36 Finalists Blog 2024: John Noltner

John Noltner, author of Lessons on the Road to Peace

General Nonfiction Category, sponsored by Loren & Christine Danielson

Each week leading up to the 36th 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.

What is one detail you wanted to include in this book, but couldn’t find a place for?   

Overall, I am delighted with the way this book came together, and it feels like it captures the heart and spirit of this 1-1/2 year journey across America. But of course, something always gets left out in order to fit the story on the pages. There were other people I interviewed in our travels who had compelling stories with beautiful portraits, and we simply didn’t have room for all of them. It always haunts me to leave some of that beauty and wisdom on the cutting room floor. 

Tell us about someone who proved instrumental to the creation of this book.   

My wife Karen will tell you that this was John’s project and it was John and Karen’s journey. So her name is not on the cover, but she certainly appears in the interior text. And without a doubt, this entire endeavor would not have happened without her support, encouragement, and presence. It was, by the way, her idea that we sell the house and hit the road full time. It didn’t take me long to say yes. 

Tell us about a favorite read from the past year. Why did you find it enjoyable, insightful, or memorable?  

I recently finished reading Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence by Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin. I have spoken with both authors and I love the creative ways they are reimagining new possibilities. (They re-forge weapons into garden tools, repurposing tools meant for harm into tools to cultivate growth.) Their passion and dedication inspires me and we are exploring ways to collaborate on a project in the future. 

Please tell us something about yourself that is not widely known.

Karen and I own and operate a Christmas tree farm in Western Wisconsin. When I am not writing and photographing, I am walking the rows and nurturing little trees so they can grow into bigger trees. That field work grounds me. Sometimes at the end of a writing day, it is hard to measure what you have accomplished. But at the end of a day in the field, you can see (and feel) what you have accomplished. 

Share your thoughts about the role and value of libraries.   

The library of my youth was a historic and forbidding stone castle (at least that’s the way I remember it.) They housed the children’s collection in the tower and it fueled my imagination. I grew up in a small, rural midwestern town, but in that tower, I could find stories of adventure from around the world. Stories of mystery and monsters. Stories of science and exploration. Because of that library, even though I was in a small town, my world was big.  

John Noltner is an award-winning photographer and author and the founder and executive director of A Peace of My Mind, a nonprofit that uses storytelling and art to bridge divides and build community. He has produced projects for national magazines, Fortune 500 companies, and non-profit organizations.