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Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards

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23rd Annual NEMBA

Thursday, May 19, 2011


In 2011, the Library worked in collaboration with Friends of the Duluth Public Library and Lake Superior Writers to celebrate the 23rd Anniversary of NEMBA. This gala joint event began with a writing workshop on Wednesday, May 18, and continued with a public celebration on Thursday, May 19. The workshop, conducted by Mary Casanova, was coordinated by the Lake Superior Writers group.

The Thursday festivities began with a book fair and dessert reception in the Kirby Ballroom from 5-6:30 p.m. and continued with the awards presentation at 6:30. The awards presentation was emceed by Duluth's first poet laureate, Barton Sutter, and included featured speaker Mary Casanova. This event was free and open to the public.

Nominations were evaluated in one of five categories: (1) Fiction, (2) Poetry, (3) General Nonfiction,  (4) Children's Literature or (5) Memoir and Creative Nonfiction. Reading Teams chose a winner and honorable mention in each category. The winner in each category received a $200 cash prize. The winning author and the honorable mention in each category received a beveled glass award as well as 150 NEMBA book seals.

Winner in Fiction:

Safe from the Sea

written by Peter Geye, published by Unbridled Books

Safe from the Sea
Safe from the Sea


What starts out as a simple story of reconciliation soon reveals itself as something much deeper.  After receiving an unexpected call from his estranged and ailing father, Noah Torr journeys home to make peace with the former ore boat sailor. When his father finally tells the story of the shipwreck that haunted him for the past thirty-five years, Noah gains valuable insights that allow him to start fresh with his own growing family.




Honorable Mention in Fiction:

The Burying Place

by Brian Freeman, published by Minotaur Books, St. Martin's Press

the burying place
The Burying Place


The same night a baby disappears a woman is found murdered. How do these crimes connect? Following the trail of a serial killer, Duluth detectives Jonathan Stride, Serena Dial, and Maggie Bei work to keep the killer from claiming another while trying to find the baby alive. Little do they know, the killer has already chosen his next victim amongst their colleagues. A surprise ending illustrate's Freeman's ability to keep the reader guessing.




Winner in Poetry:

On Speaking Terms

by Connie Wanek, published by Copper Canyon Press

on speaking terms

On Speaking Terms


An astonishing book with a high level of creative energy, On Speaking Terms imaginatively reclaims the experience of playing games, among its strategies for dealing with life's complexities.  Wanek infuses objects, such as board games and an old accordion, into things with lives of their own as if she were on speaking terms with all things. Her poems cover decades of time and many aspects of her experiences.  Her love of Minnesota is shown in houses, on foot, and on skis.  Her love of family relationships leads to many of the philosophical understandings in her book.  Connie Wanek has a uniquely memorable book.



Honorable Mention in Poetry:

Under the Influence of Lilacs

by Deborah Gordon Cooper, published by Clover Valley Press

Under the Influence of Lilacs
Under the Influence of Lilacs


Cooper's poems are rich in language and imagery. From the first page, she weaves a tight tapestry through place and time with an inclusiveness reminiscent of Whitman. As she says, 'we all wake to the same sun' no matter who we are or where we reside.  Her poems strike a chord connecting us in our human-ness and in the everyday that makes up this thing we call a life.



Winner in General Nonfiction

Paddle North: Canoeing the Boundary Waters-Quetico Wilderness

by Greg Breining, photography by Layne Kennedy,
published by Minnesota Historical Society Press

paddle north
Paddle North

The beautiful photos and fascinating narrative in this book capture the experience of a visit to the Boundary Waters and Quetico Wilderness.  Here is an invitation to grab your gear and go; get your feet muddy on the portages, wash off the mud in a cool lake, set up your camp, and watch the stars brighten overhead.  Paddle North includes features on map-making, the history of canoes, and the geology and ecology of these wilderness areas.  Greg Breining and Layne Kennedy show us a place where we can get away from it all and love doing it.


Honorable Mention in General Nonfiction

The Assassination of Hole in the Day

by Anton Treuer, published by Minnesota Historical Society Press, Borealis Books

Hole in the Day
The Assassination of Hole in the Day


Hole in the Day took a leadership role in the Ojibwe politics after the death of his father. He deflty negotiated with his own people, traders, missionaries, and the U.S. government, only to be killed as he was leaving for Washington to renegotiate the Treaty of 1867.  Anton Treuer uses the life and death of Hole in the Day to tell the larger story of the Ojibwe in northern Minnesota.  This absorbing book examines the reasons for the land cessions and treaties, the complex relationships between the Ojibwe and the Dakota.  Anton Treuer's excellent narrative helps to clarify a complicated era while detailing the life of a great Ojibwe leader.


Winner in Children's Literature

Minnesota's Hidden Alphabet

by David LaRochelle, photography by Joe Rossi,
published by Minnesota Historical Society Press

Minnesota's Hidden Alphabet
Minnesota's Hidden Alphabet

This alphabet book sings it's ABCs with natural pictures from Minnesota State Parks.  Each letter is accompanied by information about the plant, animal, or piece of nature pictured in a way that is both accessible to kids and engaging for adults.  This fun book reads at four different levels: the ABCs, photography, poetry, and informative descriptions.  It displays wonderful use of color with an emphasis on orange that is unusual.  The excellent photography and the lyrical prose is presented in an attractive layout and design.  


Honorable Mention in Children's Literature

Big Belching Bog

by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen,
published by University of Minnesota Press

big belching bog
Big Belching Bog

Explore life in a bog! Animals, plants, and insects that call the bog "home" are uniquely built for their environment.  From plants that re-use their leaves each year rather than growing new ones, to the "belching" chemicals that rise up through the peat moss, this book tours a lesser-known Minnesota landscape.  Renowned woodcut artist Betsy Bowen's texture-like illustrations, together with the simple language, make the bog seem like a magic land.  Good scientific information and explanations make you want to visit a bog and learn about the plants, animals, and the landscape.


Winner in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction

Brown Sugar Syrup and Jack Pine Sand

by Dennis Herschbach, published by Red Step Press

brown sugar syrup
Brown Sugar Syrup and Jack Pine Sand


The Herschbach family and their interactions with friends, family, and neighbors present the picture of a community struggling to survive.  Working hard and being resourceful, as told from a child's perspective, show us familial and community life during hard times, and illustrate how a family can thrive under trying circumstances.




Honorable Mention in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction

Tales from the Creel

by Rudy Senarighi, self-published

tales from the creel
Tales from the Creel


A master storyteller, Senarighi presents the universal lessons of life and friendship, and the secrets of fishing.  His descriptive glossary and beautiful photos extend the reader's understanding beyond northeastern Minnesota, and lead to appreciation of the potential value and impact of fishing.






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winner seal  honorable mention book seal 
New NEMBA Book Seals now available!


Presented by the Library
416 Library Drive
Duluth, MN 55812

& Friends of the Duluth Public Library

in collaboration with The Lake Superior Writers