Matt Peckham, Opinions Editor
The Minnesota Book Award finalists have been announced. The poetry nominations include Augsburg student and St. Paul Youth Poet Laureate Donte Collins’ “Autopsy,” Bao Phi’s “Thousand Star Hotel,” “Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media” by Heid Erdrich and Caitlin Bailey’s “Solve for Desire.” To be nominated for this award shows the merit that these works hold.
Despite the prestige of this title, American readership is low. “National Public Radio” reports a 30% drop in author income between 2009 and 2015 and “Smithsonian” reports that 27% of American adults do not read a single book in a year with four being the median number of books read per year. For people who seldom read or seldom purchase media of any form, these are artists to support. They catalogue our area; purchasing local art is important, and artist representation matters.
These works reference local landmarks and pertinent issues. “Autopsy” discusses St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, a predominantly African American community which was largely torn down to build the highway system. “Thousand Star Hotel” examines being Vietnamese American in the Twin Cities. Erdrich writes environmentally angled depictions of the Mississippi River. These books engage with life in Minnesota, and supporting these works is one way to cement life in Minnesota. Spreading and embracing work that examines personhood here, spreads and embraces the experiences akin to this region. These books are legacies of this time and place.
Where art is purchased from matters. The idea of the Walton family, the owners of Walmart, controlling the distribution of art should be bothersome. Art is supposed to be an expression rather than a commodity. However, when media giants such as Netflix control the artistic content that people consume, there is little deviation from the Walton dystopia. Supporting local art is a vote for art over consumption, it is a statement of support for those who examine the world, in this case Minnesota, one inhabits, and it is a ticket to examining one’s region through the perspective of an artist. An increased sensitivity for the world we live in has the possibility of increasing the meaningfulness of each moment and interaction.
Those reading this have a high probability of reading about four or fewer books this year and have a high probability of being Minnesotan residents. For those who this applies to, these books would be excellent ways to enrich one’s life while supporting local artists and the experience of life in Minnesota. Beyond these draws, they are works of literary merit from local authors, one of whom is from Augsburg.
This article first appeared in the Friday, February 9, 2018, Edition of The Echo.