2003: Success and Struggle


More than 200 titles were entered in a statewide call for entries for the 15th Annual Minnesota Book Awards; some books were entered in, and eligible in, more than one category. Book Awards were presented in a record 22 book categories. Presented by the Minnesota Humanities Commission, the Minnesota Book Awards was held at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul with Don Shelby hosting the event. Garrison Keillor honored the late Sen. Paul Wellstone with the Minnesota Humanities Prize.


The Iraq War began on March 19 with the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and allied forces. On May 1, George W. Bush became the first sitting President to make an arrested landing in a fixed-wing aircraft on an aircraft carrier when he arrived at the USS Abraham Lincoln as the carrier lay just off the San Diego coast, having returned from combat operations in the Persian Gulf. He posed for photographs with pilots and members of the ship’s crew while wearing a flight suit. A few hours later, he gave a speech announcing the end of major combat operations in the Iraq War. Far above him was the warship’s banner stating “Mission Accomplished,” which became a focal point of controversy and criticism.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the series by J. K. Rowling, was published in June. Five million copies were sold in the first 24 hours of publication.

The Human Genome Project was completed, with 99% of the human genome sequenced to 99.99% accuracy. While the objective of the Human Genome Project was to understand the genetic makeup of the human species, the project also focused on several other nonhuman organisms such as E. coli, the fruit fly, and the laboratory mouse. It remains one of the largest single investigative projects in modern science.

Bill Holm

Bill Holm from “Voices for the Land,” Brian Peterson, photographer.

The Voices for the Land project, organized by the nonprofit group 1000 Friends of Minnesota (now Envision Minnesota), encouraged Minnesotans to write about the land they love and fight for its preservation. For a year photographer Brian Mark Peterson traveled to those special locations and captured the authors in their environment.  The Star Tribune published 52 of the essays and photos in a year-long column. It was eventually published in book form by the Minnesota Historical Society Press and honored with three Minnesota Book Awards.


In the eighth inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, with Chicago ahead 3–0 and holding a 3-games-to-2 lead in the best-of-7 series, several spectators attempted to catch a foul ball off the bat of Marlins’ second baseman Luis Castillo. One of the fans, Steve Bartman, reached for the ball, deflecting it and disrupting a potential catch by Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou. The Cubs argued for, but umpire Mike Everitt ruled there was no fan interference. If Alou had caught the ball, it would have been the second out in the inning, and the Cubs would have been just four outs away from winning the National League pennant. Instead, the Cubs ended up surrendering eight runs in the inning, giving up the lead. They went on to lose the game. When they were eliminated in the seventh game the next day, the “Steve Bartman incident” was seen as the turning point of the series,. In the aftermath of the incident, Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, had to be escorted from the stadium by security guards, and even received police protection for a time when his name and address were made public on MLB message boards. The 2011 documentary, “Catching Hell” explored the psychology of die-hard sports fans, the frightening phenomenon of scapegoating, and the hysteria that turned mild-mannered Bartman into the most hated man in Chicago.


“Did you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind?” Fred Rogers was an educational influence for millions of children before he died in 2003. His show inspired scientific curiosity, multiculturalism, a compassion for fellow human beings and animals, and hope for the future. If you followed Mr. Rogers as a youth, you are bound to find this remixed video montage of his work to be resonant and moving.


After eight months of strenuous searching, on December 13, Saddam Hussein, former President of Iraq, was captured in Tikrit by the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. When found sitting in a hole, Saddam was covered in filth and stench. With no way of fleeing, Hussein surrendered without a fight.

Click here to check out all of the 2003 Minnesota Book Awards winners and finalists.


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