a new, eyes-open way. 

What do you hope that your audience learns or takes away from your book?

I hope that my readers find a sense of solidarity and connection between themselves and Sesame and Micah, the stars of the book. As Sesame and Micah try to forge their way through a world that feels overwhelmingly lonely and scary to them, so, in a way, do all of us. 

Minnesota enjoys a reputation as a place that values literature and reading. If this sentiment rings true for you, what about our home state makes it such a welcoming and conductive place for writers? 

Minnesota continually blows me away with its celebration of literature and reading! How many other states (if any at all) are so full of writers and readers and book clubs and awards and ceremonies and readings and institutions and entire multi-day events focused solely on literature and readers? (I’m looking at you, Loft. And you, State Arts Board. And you, incredible library system. And you, beautiful indies. And on and on!) It’s magnificent to be a writer and live in this beautiful place. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer with an interest in your category? 

My advice is the same as it to any aspiring writer: Go forth and write. If you’re going to make writing your work, then make it your own. Make it fun. Make it fierce. Make it original. Try never to let a week go by where you don’t feel that surge of power as you’re spinning out your words. Make your work a web of beauty and originality that holds both you and your reader up. 

Tell us something about yourself that is not widely known! (It doesn’t have to be about your writing.) 

I’m double-jointed in the EXTREME. (Ask me to do my finger tricks sometime.) 🙂 

Alison McGhee is the New York Times bestselling author of Someday, as well as All Rivers Flow to the SeaFirefly HollowA Very Brave Witch, and the Bink and Gollie books, among many others. She is a multiple Minnesota Book Award-winner.