Category Archives: Minnesota

On the Minnesota Book Awards

I wasn’t able to find a place to publish this essay about the Minnesota Book Awards and their lack of science fiction and fantasy (or, really, most other genre) works. So I decided to put it up here. Enjoy.



by Alan DeNiro


This weekend, the finalists for the 26th annual Minnesota Book Awards were released. As with most other years, I wonder if this is going to be a year when the pattern is broken. But it’s not.

What is that pattern? There have been only two books of adult fiction nominated over the last decade that could be considered science fiction, fantasy or more broadly non-realistic: Alicia Conroy’s nontraditional short story collection Lives of Mapmakers in 2007, and Lois McMaster Bujold’s high fantasy novel Paladin of Souls in 2004.

That’s it. And that’s a problem.

It’s a problem because the Minnesota Book Awards presents a skewed version of  the literary culture in the state, and goes forth with events, celebrations and resources (such as grants to bring MBA winners to libraries) that ignore any books that aren’t in the here-and-now. Even the Popular Fiction/Genre category of the award, which should be a mix of (as the eligibility requirements note) “mystery, detective, fantasy, romance, graphic novel, and science fiction”, is almost every year composed strictly of mysteries and thrillers.

Of course, literary realism is its own genre, full of its own conventions and meta-structures. Which is not an indictment against it; however, seeing realism as the only game in town (or the state) is toxic for the literary health of a community. It privileges one form of storytelling as a default mode of expression against which all others should measure. And this is the case no matter what the publisher is: whether it’s a straight-up science fiction and fantasy press or a literary press offering something more cross-genre, experimental, or off-beat.

This annual ritual of proudly showcasing to the residents of the state a “completed” puzzle—even though a few of the pieces are missing—particularly hits hard because of the thriving and longstanding science fiction and fantasy community within the state. With active readers and fans attending conventions such as Minicon, CONvergence, Diversicon, and several others; two science fiction bookstores in town; and a host of writers plying their craft within the borders of the North Star State; there’s a deep disconnect at work here. Moreover, in the 21st century, teenagers and millenials aren’t really paying attention to rigid genre distinctions. They will read anything they can get their hands on. To only allow non-realistic fiction in young adult and children’s categories is to subtly highlight that such endeavors are “just for kids.” But as these people grow older, they aren’t going to migrate to reading fiction solely about the north woods, cabins, and prairies, however great they may be.

And what’s more, I’m sure writers and readers of romance novels and graphic novels could make a similar case with their own beloved books.

Some would say that all of this is a moot issue, that it’s better that these two worlds don’t mix. But I’m interested in seeing bridges created between the two, and to have different forms of literature in conversation with each other. If the purpose of the Minnesota Book Awards is to “showcase the tremendous literary talent and output of writers, illustrators and book artists in our state,” it should actually make an effort to be more inclusive of the types of books Minnesotans are actually writing and having published. If you’re going to have a $45 per ticket gala and “outreach” to the community with reading guides, posters and bookmarks, it’s helpful to not pretend that an entire mode of literature simply doesn’t exist. Otherwise, I’m not sure if the nonprofit that runs the Minnesota Book Awards is actually serving the readers of the entire state.

Do check out my friend David Schwart’s ebook serial novel, entitled Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic:

Gooseberry Bluff is not a school for the chosen ones. It’s a school for those who have run out of choices. An unlikely place for an international conspiracy. But after suspicious paranormal signatures are reported and a professor of magical history goes missing, the possibility of demon trafficking seems more and more likely…

GOOSEBERRY BLUFF COMMUNITY COLLEGE OF MAGIC: THE THIRTEENTH RIB, the first season set in Schwartz’s fantastic contemporary world, begins the tale of Joy Wilkins, an undercover agent with the Federal Bureau of Magical Affairs, as she starts her first semester of teaching and investigating the alarming activity at this school of magic on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The deeper she goes, the closer she gets to dangerous secrets that could threaten her entire world.

Awesome, right? (Also is this just me or would this make a great setting for an RPG?) And I’m also really intrigued by the back-to-the-future approach of serial novels, which I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of in the ensuing years.

Check it out here (as part of Amazon’s 47 North imprint) for preorder!

(Also, as an insidery note: this is really a perfect e-book cover: striking, bold, yet clean, and it loses none of its allure when in thumbnail form)

Delany, Walker Art Center, Saturday

For Twin Cities folks, Rain Taxi is sponsoring a reading by Samuel Delany tomorrow at 2 pm at Walker Art Center. Don’t miss it–you might want to get there a little early.

Just in case you don’t know

or are living under a rock in the Twin Cities–Dave Schwartz is reading tonight from his new novel, Superpowers at 7pm at Dreamhaven. The book is released–go forth and attend/purchase!

book sale

To those readers in the Twin Cities, the Animal Humane Society is holding a giant book sale in both their Golden Valley and Woodbury locations. Go forth!

bridge collapse

Just in case anyone is worried, Kristin and I are ok. Can see one end of it from my office window. Just gut wrenching.

for the Keillor file

More evidence (elsewhere chronicled here) that few are worse.

Heart MPLS library

Yet another reason to love my second office, er, the Minneapolis Central Public library: A Frankenstein exhibit.

Radio Tomorrow

I’ll be on the radio, KFAI, tomorrow around 11:30ish-noonish. That’s 90.3 Minneapolis and 106.7 St. Paul for those in town, OR you can listen online here. I’ll be reading an excerpt from one of my stories and talking about the book.

Also, a friendly reminder–I’m reading at Dreamhaven at 6:30 on this upcoming Tuesday!

Inspired Choice

Leaving aside the quality of American Vertigo itself, having Garrison Keillor review
Bernard-Henri Levy is like having a complete tool review a French philosopher.

random notes

1. It’s way too warm today. I love it. Upper 30s should not be “way too warm” but you take what you can get up here. Tomorrow: 41!

2. Had to pull glass out of the puppy’s mouth over the weekend. He also likes tossing the cat toys up in the air with his mouth and chasing them.

3. I’m cramming way too much math and philosophy into my tiny, tiny little brain over this last week.

4. I come from a Browns family back home, so it’s always mortifying to see the Steelers in the Super Bowl. (channeling my Dad; sorry, can’t help it): They’re obnoxious, and the Steeler-pandering is obnoxious. Note to sports commentators: Pittsburgh is not a blue-collar, lunch pail kind of town anymore. Your meathead metaphors about the Steelers being a “blue collar” team are based on a version of the city that hasn’t existed in 25 years, really. Not looking forward to the next 2 weeks of Steelers triumphalism in the media. Go Seahawks!

Rain Taxi Auction

Rain Taxi is having an eBay charity auction for their 10 anniversary. Lots of cool advanced reading copies, limited editions, rarities, etc. Check it out here and spread the word for a great magazine.

Garrison Keillor is a THRONE OF LIES!

Garrison Keillor is not a “great guy”. Which means that he’s quintessentially “Minnesota Nice.” The smugness of his god-awful radio show is really only a symptom of a deep paranoia about what the Upper Midwest ought to be; that is to say, as non-offensive as possible. This is why the NPR-ization of literature–particularly poetry here–is such anathema to a multifaceted, grassroots literary community. It’s why the well-funded arts bureaucracy of the Twin Cities consists largely in doling out money to feckless, hand-wringing, “grandma’s farm burned down in the 30s so now I’m going to write a poem about the prairie oh and by the way here’s what I think about Tibet”-writing hacks; their edgy “alternative,” in terms of the reading public’s consciousness, consists mostly of a kind of Tiger Beat surrealism. Either way it’s a great gig if you can get it.

And this isn’t about imposing one particular view of what writing in a larger community can, and should, be–but rather sucking all of the air out of the room so that only a very specific type of realism and attitude about realism (that it should confirm what you already know about the world) becomes normative. There are a lot of great writers in the Twin Cities, but you really would never know that from MPR or other major opinion-organs of the state.

In 2000, it was the National Organization of Broadcasters and Public Radio that joined together to kill low-powered FM radio:

National Public Radio and the National Association of Broadcasters failed to stop the FCC from implementing its modest Low Power FM service. But after months of intensive lobbying, NPR and the NAB convinced Congress to quietly kill the service, and prevent schools, libraries, community groups and local government from operating low watt stations.

It’s pretty clear where its bread is buttered, and Keillor’s latest actions is only a symptom of that.


I take the neck from the loon,
breaking it, and then we depart
for the lamb’s cholera moon.

In my under-things,
we row above the midnight state
of ambiguous folk scenes.

We watch the canoes
stop at the falls
to sell their podium glues.

Through moose ether
tolls peace’s stud fee.
Nothing is dangerous here.

Cleave, moon, this organic
cloud, grant stop/start
in borrowed Nordic.

The poet’s role
is to live aligned without
saying a thing shameful.

Primrose bindery lights the way.
Shit out a bird skeleton and
move to Apple Valley.