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Northeastern Minnesota Book Award winners announced

 Kathryn A. Martin Library announced winners of the 27th annual Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards (NEMBA) on Thursday, May 21, at the University of Minnesota Duluth Kirby Ballroom.

NEMBA was established in 1988 to recognize books that substantially represent northeastern Minnesota in the areas of history, culture, heritage, or lifestyle. Thirty-nine titles were accepted for consideration this year, competing in six categories.

Winning authors in each category received a cash prize of $200. The authors of winning books and those chosen for honorable mention were awarded a glass plaque as well as 100 NEMBA book seals.

NEMBA is a collaboration of the UMD Kathryn A. Martin Library, Lake Superior Writers, and Friends of Duluth Public Library.

Poet Barton Sutter, as emcee, announced the following awards: 

Winner: Memoir and Creative Nonfiction

Rooted in Iron and Ice: Innocent Years on the Mesabi, by Gary W. Barfknecht, published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.

The iron-rich soil that brought industry, jobs and families to the Iron Range town of Virginia, Minnesota, created a unique culture for a young boy during the baby boom years. Whole towns would move to follow the mines, and families would adjust on a regular basis to changing economics, brutally hard work, frigid winters and isolation. But the people thrived and proved to foster strong, loyal and colorful communities with hybrid customs and a language of their own.

Honorable Mention: Memoir and Creative Nonfiction

Zenith City: Stories from Duluth by Michael Fedo, published by University of Minnesota Press.

Duluth experienced a bleak economic stretch in the 1950s and ’60s, one that provided little hope for the population, particularly the youth in the community as they graduated and looked for jobs. This series of recollections depicts the mood of the times while highlighting some significant character-building events in the author’s life.

Winner: Poetry

Approaching the Gate, by Lynette Reini-Grandell, published by Holy Cow! Press.

The reader might approach the poet’s gate, or move through it into honest images of life’s complexities, reliving seasons and recollections of northeastern Minnesota. On every page, she invites us “to continue.”

Honorable Mention: Poetry

Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range, by Sheila Packa, published by Wildwood River Press.

Sheila Packa’s newest collection of poetry is filled with three-dimensional images of the variety and complexity of life on Minnesota’s Iron Range during the middle years of the twentieth century. Like the iron itself, these poems “bleed with rust/ and come with their own rules.”

Winner: Art, Photography

Saved by Beauty: Sister Mary Charles McGough, OSB, by John Schifsky, Sister Lois Eckes, Peter Spooner, Dustin Lyon and Meridith Schifsky, published by Duluth Benedictine Books.

Born in Cloquet, Minnesota, Sister Mary Charles grew into a life of creating art and community in many forms, but she is primarily known for her skillful woodcuts and Christian icons. She dedicated her life to a ministry of creating, educating and sharing with others, especially youth, what it means to experience and appreciate the beauty that exists all around and within ourselves.

Honorable Mention: Art, Photography

The Other Side of Wilderness, by Richard C. Johnson, published by Will o’ the Wisp Books.

This is a collection of black and white photographs about people leaving their mark on the land. The photographs capture abandoned shops/restaurants or desolate sites that show evidence of past human habitation and are carefully balanced in composition, offering haunting nostalgia.

Winner: General Nonfiction

Twin Ports by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Duluth-Superior, by Aaron Isaacs, published by University of Minnesota Press.

For almost six decades, streetcars on rails moved people and cargo in Duluth and Superior. This book chronicles this period of rapid change and some of the more spectacular stories involving electric trolleys. Good writing is matched by a wealth of information and well-selected photos in this attractive volume.

Honorable Mention: General Nonfiction

Sawdust in Their Blood, by Jim Boyd, published by North Shore Press.

At first glance, Sawdust in Their Blood is a simple chronicle of one family—pioneers of the region’s lumber industry, from one of the few lumber operations of that era that is still active today. But in the stories of this one family, we come to understand what life was like for many who worked in the days when lumber was king.

Winner: Children’s Literature

Rhoda’s Rock Hunt, by Molly Beth Griffin, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, published by Minnesota Historical Society Press.

This beautifully illustrated book is relatable and engaging. The author has captured the sound and feel of camping and the joy of rock collecting, as well as the resultant heavy backpack.

Honorable Mention: Children’s Literature

Wilder’s Foe, by Diane Bradley, published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.

This book is a vividly written, old-fashioned summer adventure story with just enough danger to entertain the reader. The book has all the good stuff: exciting adventures, strong characters, mystery, surprising twists, and just enough regional history and environmental information to enrich the story.

Winner: Fiction

Sins of Our Fathers, by Shawn Lawrence Otto, published by Milkweed Editions.

The plot centers on a small town banker who has been caught embezzling funds to support his gambling addiction. He is forced to spy on an Ojibwe leader who wants to open a competing bank on the reservation. What ensues is manipulation and sabotage, mentoring and friendship, betrayal and rescue.

Honorable Mention: Fiction

A River Through Two Harbors, by Dennis Herschbach, published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.

Based on real contemporary issues, this thriller investigates a sex trafficking ring that traps young Native girls and sells them through the port of Duluth. The investigators struggle with balancing their personal and professional lives with the emerging atrocities and needs of the investigation.