2021 Minnesota Book Awards

2021 Annual Minnesota Book Awards Winners Announced 

SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA, April 29, 2021 – The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library has announced the winners of the 2021 Minnesota Book Awards, presented this year by sponsor Education Minnesota. In addition to winners in nine categories, The Friends presented the annual Kay Sexton Award to previously announced honoree, Alexs Pate.  

The Ceremony was held virtually in a livestream event Thursday evening, April 29, emceed by readers from across Minnesota. The winners of the 2021 Minnesota Book Awards are:  

Award for Children’s Literature, sponsored by Books For Africa:  

Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Shane Evans (HarperCollins Publishers) 

Big Papa’s grandson is not feeling like going to school. He’s feeling scared, so they hop in Big Papa’s time machine to learn about all the ways a person can be brave. In dreamlike images from Big Papa’s life, Bernstrom and Evans explore crucial moments of African American history – happy and sad – inviting the young and old to share their stories of courage across time.  

Bernstrom is the author of One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree, and Gator, Gator, Gator! He has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. He lives in Worthington.   

Award for General Nonfiction: 

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan C. Slaght (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan Publishers)  

As a fledgling birdwatcher, Slaght had a chance encounter with one of the most mysterious birds on Earth, the Blakiston’s fish owl. His five-year journey searching for this enormous, enigmatic creature in the remote forests of eastern Russia provides a rare glimpse into the everyday life of a field scientist and conservationist and serves as a reminder of the beauty, strength, and vulnerability of the natural world.  

Slaght is the Russia and Northeast Asia coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society. His work has been featured by the New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC World Service, NPR, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, and Audubon magazine, among others.  

Award for Genre Fiction, sponsored by Macalester College:  

The Deep, Deep Snow by Brian Freeman (Blackstone Publishing) 

Deputy Shelby Lake was abandoned as a baby, saved by a stranger who found her in the freezing cold. Now, years later, Shelby is the one who must rescue a missing child, but the case is growing cold. When a tantalizing clue comes to light, Shelby must confront a dark lie that will leave no one’s life untouched – including her own.  

Freeman is a Minnesota Book Award-winner and New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty psychological thrillers and was named the official author to continue the famous Jason Bourne franchise.  

Award for Memoir & Creative Nonfiction, sponsored by Bradshaw Celebration of Life Centers: 

Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify: Essays by Carolyn Holbrook (University of Minnesota Press*) 

Holbrook’s life is peopled with ghosts – of the girl she was, the selves she shed and those who have caught up to her, the spirits she’s encountered, and also the beloved souls she’s lost and those she never knew. Holbrook has heeded the call to tell the story of her life, and to find among its chapters the lessons and necessary truths of those who have come before.  

Holbrook is a teacher and founder of the More Than a Single Story discussion series. She is the recipient of the Hamline University Exemplary Teacher Award, the Kay Sexton Award, and many arts fellowships and grants.   

Award for Middle Grade Literature, sponsored by Education Minnesota: 

What if a Fish by Anika Fajardo (Simon & Schuster) 

Half-Colombian Eddie Aguado has never really felt Colombian. Especially after Papa died. As if by magic, Eddie – who has never left Minnesota – is invited to spend the summer in Colombia with his older half-brother. But as his adventure unfolds, he feels more and more like a fish out of water. Will Eddie ever figure out how to be a true colombiano? 
Fajardo is the author of Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family, a Minnesota Book Award finalist, and has earned awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Loft Literary Center, and the Jerome Foundation.    

Emilie Buchwald Award for Minnesota Nonfiction, sponsored by Bookmobile Craft Digital: 

Minnesota’s Geologist: The Life of Newton Horace Winchell by Sue Leaf (University of Minnesota Press*) 

Tracing Newton Horace Winchell’s path to becoming a leading light of an emerging scientific field, Minnesota’s Geologist recreates the early days of scientific inquiry in Minnesota, when one man’s passion for learning could unlock secrets of the state’s distant past and present landscape. This first telling of Winchell’s life story is set against a backdrop of Minnesota’s geological complexity and splendor.  

Leaf is an author and trained zoologist who has written multiple books on environmental topics. She is also editor of the newsletter of the Wild River Audubon Society of east-central Minnesota.  

Award for Novel & Short Story, sponsored by College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University: 

Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel by Kawai Strong Washburn (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan Publishers) 

In Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. Instead, Noa is delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story the stuff of legends. Folding tales of Hawaiian gods into a family saga, this is a story of exile and the pursuit of salvation.  

Washburn was born and raised on the Hamakua coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. His work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, McSweeney’s, and Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, among others. He was a 2015 Tin House Summer Scholar and 2015 Bread Loaf work-study scholar. This is his first novel.  

Award for Poetry, sponsored by Wellington Management, Inc.:  

Homie: Poems by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press*) 

Homie is a bright elegy, a friendship diary, a war cry. It comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer. Smith acknowledges that in this country, in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, but the collection is an ode to the friendships that offer salvation.  

Smith is the author of [insert] boy and Don’t Call Us Dead – a finalist for the National Book Award. They have won the Forward Prize for Best Collection, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Lambda Literary Award.  

Award for Young Adult Literature, sponsored by United Educators Credit Union: 

My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmermann (Dutton Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House) 

If Greer Walsh could only live inside her head, life would be easier. She’d be able to focus on math or volleyball or her best friend. She wouldn’t spend time worrying about being the only Kennedy High student whose breasts are bigger than her head. Greer’s story is of a girl finding her way out of her oversized sweatshirt and back into the real world.  

Zimmermann is a multiple-time champion of the Twin Cities Moth and Word Sprout story slams, and she was chosen to participate in the 2018 Listen To Your Mother storytelling show. This is her first novel.  

*Indicates a Minnesota-based publisher. 

Special Award Presented at the Ceremony 
Alexs Pate received the previously announced Kay Sexton Award, sponsored by St. Catherine’s University. Pate is an author, teacher, mentor, artist, and leader in the Twin Cities literary community. He currently serves as President and CEO of Innocent Technologies and is the creator of the Innocent Classroom, a program for K–12 educators that aims to transform U.S. public education and end disparities by closing the relationship gap between educators and students of color. Pate is also the New York Times bestselling author of five novels, two of which are Minnesota Book Award-winners; a children’s book; and two works of nonfiction. He is the editor of the collection, Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota. He has taught at Macalester College, the University of Minnesota, Naropa University, and the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Creative Writing Program, where he also earned an MFA. 

Books written by a Minnesotan and first published in 2020 were eligible for the 33rd annual Minnesota Book Awards. A total of 224 books were submitted for awards this year, and 36 books were selected as finalists. The winners were chosen by panels of judges from around the state. Submissions for next year’s awards will open in August 2021. For more information on the Book Awards process, and a list of finalists and winners since 1988, visit www.thefriends.org/mnba.   

The Star Tribune is our media sponsor. Outreach partners and supporting organizations include: Saint Paul Neighborhood Network and Twin Cities Public Television.  

The Minnesota Book Awards is a year-long program of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library that connects readers and writers throughout the state with the stories of our neighbors. The process begins in the fall with book submissions and continues through winter with two rounds of judging. Winners are announced at the Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony each spring. Woven throughout the season are events that promote the authors and connect the world of Minnesota books – writers, artists, illustrators, publishers, editors, and more – to readers throughout the state. In recognition of this and its other statewide programs and services, the Library of Congress has recognized The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library as the state’s designated Center for the Book. For more information visit thefriends.org/mnba.