Minnesota Book Awards Gala

Hi. Well, I know it’s been a little while since this event, and I know a lot of other places have already covered it, but that’s kind of why we decided to wait a bit. No sense giving the same “here’s who won” recaps that MPRBooksnobTwinCities.com (Pioneer Press) and Linda White over at the Examiner.com have already provided, or the more “here’s what this event was like” recap Courtney Algeo (of Paper Darts and the Loft) offers up at the TC Daily Planet. In fact, there’s not a whole lot to say about the event that these fine reporters haven’t said (Linda White even mentions the cheese, which was, in my opinion, the highlight of the evening).

But LitSeen was there, and as such, we have a few things to say about it.

#1: While I was sitting in that enormous, posh, stuffy room (it got warm as the night wore on, and though the waiters did a great thing by circulating with wine and water, they couldn’t keep up with my thirst), I got to wondering whether it was our specifically tremendous literary community that makes an event like this possible, or whether other states have the same types of galas–by which I mean, do others bring their “book awards” to such faux-Oscars heights of pretense? Because any way you look at it, this is a pretentious affair. No disrespect to the winners or the event’s organizers, but this is a lot of social to-do for an industry that caters to homebodies, but I digress.

Other states’s awards ceremonies, and how they compare:

I’m from Oregon, the only non-New York state I feel compares to Minnesota’s love of the book, so that’s where I looked first. Turns out, their ceremony is this Monday, April 23, 2012. And from the limited information I could find on their website, they have a pretty fancy-pants event too. General admission is $17, and it’s $50 for a primo-seat. Seems pretty comparable to Minnesota. So then I wondered about a less literary state . . . like, say, Kentucky. No offense to any Kentuckians out there, and I only chose your state because I know little about it. But how closely would the Kentucky State Book Awards gala resemble our own?

Well, the first search result for keywords “Kentucky Book Award” was “Kentucky Bluegrass Award,” so maybe my judgment wasn’t too far off (also no offense to Bluegrass–love the genre).  A minor bit of digging later, I discovered the “Kentucky Literary Award,” which seems to take the place of our state’s high literary honors. The way Kentucky’s award works is: “Eligible books include those written by Kentuckians or books with a substantial Kentucky theme. Fiction and non-fiction works will be considered in alternating years. The 2012 Kentucky Literary Award will be given to a work of fiction published in 2010 or 2011 that meets the selection criteria. The winner will be announced at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest’s “Meet the Authors” reception to be held on Friday, April 20, 2012.”  One book, genres alternate years, winners announced at a reception within a larger festival. Not an event specifically devoted to the awarding of the prize, not a to-do about introductions, nominees, etc. A substantially different take on literature’s role in the community, it would seem.

#2: This leads me to another question I had as the ceremony unfolded: what’s the criteria for being a nominee or a finalist? The authors didn’t seem to be exclusively Minnesotan, and the publishers weren’t either. Wikipedia straightened me out: authors have to be Minnesotan. Though, in this highly mobile culture of ours, what does residency mean? You’ve sat in the DMV line and received your driver’s license? Or do you have to have some innate understanding of and appreciation for Minnesota, in which case, why aren’t writers like Jim Harrison nominated?

#3: Jeff Kamin, the returning host of the awards ceremony, did a serviceable job at impersonating an awards show host. Yet, something about his jokes rubbed me the wrong way. He’s a skilled and charming guy, and that’s a tough gig, but look: I’m not into books because I like schticky, smarmy entertainment value. I like the book because it’s one of the few remaining vestiges of our culture where content means something, where artists sacrifice their time, energy, and livelihoods to create a valuable expression of their experience, where we actually sacrifice our temporary selves for something more lasting, more vital, ultimately more important than ourselves. Though Lightsey Darst‘s stark declaration that we’re here “because books matter” was intense and awkward, it was the one moment of the gala that cut straight through the pomp and hit the core of the evening’s intent. I don’t like books for their  fancy clothes and name tags; I like books for their ink and their spines. I’d gladly sacrifice the chandeliers and chocolate-covered strawberries if it meant more writers could commit more wholly to putting words on the page.

-RHM

Were you there? Have a different take on the event?  Chime in on the comments below. Also, check the schedule to the right and be at the next LitSeen attended event! See you around.