In August, 2006, the Minnesota Humanities Commission (MHC) announced it would no longer fund the 18-year-old Minnesota Book Awards; the organization would have to focus its energy and attention on early childhood and secondary education. The commission lost $1 million in state support back in 2003 and, although some funding was restored, it wasn’t enough to continue all the commission’s programs − including its seven-year sponsorship of the Minnesota Book Awards.
Mary Ann Grossmann, books editor for the Pioneer Press, reported at the time on the program’s uncertain future and the concerns of its stewards of several years. “I was surprised that the Humanities Commission gives the Book Awards a lower priority than things such as E-12 education,” said Roger Sween, who kept the program alive on a shoestring budget for several years during his tenure with the Office of State Library Services. “I would think promoting authorship, books and reading would be more in keeping with Humanities’ aim than this kind of education, for which there is other support.”
The ceremony had moved through the years from independent bookstores and colleges to the Fitzgerald Theater and the Minnesota History Center. In 2004, the program was part of a day-long Book Celebration at St. Paul’s Landmark Center that drew more than 2,000 people. In 2005 and 2006, the awards were presented at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis. Both programs sold out, even as the MHC began charging admission to what had been a free event. They began to look for a new home for the venerable Awards program. Pat Coleman, acquisitions editor at the Minnesota Historical Society, member of the MHC board, and a past president of the Minnesota Center for the Book, offered to help find a new home for the Book Awards.
One organization frequently mentioned as a possible sponsor was The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, which presented the first Book Awards in 1988 as part of a week-long book festival. Peter Pearson, president of The Friends, said it would be devastating if the awards didn’t continue. “This is the most visible book event in a state that treasures reading, books and publishing. For Minnesota not to have a statewide book event would send the wrong message nationally about what kind of place this is,” Pearson said. “But I am optimistic about its future.” Optimism won the day and The Friends took on the management of the program late in 2006.
1. One of the most horrifying medical treatments of the 20th century was carried out not clandestinely, but with the approval of the medical establishment, the media and the public…
With his riveting book, Jack El-Hai won the History & Biography Award for The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness. PBS’s American Experience presented a program (above), “The Lobotomist,” based in part on the book by Jack El-Hai, who appears in the film and served as a consultant. The hour-long film features chilling black-and-white home movies − many of which are narrated by the gravel-voiced Freeman − as well as haunting photographs of patients before, and sometimes after, their lobotomies.
2. Former Beatle Paul McCartney turned 64 after writing “When I’m Sixty-Four” at age 16. His children recorded a special version of the song at Abbey Road Studios as a surprise present for their dad, and played it for him at his birthday party. They changed the lyrics to fit the occasion with the help of Giles Martin, the son of Sir George Martin, famed producer of most of The Beatles’ records. At the time, by unfortunate coincidence, McCartney was recently separated from his wife, Heather Mills; they later divorced.
3. Alison McGhee won the Award for Young Adult Fiction with her debut novel for young readers, All Rivers Flow to the Sea. McGhee, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and #1 New York Times bestselling author had previously written for adults, but now writes for all ages and in all forms, from poetry and stories to novels and picture books and essays; her books are popular with critics and readers alike. In “Prized Writers: Minnesota Book Award Writers in Conversation,” produced by TPT and the Minnesota Book Awards, authors Alison McGhee and David LaRochelle discuss their perspectives on writing for children and the challenges that they share, as well as the books that earned them each a Minnesota Book Award.
4. Excerpt from The Painted Drum, by Louise Erdrich, winner of the 2006 Book Award for Novel and Short Story. It’s the story of Faye Travers, granddaughter of an Ojibwe woman, who discovers a cache of valuable Native American artifacts while appraising an estate in New Hampshire, and subsequently investigates the history of a ceremonial drum, which possesses spiritual powers and changes the lives of people who encounter it.
5. Ellen Hart, five-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, and three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Genre Fiction, won again in 2006 with The Iron Girl, a novel Publishers Weekly called “a shrewd and consistently entertaining whodunit… Hart delivers vivid, off-the-beaten-track characters and enough clues and layers of intrigue to keep the pages turning.”
6. The film, The Da Vinci Code was released. Like the book, it was considered controversial and received harsh criticism by the Catholic Church for its accusation that the Church is behind a two-thousand-year-old cover-up. Many members urged a boycott of the film. It was also met with largely negative critical response upon its release. However, this did little to hamper its box office performance, earning $230 million on its opening weekend. It was the second highest-grossing film of 2006, behind “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”
7. Parents who have a hard time talking to their kids about sex had no problem explaining why a new vaccine to prevent cervical cancer is a must. Designed to immunize adolescents against the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus, a major risk factor for cervical cancer, 2006 pharma-invention Gardasil could help save the lives of an estimated 3,700 women nationwide who die of cervical cancer each year. Available for girls ages nine and up, the three-shot regimen is best taken before the onset of sexual activity−giving parents plenty of time to initiate “the talk.”
8. The one billionth song was downloaded on iTunes; the song is “Speed of Sound” by Coldplay.
Did you read – or see – Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code? What did you think?
Click here to check out more 2006 Minnesota Book Awards winners and finalists!