Northeastern Minnesota Book Award Winners for 2023

An old fire tower in the north woods, a busy Duluth harbor on the day tall ships arrive, and an 1894 murder on Minnesota Point are just some of the settings for books honored in this year’s Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards.

Eleven books were selected by NEMBA reading teams from six categories: nonfiction, fiction, poetry, children’s literature, middle grade and young adult, and memoir. Lake Superior Writers began the nomination process in early 2023, seeking submissions that substantially represent the history, culture, heritage or lifestyle of northeastern Minnesota’s nine counties — Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake, Pine and St. Louis. Authors are not required to live in northeastern Minnesota in order to have their work considered.

NEMBA has honored authors, publishers, poets, photographers and illustrators for 35 years, first by the Kathryn A. Martin Library at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and since 2021 by Lake Superior Writers. This is the second year LSW has coordinated the awards.

An event to honor the authors will be live-streamed by PBS North on Oct. 24. A complete list of the nominees for the 2023 NEMBA Awards is posted at


Murder at Minnesota Point
By Jeffrey M. Sauve
North Star Editions
In this well-researched account, Sauve tells the true story of a crime that captured the attention of an entire nation more than 100 years ago. One day in 1894, a young boy spotted a woman’s hand wearing a silver bracelet protruding from Lake Superior, just off Duluth’s Park Point. The police investigation plays out against a raucous and bustling turn-of-the-century Duluth.

Honorable Mention
Duluth’s Grand Old Architecture 1870–1940
By Tony Dierckins and Maryanne C. Norton
Zenith City Press
This handsome volume takes the reader through Duluth’s architectural history, featuring photos and information about both lost and existing structures with comprehensive chapters on schools, houses of worship, residences, businesses, charitable organizations, and landmarks. The book is a treasure for history and architecture buffs as well as general readers who are interested in the story of the city.


By Kathleen Novak
Black Cat Text
Set in rural northeastern Minnesota during the 1920s and 1930s, STEEL richly depicts the lives of European immigrants who came to the Iron Range seeking mining jobs and the struggles they endured. With historic and geographic accuracy, the story follows teenager Tony Babic and his family, Tony’s love story with girlfriend Vita, and the unexpected tragedy that follows.

Honorable Mention
The Sturgeon’s Heart
By Amy E. Casey
Gibson House Press
The Sturgeon’s Heart depicts three modern-day characters who try to escape from difficult situations. On one remarkable night along the rugged shore of Lake Superior, the lines between reality and legend intersect, changing the lives of Howard, Sarah, and Joe, until everyone’s secrets are revealed.


Surface Displacements
By Sheila Packa
Wildwood River Press
Surface Displacements dives deep into the author’s personal history growing up in Minnesota’s mining country and offers a meditation on the legacy left by decades of mineral excavation. Some poems are elegies to flooded mine pits, tailings ponds, and the scarred landscape, while others explore the timelessness of Lake Superior and the resiliency of nature. The book closes with an essay connecting the author’s Finnish roots, the region’s indigenous history, and the environmental impact mining has had on the Iron Range.

Honorable Mention
By Eric Chandler
Finishing Line Press
At the heart of Kekekabic is a series of fresh, quirky and surprising observances written during a five-day solo backpacking trip Chandler took with his dog through the BWCA. Using the haibun form–a combination of prose and haiku—the volume includes poems inspired by running, skiing, paddleboarding, and kayaking in various cities around the country, always coming home to Duluth.


Lily Leads the Way
By Margi Preus; Illustrated by Matt Myers
Candlewick Press
Lily Leads the Way is a thrilling story of a little sailboat who is called on to help grand old tall ships navigate under Duluth’s iconic lift bridge. Engaging illustrations by Matt Myers combine with the author’s prose to tell a suspense-filled story of Lily who gains confidence as the story unfolds. Kids and their parents will learn about how boats communicate with the iconic lift bridge as well as identify the different vessels in the harbor: thousand footers, salties, and the tall ships that visit on occasion.

Honorable Mention
One Winter Up North
By John Owens
University of Minnesota Press
One Winter Up North is a wordless picture book about a family of three as they embark on a winter camping trip into the BWCA. John Owens’ lively illustrations tell the story about how they snowshoe into the forest, set up their cozy tent next to a snowy lake, learn about animal tracks, and listen to wolves as they howl on a starry night. It’s a charming story about embracing the special beauty of winter up north.


Controlled Burn
By Erin Soderberg Downing
Scholastic Press
In this captivating story, twelve-year-old Maia’s house burns down one night, severely injuring her younger sister. What’s even worse is that Maia thinks that she was responsible. Sent by her parents to spend the summer in northern Minnesota with her grandparents, she learns to overcome her nightmares, fears, and guilt when she must rise to an even greater challenge. Controlled Burn underscores the importance of family and friends in dealing with the effects of trauma.


Seven Aunts
By Staci Lola Drouillard
University of Minnesota Press
Seven Aunts is a heartwarming story about the successes and struggles of the author’s seven aunts, a moving journey that shows how they collectively cared for and supported one another through good times as well as periods of inequity and hardship. The memoir explores the family’s indigenous and Northern European heritage, and demonstrates how each aunt’s unconditional love has been beautifully woven into the family tapestry.

Honorable Mention
Morlocks In The Basement
By Carolyn Colburn
Running Wild Press
Morlocks in the Basement is an intense and irreverent account of the author’s experience raising a troubled child in a troubled world. With dark humor, Colburn tells connected stories about her own growing up and the years before and after she and her husband adopted their niece’s child. As their daughter reaches her teens, chaos ensues, leading to late-night calls from the police. Colburn’s raw and honest voice, seasoned with self-deprecating humor, make her memoir a searing and moving read.

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