36 Finalists Blog: Janna Knittel

Janna Knittel, author of Real Work 

Poetry Category, sponsored by Wellington Management, Inc.

Each week leading up to the 35th annual Minnesota Book Awards, we are featuring exclusive interviews with our finalists. You can also watch the authors in conversation with their fellow category finalists here.

Would you tell us one or two things about your finalist book that you are particularly proud of, and why? 

This is my debut poetry collection, so I am immensely happy to see it in print, as well as for it to be recognized by the Book Awards. Some of these poems were painful to write; they involve events I didn’t want to remember. However, there is also humor and joy in the book. While many of the poems draw on my childhood and family of origin, a few poems address larger topics such as the climate crisis. 

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

Keep writing and write as often as you can. Sometimes you have to write for a while or write several pieces before you create something worth keeping or working on further, but the process of writing will keep the ideas coming. 

Tell us about a favorite book. Why did you find it moving, influential, or otherwise memorable? 

I could rave about so many Minnesota poets but don’t want to leave any of them out, so I will write about a book by someone from the Pacific Northwest, Duane Niatum’s The Crooked Beak of Love (2000). Niatum is a Native American poet who is not taught or written about as much as I think he deserves. He was a student of Theodore Roethke at University of Washington. Niatum’s poems draw on the stories and values of his S’Klallam ancestors while also employing a musicality that reminds me of Roethke’s work. 

Tell us something about yourself that is not widely known. 

I used to write songs and one of my dreams is to collaborate with a singer-songwriter on an album. I have someone in mind from the Twin Cities but have not reached out yet. 

The Minnesota Book Awards is a celebration of writers, readers – and libraries. We’d love if you would share thoughts about the role and value of libraries.

If you get me started on the importance of libraries I may never stop! My mother was a librarian, primarily an academic reference librarian, but she also worked in the public library in my home town for a while. I owe so much to the fact that she and my father valued books, reading, research, and learning. Today, libraries are so much more than books. Visit your public library and you can borrow music and movies, apply for a job, attend a workshop or event, and the list goes on. When I moved from Saint Paul to Minneapolis in 2016, I was unemployed and broke. One of the first things I did was get a Hennepin County Library card. I spent a lot of time in the East Lake Library using the wi-fi to apply for jobs. 

Janna Knittel is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who now lives in Minneapolis. She earned her M.F.A. from the University of Minnesota. She was a finalist for the 2016 Rita Dove Poetry Award from the Center for Women Writers and was co-winner of the James Wright Award from the American Academy of Poets.