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Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards

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24th Annual NEMBA

Thursday, May 17, 2012


In 2012, the Library worked in collaboration with Friends of the Duluth Public Library and Lake Superior Writers to celebrate the 24th Anniversary of NEMBA. This gala joint event began with a writing workshop in the afternoon on Wednesday, May 17, and continued with a public celebration that same evening. The workshop, conducted by Brian Freeman, was coordinated by the Lake Superior Writers group.

The Thursday evening 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 Brian Freeman. Freeman gave a keynote address titled From a Cold Place: Drama in the Northland. “I’m delighted to be part of an event that celebrates books and writers in the Northland,” says Freeman. “We have such a rich community of storytellers in northern Minnesota, and this is our chance to put their contributions to our culture front and center. Their stories help us better understand the place we live, whether it’s through history, landscape, images, or people.”

This event was free and open to the public.

Nominations were evaluated in one of six categories: (1) Fiction, (2) Poetry, (3) General Nonfiction,  (4) Children's Literature, (5) Memoir and Creative Nonfiction or (6) Art, Photography.  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 100 NEMBA book seals.

dead ahead
Dead Ahead

Winner in Fiction:

Dead Ahead: A Jo Spence Mystery

written by Jen Wright, published by Clover Valley Press

Probation officer Jo Spence attempts to balance her relationships with her clients and her personal relationships, while staying one step ahead of a stalker. Dead Ahead is a nicely crafted, compelling page-turner. The author gives a realistic glimpse of probation processes as seen from a compassionate, caring protagonist. The suspense and mystery in the novel makes it believable as well as a real thriller.



winds of change
The Winds of Change

Honorable Mention in Fiction:

The Winds of Change: A Family's Journey to a Future of Promise

by Duane Schwartz, published by A-Argus Better Book Publishers

Relying on the kindness of strangers, the family perseveres to arrive to the Iron Range, only to then have to battle with large, powerful mining interests. They struggle to keep their land, they need the protection of local and long distance law enforcement, and they are in constant danger from hired thugs. Through it all, the family bonds together with each other as well as with their new friends and neighbors.



tumbled dry

Tumbled Dry

Winner in Poetry:

Tumbled Dry

by Charmaine Donovan, published by Lost Hills Books

In Tumbled Dry, each poem paints a picture of an age and time that dissolves the borders between then and now with heartfelt precision. Donovan’s poems fulfill the words of Robert Penn Warren who said, "How do poems grow? They grow out of your life.” Readers will note her inventive use of many forms, as well as an unpretentious style which combines naturally with subjects rooted in small-town northern Minnesota life.




Honorable Mention in Poetry:

Migrations: Poetry and Prose for Life's Transitions

edited by Sheila Packa, published by Wildwood River Press

Often, anthologies of poetry can stack up on the shelf and become "lost in plain sight." However, a good collection, such as Migrations, serves a specific purpose guided by a skilled editor. In collecting the varied works for Migrations, Packa has brought together poetry and prose which displays the writer's confrontation, processing and digesting of, conflicts and obstacles in their lives. This collection’s many writing styles and subjects emphasize the variety of life's joy, worry, fear and strife.



Ancient earth
Ancient Earth and the First Ancestors

Winner in General Nonfiction

Ancient Earth and the First Ancestors: A Cultural and Geological Journey

by Ron Morton and Carl Gawboy, illustrated by Carl Gawboy,
published by Rockflower Press

Crafted as a dialogue between and Ojibwe elder and a geologist, this book literally follows their real-time travel and conversation around Minnesota’s major geological formations.  Ancient Earth also charts a metaphorical journey through geological time, setting the stage for the appearance of Minnesota’s aboriginal inhabitants.  This form of extended dialogue could have been difficult to sustain. But the material is compelling and the discussion so full of information that the text moves between real time, mythical time, and geological time with surprising ease.



Twelve Owls
Twelve Owls

Honorable Mention in General Nonfiction

Twelve Owls

by Laura Erickson, illustrations by Betsy Bowen, published by University of Minnesota Press

Well known ornithologist Laura Erickson writes of her own experiences watching owls over the years.  In these stories, readers gain access to a rich understanding of the lives, habitat, and behavior of the twelve owls that can be found in Minnesota.  Erickson’s writing is accurate, informed by many years of direct observation, and approachable in the manner of her radio show “For the Birds”.

Each owl is depicted by a painting, bold and graphic in style, by Grand Marais, Minnesota artist Betsy Bowen, whose woodcuts prints have richly illustrated many Northwoods-themed books over the years. The paintings are not your standard wildlife identification illustrations.  Expressive and fun to look at, they more than adequately identify the gestures and physical characteristics unique to each owl.




Winner in Children's Literature


by Loretta Ellsworth, published by Walker and Co.

This “unforgettable” novel by Loretta Ellsworth twists a realistic teen romance tale into a  unique exploration of a true medical phenomenon. The hero, Baxter Green, is a typical lovesick fifteen-year-old who has a secret. Previously known as “the memory boy”, his photographic memory is not something he wants to advertise in his new Minnesota home, where he has just moved with his mother to escape a dangerous past. A strong sense of place pervades this story that includes evocative details of life on the Iron Range, particularly the issues of working and living near a taconite plant.  Written from Baxter’s point of view, Ellsworth’s finely crafted tale includes a realistic narrator’s voice and a convincing circle of friends. A perfect compliment to a high school American Literature course, Ellsworth’s powerful allusions to The Great Gatsby brings this cast of characters to life and provides an alternate perspective of Baxter’s troubles.




utterly otterly night
Utterly Otterly Night

Honorable Mention in Children's Literature

Utterly Otterly Night

by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Ard Hoyt,
published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Watch out! Little Otter’s back, and ready to play in Mary Casanova’s second story based on this character. For children of all ages, the movement of the text and the lovable expressions on Little Otter’s face make this book lovable for all children, and for the children in us all. Despite close calls with a rabbit, owl, moose and a pack of wolves, Little Otter’s bravery gets him, and his family, safely home.

The author and illustrator make the characters and action come alive; Casanova with careful onomatopoeic phrasing, and Ard Hoyt with expressive illustrations.



Voyageur Skies
Voyageur Skies

Winner in Art, Photography

Voyageur Skies: Weather and the Wilderness in Minnesota's National Park

photography by Don Breneman, weather commentary by Mark Seeley, published by Afton Press

Voyageur Skies simultaneously examines the grand and the minute through the seasons and cycles of nature. Examining the geology, climate, plant, and wildlife rekindles child-like wonder and nurtures greater respect and appreciation for Minnesota’s National Park.



old minnesota
Old Minnesota

Honorable Mention in Art, Photography

Old Minnesota

by Nace Hagemann, published by Gunflint Trail Productions

Nace Hagemann's "Old Minnesota" is a unique view of Northern Minnesota with over 130 photographs each containing a human-made object such as a building or vehicle in various stages of deterioration. This decay is mirrored in nature with photos capturing the magnificent starkness of autumn and winter. Peeling paint, rusted metal, and cracked glass are offset with dried leaves, skeletal trees and barren ground to metaphorically link human and nature in a chain of decay which magically renews and uplifts the spirit.





Winner in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction


by Sarah Stonich, published by Borealis Books, Minnesota Historical Society Press

Adrift within the modern world, Stonich listens to her late father’s voice as she searches for the perfect parcel of Northern land, a place for a nostalgic cabin to sink down family roots once more.  On this land, she sweats, digs, remembers, plans for future grandchildren and dreams of a proper outhouse.  Threats to her land and new cabin lead to unexpected lessons and peace.



hauling water
Hauling Water

Honorable Mention in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction

Hauling Water: Reflections on Making a Home in the North Woods

by Becca Brin Manlove, illustrated by Sharon Brin Manlove, published by Raven Productions

This collection of essays explores the making of a family and a home within the woods.  From her first canoe trip to chasing bears, Becca Manlove experiences the joys and heartache of choosing a life outside the city.  As the book draws you in further and further, Becca manages to draw you in to her life.  It is evident that she is a strong woman who is prepared to take on the world (and bears).




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winner seal  honorable mention book seal 
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