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UMN faculty, alum among Minnesota Book Awards finalists

Many past and present Gophers are in the running for this year’s awards, which will be presented on April 26.
Image by Graphic by Mary Ellen Ritter
This is the next big novel for the Minnesota author.

The Minnesota Book Awards announced this year’s finalists Jan. 29, and a handful of past and present Gophers earned a spot on the lineup.

The annual awards, hosted by The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, honor Minnesota’s finest authors and illustrators from nine different categories. One finalist from each category will take home an award at this year’s ceremony, which will take place on April 26 at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts.

Several University of Minnesota faculty and alum have been named as this year’s finalists. The complete list of finalists for each category can be found here.

General Nonfiction

Kim Heikkila — Heikkila is an award-winning teacher, author, speaker and oral historian. She attended the University of Minnesota for her Ph.D. in American studies, as well as a minor in feminist studies. Over the years, Heikkila’s oral history work focused on the antiwar movement, the work of immigrant entrepreneurs on Eat Street in Minneapolis, voting rights activists and more. She’s in the awards race for her oral-based history book, “Booth Girls: Pregnancy, Adoption, and the Secrets We Kept,” which tells the stories of women who passed through the Salvation Army’s Booth Memorial Hospital.

Kim Todd — In addition to her work as an author and essayist, Todd teaches nonfiction creative writing in the University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program. Her most recent work, “Sensational: The Hidden History of America’s ‘Girl Stunt Reporters,’” details the story of undercover female journalists in the nineteenth century who risked their safety to expose the living and working conditions of the Gilded Age.

Genre Fiction

Tom Combs — Before adding “internationally bestselling author” to his resume, Combs studied biochemistry at the University and later worked as an emergency physician for 25 years. Today, his experiences in emergency medicine and trauma hospitals heavily influence his works of fiction. His book “Insurrection” tells the story of Drake Cody, an emergency physician who must act quickly during a devastating act of domestic terrorism.

Allen Eskens — Eskens studied journalism at the University of Minnesota before receiving degrees in law and creative writing from other universities around the state. He recently retired from practicing criminal law after working in the field for 25 years. Eskens’ book, “The Stolen Hours,” is the story of a Minneapolis-based attorney on a mission to put an assailant behind bars.

Memoir and Creative Nonfiction

Said Shaiye — Shaiye is a Minneapolis-based multimedia artist, as well as an MFA student and graduate instructor within the University’s creative writing program. His work uses writing and photography as tools to facilitate healing from childhood trauma. Shaiye’s “Are You Borg Now?” is an Afrofuturist memoir that examines identity through the intersections of culture, race, class, gender and nationality.

Ranae Lenor Hanson — Hanson is a storyteller, writer and activist who earned her Ph.D. in educational policy and administration from the University, with a focus on cross-cultural education. Born in the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Hanson is passionate about ecological justice and effective responses to climate trauma. “Watershed: Attending to Body and Earth in Distress” details her experience with Type 1 Diabetes, and explores the connections between the health of the body and that of the ecosystem.

Novel and Short Story

Brian Malloy — After moving to Minneapolis in 1978, Malloy became heavily involved with activism and volunteer work for LGBTQ+ rights. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, he did work with the Minnesota AIDS Project, the Minnesota March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, and founded the Minnesota Lesbian & Gay Community Funding Partnership. Malloy earned his M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, where he now works as a creative writing instructor. His novel, “After Francesco,” depicts the struggles of a man who lost his partner during the AIDS crisis.

Diane Wilson — Wilson is a Dakota educator, writer, speaker and essayist who studied political science at the University. Outside of her creative work, Wilson is the former executive director for the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance. Her novel, “The Seed Keeper,” is a story of reawakening that follows a Dakota family trying to protect their traditions and ways of life.


Douglas Kearney — Kearney is a widely acclaimed poet, performer and librettist whose work appeared in a handful of anthologies and exhibitions. Currently, he teaches creative writing at the University of Minnesota. He utilizes a writing style known as performative typography, and often incorporates themes like politics, African American culture and contemporary music into his work. “Sho,” Kearney’s most recent poetry book, examines history, pop culture, myth and folklore.

Michael Kleber-Diggs — Kleber-Diggs attended law school at the University of Minnesota, where he earned his J.D. in 1993. Today, he teaches creative writing and writes essays, poems and literature reviews. His debut poetry collection, “Worldly Things,” documents the systemic struggles many Americans face and reflects on our potential for something better.

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