Zhen Tu’s Library Story

Watch Zhen Tu’s story


Dear Friends Supporter,
A very big THANK YOU to everyone who attended and made the 14th annual Opus & Olives fundraising gala a huge success. Together, we supported the incredible work of the Saint Paul Public Library and raised a LOT of money to continue our efforts in the year to come.

There is no better way to understand the impact of the Library than through the personal stories of those who rely on the library for learning and inspiration. Please take a minute to enjoy Zhen Tu’s story and, again, many thanks to everyone who contributed to another successful Opus & Olives!

Beth Burns,
President of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library

The Evolution of the Minnesota Book Awards and Why it Matters

Dear Reader,

As we begin our 30th anniversary season of the Minnesota Book Awards, I can’t help but reflect on the storied history of the program and how many times it almost ceased to exist. In addition to the gratitude I will convey to certain individuals who fought to save it over the years, I think it’s important to pause and ask the question – why was it worth saving? Why does the Minnesota Book Awards program mean so much to our literary community and to our state?

Over the next few months leading up to the 30th ceremony, we’ll be asking that very question to people who have been touched by the program, but today I’d like to offer you my own thoughts, having been intimately involved with it for almost half of its life.

I believe stories connect us. Stories help us better understand each other and our world. And hearing and celebrating the stories of fellow Minnesotans unites us as neighbors. The author who stands in front of a room full of people from her state feels humbled and energized that her neighbors are now champions of her words. The reader who listens to the newly-awarded writer feels a sense of pride that this person calls the same place home. Writers who challenge us to confront truths about our state, nation, and society bring us closer together. These connections matter. And with one of the only state awards programs of this scale in the country, they are uniquely ours.

This is why Mary Ann Grossman wrote in the Pioneer Press on the 10th anniversary of the Book Awards “There certainly will be a future, because nearly everyone in the literary community – publishers, authors and illustrators, librarians, booksellers – believes the Book Awards are important.” This is why we have gone from 36 submissions in 1989 to an average of 250 in recent years. This is why so many people worked so hard to save the program over the years. Because it matters.

I’m very proud to be part of something so extraordinary. Here’s a look at some of the key moments that shaped the Minnesota Book Awards program. I have the utmost gratitude to the individuals and organizations listed below who helped get us to 30 years. Thank you to them and to you, and here’s to the next 30.

Alayne Hopkins
Director of the Minnesota Book Awards


Minnesota Book Awards Evolution  

  • 1988: The Book Awards is created by The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library as a part of the Minnesota Festival of the Book, run by Mary Ida Thomson, past president of The Friends’ Board, Scott Walker, founder of Graywolf Press, and more.
  • 1989-98: Roger Sween, a librarian with the Minnesota Department of Education’s Library Development and Services and editor of the literary journal Minnesota Reviews, almost single-handedly keeps the program going for a decade.
  • 1999-2006: The Minnesota Center for the Book and the Minnesota Book Awards program moves to the Minnesota Humanities Commission, with the assistance of Pat Coleman, Minnesota Historical Society Acquisitions librarian, Kay Sexton honoree, and past president of the MN Center for the Book.
  • 2007-present: The Book Awards returns ‘home’ to The Friends, again with the help of Pat Coleman.
  • 2012: Largely due to its work with the Minnesota Book Awards program, The Friends is designated by the Library of Congress as the Center for the Book in Minnesota, charged with promoting books, reading, literacy, and libraries throughout the state.
  • 2017-2018: The Minnesota Book Awards celebrates 30 years of stories.


Tom Perrotta on the guitar and libraries

We are so thrilled that Tom Perrotta will join us for this year’s Opus & Olives. In preparation for the big event, we asked Tom a couple questions to help fans get to know him better in this #opusexclusive.

Tell us something that people might not know about you.

I play rhythm guitar in a middle-aged rock band.

Tell us what you love about libraries.

What I love about libraries—they’re open to everyone, in an age when so many American institutions only cater to the privileged.

Tom Perrotta is a bestselling author and screenwriter, known for his novels Election and Little Children, both of which were made into Oscar-nominated films. He is also the author of The Leftovers, which was adapted into a critically acclaimed, Peadbody Award-winning HBO series. A self-described “realist – or even a dark comic realist,” Perrotta has a knack for telling familiar suburban stories in an unfamiliar and thought-provoking way. A former creative writing professor, Perrotta grew up in New Jersey and lives outside Boston.

Meet Tom and the rest of our bestselling lineup in person on October 8 at the RiverCentre in downtown Saint Paul!

Get Tickets Now

Gabrielle Union on Judy Blume and the library as a sanctuary

We are so thrilled that Gabrielle Union will join us for this year’s Opus & Olives. In preparation for the big event, we asked Gabrielle a couple questions to help fans get to know her better in this #opusexclusive.

Tell us something that people might not know about you.

All my first lessons about sexuality came from saint Judy Blume.  My friends and I passed around those marked-up, annotated copies of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? and Forever until they were dog-eared and worn. I was hopefully uninformed and naïve, so much so that I needed an anatomy lesson the first time I tried to use a tampon.  I’m sure I’m like many women of my generation—the generation before you could find anything and everything on the internet—who looked to Judy as our guide through the very strange and scary world of becoming a woman. Now, as a grown-up lady who has fully embraced her sexuality, I think back to this and feel a little silly, but maybe a bit lucky to have been so uninformed.

Tell us what you love about libraries.

In high school I spent a free period working in the school library. It became my sanctuary, and in the process I developed a close relationship with our librarian. Each day I spent there was a space to explore new ideas, new ways of thinking and new possibilities for me. I was a good student, I read three newspapers every day—I was what you might call a classic overachiever but that was part of my identity. My father told my sisters and me when were young that as Black women, to compete and not gain negative attention we had to be stellar. Not just good, but stellar. The librarian helped me feel like I could be as interested in current events or books as I wanted to be, not to prove anything, but because being well-informed and well-read is part of being a citizen in the world. I think libraries can and often do help kids see the world beyond what they experience every day, and librarians who take the time to encourage a kid who is hungry to know things can change a life.

Meet Gabrielle and the rest of our bestselling lineup in person on October 8 at the RiverCentre in downtown Saint Paul!

Get Tickets Now

Ben Blum on his acrobatic stunts and libraries as secular temples

We are so thrilled that Ben Blum will join us for this year’s Opus & Olives. In preparation for the big event, we asked Ben a couple questions to help fans get to know him better in this #opusexclusive.

Tell us something that people might not know about you.

I was a tremendous math nerd when I was young, taking calculus classes at a local university when I was thirteen and once dressing up for Halloween as a dodecahedron. But I was also an extremely competitive gymnast. I slightly redeemed myself on the playground by showing off with acrobatic stunts. My specialty was to circle the perimeter with back handsprings, then jump as high as I could and land in full splits.

Tell us what you love about libraries.

My mother was the librarian at my elementary school, so you’d probably have to resort to attachment psychology to explain my deep affinity for libraries. I love everything about them, from the dim, slanty light to the smell of old books. I wish there were a way to broadcast the reverent hush of a library on loudspeakers in my apartment. I think they are the closest things we have to secular temples. We go there not just to pick up a few books but to surround ourselves with stories much larger than our individual lives, to link up our souls with the oldest, deepest threads of human meaning.

Meet Ben and the rest of our bestselling lineup in person on October 8 at the RiverCentre in downtown Saint Paul!

Get Tickets Now

Jamie Ford on being kicked out of the library – and coming back

We are so thrilled that Jamie Ford will join us for this year’s Opus & Olives. In preparation for the big event, we asked Jamie a couple questions to help fans get to know him better in this #opusexclusive.

Tell us something that people might not know about you.

In junior high I was kicked out of the school library for worshipping the devil. We were actually playing Dungeons & Dragons—but some concerned parents threatened to protest. Because that’s where you practice the dark arts, you know, at the library. Ironically, my first book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, is now read in that school. I went back and gave a presentation. No parents complained this time.

Tell us what you love about libraries.

I’m a little biased here, because I met my wife at that hotbed of swinging-singles activity, known as…the public library. But I also grew up spending countless hours at a lovely Carnegie Library. Now I’m on the board of our local library foundation here in Great Falls. It’s like the mob, I just can’t get away.

Meet Jamie and the rest of our bestselling lineup in person on October 8 at the RiverCentre in downtown Saint Paul!

Get Tickets Now

Paula Poundstone on her love of libraries and her terrible self-discovery

We are so thrilled that Paula Poundstone will serve as our emcee for this year’s Opus & Olives. In preparation for the big event, we asked Paula a couple questions to help fans get to know her better in this #opusexclusive.

Tell us something that people might not know about you.

I just made a terrible self-discovery. There is nothing everyone doesn’t know about me. After thirty-eight years of telling my little jokes, and writing books, I’ve mined every personal detail there is to my life. I do have a genetic pot belly that I hid pretty well, until yesterday, when I posted on Twitter, and Youtube a film of me swing dancing in shorts and a t-shirt. That well kept secret is out. Take that scoop, NATIONAL ENQUIRER.

Tell us what you love about libraries.

My favorite thing about libraries is the books, but also, the feeling I get from being in a library, among the books. Some of the earliest autonomous time I had was in the Framingham Library in Massachusetts. The Goodnow Library in Sudbury, Massachusetts, my home library, was too small to do very much in the way of research, and I had a written report that I had to work on. Reference materials and periodicals couldn’t be taken out, so my dad would drop me off at the Framingham Library on a number of Saturday mornings to work on my report. Then, as now, I could focus, and work productively in there. It’s as if the books that surround me say, “How do you think we got written?” The very air is filled with productivity, knowledge, and creative inspiration. I like that about libraries.

Meet Paula and the rest of our bestselling lineup in person on October 8 at the RiverCentre in downtown Saint Paul!

Get Tickets Now

Reading Gives Salman a Foundation for Learning

Eight-year-old Salman loves reading. Right now he’s immersed in Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and the Geronimo Stilton series (one of his favorites!). He reads at the library, at school, and every night before bed. But Salman wasn’t always so confident about reading.

“He used to be very shy, and he didn’t like to read out loud,” says Michelle, Salman’s tutor in the Reading Together program. Every Monday for the past two years, Salman has met with Michelle, an adult volunteer, at the Dayton’s Bluff Library to practice his reading skills. The pair takes turns reading to each other with books that they choose together.

Michelle has seen a transformation during their time together in this system-wide program. “Now he’s reading very well, and he’s opened up. He talks much more, and I get to see his great sense of humor.”

The one-on-one guidance has been an important part of Salman’s growth. He and Michelle have built a relationship and enjoy an easy comfort level after working together for so long.

Salman says he loves the program. “I used to read short books,” he says. “Now I can read big books.” He says he gets better at reading, “and it’s fun!”

Salman’s hard work has paid off. At the end of the school year, Salman learned that, for the first time, he had not only met, but exceeded the required reading levels for his grade.

His mother, Faduma, attributes this success to the Library and the Reading Together program.

She is thrilled with the skills all her kids are learning at the Library. She brings her children four days a week for the Reading Together program, Homework Help, and for quiet time to themselves to read and learn.

Faduma is inspired by all the possibilities the Library offers and has become an advocate to anyone she meets. “You can get your kids help with reading and writing. You can get help with math. You can learn English. If someone is looking for something, I tell them: go to the library!”

For learn more or to become a volunteer, visit sppl.org/reading-together

The Friends Connects Minnesotans From All Corners of the State Through Reading

30 Years of Stories

The goal of the Minnesota Book Awards program is to connect readers and writers across our state. We are so pleased to kick off the 30th anniversary season of this year-long engagement program, with book submissions and judge applications now open. Finalists will be announced at the end of January, and winners are revealed at the April Awards Ceremony. Follow us on social media throughout the fall and spring to learn more about the history – and the future – of this beloved program, and for a chance to win tickets to the spring Ceremony.

A Statewide Role in Promoting Reading

In recognition of our statewide work with the Minnesota Book Awards program, the Library of Congress designated The Friends as the Center for the Book in Minnesota. The Center for the Book is a national initiative to promote reading, literacy, and libraries, with Centers in all 50 states, plus the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. In this role, The Friends produces dynamic programs that benefit all ages and reach all corners of Minnesota.

This year for the first time, The Friends received legislative funding from the State of Minnesota through a grant to the Minnesota Department of Education to fulfill our role as Center for the Book. This means that for the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Minnesota Book Awards program, The Friends will be able to connect even more readers and writers around our state.

With that goal in mind, The Friends is currently facilitating an arts tour that’s taking Minnesota Book Award winners and finalists to libraries throughout Greater Minnesota for discussions, readings, and even some musical pairings. Visit our events page to see the line-up.

To support this important program, click here.


Minnesota Book Awards Opens 30th Anniversary Season

Book Submissions for the annual Awards program open on August 1, 2017.

SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA, August 1, 2017 – The Minnesota Book Awards, a program of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, will kick off its 30th anniversary season on August 1 with the opening of submissions for books published in 2017.

The nine categories for the annual Book Awards include: Children’s Literature, General Nonfiction, Genre Fiction, Memoir & Creative Nonfiction, Middle Grade Literature, Minnesota Nonfiction, Novel & Short Story, Poetry, and Young Adult Literature. To be eligible, all books must be the work of a Minnesota author or primary artistic creator and must have a 2017 copyright. Authors, publishers, and agents are eligible to submit a book by completing the online form, submitting five copies of the book, and paying a $45 entry fee. Eligibility and entry guidelines are available at thefriends.org/submissions.  Submissions close at 5 p.m. on Friday, November 17, 2017.

The upcoming season of the Minnesota Book Awards, with a theme of “30 Years of Stories,” will celebrate the best in local literature and also look toward the future of the program.

“We will continue to honor Minnesota’s rich literary legacy,” says Alayne Hopkins, director of the Minnesota Book Awards, “while at the same time including more voices from across our state to help us write the next chapter of this important program.”

Finalists in all nine categories will be announced on January 27, 2018. Winners will be announced at the 30th annual Minnesota Books Awards ceremony on Saturday, April 21, 2018 at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Saint Paul.

Nominations are also being accepted for three special awards: the Minnesota Book Artist Award, recognizing an outstanding new work in the book arts created during the last year; the Kay Sexton Award, presented annually to an individual or organization in recognition of outstanding work in fostering books, reading, and literary activity in Minnesota; and the biennial Hognander Minnesota History Award which recognizes a scholarly work on a topic of Minnesota history.

About the Minnesota Book Awards

Celebrating its 30th season, the Minnesota Book Awards is now a year-long program that fosters our statewide literary arts community. Woven throughout the season are various engagement activities and 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 www.thefriends.org/mnba.

About The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library
The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library exists to help libraries, and the communities they serve, thrive. An independent, nonprofit organization established in 1945, The Friends invests in the Library through fundraising, advocacy, and programming; as a result, the Saint Paul Public Library is a nationally-recognized leader in serving its community. The Friends also serves libraries across the country and internationally through its consulting services, Library Strategies, and promotes literacy, reading, and libraries statewide as the Minnesota Center for the Book. For more information, contact The Friends at 651-222-3242 or visit thefriends.org.