Your guide to the Minnesota Book Award finalists


It's almost here: The Minnesota Book Awards gala happens this Saturday. Every year, a large pool of nominees is announced, and, from that list, four finalists from each of the eight categories are chosen. The categories are: Children's Literature, General Nonfiction, Genre Fiction, Memoir and Creative Nonfiction, Minnesota, Novel and Short Story, Poetry, and Young People's Literature. Eventually, the list of 32 finalists is further whittled down to one winner from each genre at the final party.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by the talent in the full finalist lineup, fret not. We've done the heavy lifting for you, and have pulled out a few titles from the finalist list that you should definitely be paying attention to.

[jump] Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen (Poetry)

Painfully honest and beautiful in its simplicity, Matt Rasmussen's debut collection of poems rocked the hearts of readers with its direct voice. Centered on the suicide of Rasmussen's brother, the book balances the raw depths of the subject matter with moments of dark humor and quietude. Rasmussen takes a difficult subject and manages to write about it in a way that makes others want to read it.

The Peripatetic Coffin by Ethan Rutherford (Novel and Short Story)


Dark humor, beautiful moments, and unforgettably quirky characters anchor this collection of short stories from Ethan Rutherford. Tales that keep this entertaining book of short stories capering along include a slew of young boys making raids on their camp, a doomed submarine chock full of Confederate soldiers, and parents struggling to connect with their troubled son.

The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo: A Child, an Elder and the Light from an Ancient Sky by Kent Nerburn (Memoir and Creative Nonfiction)

This creative nonfiction book tells a haunting and spellbinding true story of the author's search for a lost Indian girl, told through memories and dreams of those who encountered her. Kent Nerburn's open voice and penchant for imparting a sense of mystery into his daily conversations makes this a hard work to put down.

The First Flag by Sarah Fox (Poetry)

One of the boldest collection of poems published in Minnesota this last year, The First Flag is mystical, sensual, violent, and visceral. Published by the local Coffee House Press, the book takes readers on a trippy ride through motherhood, birth, wildlife, and more. You might feel a bit of a literary hangover after surfacing from this dense collection, but trust us, it's worth it.

Vacationland by Sarah Stonich (Novel and Short Story)

Sarah Stonich's Vacationland is a winding and mesmerizing novel told in stories, all relating back to lead protagonist Meg. A painter, Meg moves back to fix up the falling apart and no longer operational Naledi Lodge in northern Minnesota. Her childhood was spent working at the lodge, back when it was still up and running and owned by her gruff grandfather. In addition to hearing from Meg herself, the tale is also told through the point of view of the various characters who visited or had ties to the lodge over the years, giving the reader a layered image of Meg and her complex history.

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi (Young People's Literature)

Swati Avasthi jumps right in with her opening scene of Chasing Shadows, intimately capturing the mindset of her young protagonists. The three main characters grapple with violence, shifting relationships, and grief with realism and honesty. Told from the point of view of two characters, and also accompanied by graphic illustrations, Avasthi ensures that young readers have multiple avenues through which to connect to the story.

It Becomes You by Dobby Gibson (Poetry)


There's a lot of smart poetry in this year's lineup, so bear with us while we tout one more poetry collection. Sparse, understated humor and witty connections make It Becomes You, published by Minnesota's Graywolf Press, crackle with life. Dobby Gibson's intellectually stimulating poetry asks the reader to interact with it by filling in the blanks. Through his tangential pondering -- which includes poems about cancer, questions of raising a child, and love letters to a city -- Gibson holds his hand out to the reader to experience it all with him.

Hungry for more? The Minnesota Book Awards website is spotlighting one finalist each day leading up to the gala this Saturday.


Minnesota Book Awards Gala

7 p.m. Saturday, April 5

Union Depot



The evening features John Moe (host of Wits) as emcee, and jazz trio the Willie August Project will provide tunes during the dinner and program.