Peter Geye has always felt like a trespasser, he said. He is a Minneapolis-based fiction writer who sets his award-winning novels in Northeastern Minnesota. It's an obvious landscape for him - this is his favorite area - but there is always this deep-down worry, he said: Did he get it right?
Cut to 2010 when his debut, "Safe from the Sea," won the the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award in the fiction category. It's the story of a son and his estranged father who survived the wreck of an ore boat but is now slowly dying.
"It felt like a validation, to win an award from people in that part of the state," Geye said in a phone interview - taking a break from writing his next book, which is divided between Northeastern Minnesota and Norway. "That remains something that's important to me - to have that. The validation of the people who live in the part of the world I'm writing about."
Since then, there has been more validation: Geye's next two novels also took NEMBA's top prize, "Wintering" in 2016 and "The Lighthouse Road" in 2012.
This year marks the 30th year of the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards, book awards with a sometimes misunderstood criteria: nominated work must be set in this region regardless of the author's ZIP code.
"We wanted to celebrate the books about the area," said Gail Trygstad, chairwoman of the NEMBA committee. "We wanted to celebrate this awesome place that we live in."
The ceremony is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Northland Country Club. This year's featured speaker is William Kent Krueger, who has won the fiction prize for "Tamarack County" (2013) and "Thunder Bay: A Cork O'Connor Mystery" (2007). This year, awards day will also be designated NEMBA Day, including a proclamation by Mayor Emily Larson. Thirty-six books have been nominated. Winners receive $200, a glass plaque and 100 book seals.
Awards will be handed out by past winners, including former News Tribune outdoors reporter Sam Cook, whose "Quiet Magic" was the first book to win a NEMBA.
The awards, presented by UMD's Kathryn A. Martin Library and Friends of the Duluth Public Library, started in 1988 without categories differentiating genres. As years went on, it became weird for the judges to compare a children's book nominee to, for instance, "Will to Murder: The True Story Behind the Crimes & Trials Surrounding the Glensheen Killings" by Gail Feichtinger with John DeSanto and Gary Waller - which got an honorable mention in 2003.
"Then we kept getting more books and more books, and more special categories pulled out," Trygstad said.
By 2008, there were six categories: Nonfiction, fiction, art/photography, children's literature, poetry, memoir. Anyone can submit a book for consideration during NEMBA's call for nominations, and all books published within the past year and set in the designated region - counties including Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake, Pine and St. Louis - are considered for the prize.
Geye said he keeps other NEMBA-noted books close at hand - including works by Bart Sutter, who won in 1998 for "Cold Comfort" and was honorable mention in 2012 for "Reindeer Camps and Other Poems." The regional works inspire him, he said.
"I've done as much as I can to put a stamp on this part of the world," Geye said. "One of the reasons that I did is because it's so magnificent."
If you go
What: 30th Annual Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards
When: May 24
Where: Northland Country Club, 3901 E. Superior St.
5-6:30 p.m.: Book fair and reception
6:30-8 p.m.: Featured speaker, awards presentation
8-9 p.m.: Extension of book fair
= = =
“The Broken Key” by Paul Kilgore, published by MCP Books
“Can Murder be Justified” by Harvey Dahline, self-published
“Family Trees: A Pine County Mystery” by Dean Hovey, published by Moose Town Press
“Going Coastal: an Anthology of Lake Superior Short Stories” by Lake Superior Writers, published by North Star Press
“Once in a Blue Moon Lodge: A Novel” by Lorna Landvik, published by University of Minnesota Press
“Rare Birds” by Kathleen Novak, published by Permanent Press
“Stories for a Lost Child” by Carter Meland, published by Michigan State University Press
“Blue Window” by Deborah Gordon Cooper, published by Clover Valley Press
“Hugging the Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War” by Eric Chandler, published by Middle West Press
“Naming Rites: Poems” by Gary Boelhower, published by Holy Cow! Press
“Now/Here: Poems” by Crystal Spring Gibbins, published by Holy Cow! Press
“Border Country: the Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906-1916” by Martha Greene Phillips, published by the University of Minnesota Press
“Duluth’s Historic Parks: Their First 160 Years” by Nancy S. Nelson, Tony Dierckins, published by Zenith City Press
“Flames of Discontent: the 1916 Minnesota Iron Ore Strike” by Gary Kaunonen, published by the University of Minnesota Press
“Little Minnesota in World War II: the Stories Behind the 140 Fallen Heroes from Minnesota’s Littlest Towns” by Jill A. Johnson, Deane L. Johnson, Adventure Publications
“Miles Lord: the Maverick Judge Who Brought Corporate America to Justice” by Roberta Walburn, University of Minnesota Press
“Native Echoes: Listening to the Spirit of the Land” by Kent Nerburn, Wolf nor Dog Books
“Practicing Retirement: What I Learned About Retirement Without Making it Official” by Patrick Mathias, self-published
“Seasons in Pine City” by Mary Andersen, Mike Gainor, Dale Kuzel, Margaret Marty, self-published
“The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” by Sean Sherman, Beth Dooley, published by the University of Minnesota Press
“World War II Shipbuilding in Duluth and Superior” by Gerald Sandvick, published by Arcadia Publishing
“Deep Woods, Wild Waters: A Memoir” by Douglas wood, published by the University of Minnesota Press
“Getting Piper: the Strange Account of Raising our Last Lab Puppy,” by Patrick Mathias, self-published
“Gift from the Garden” by Bernie DuBois, published by Trellis Publishing, Inc.
“Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year” by Linda LeGarde Grover, published by the University of Minnesota Press
“Swimming with Elephants: My Unexpected Pilgrimage from Physician to Healer” by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann, published by Conari Press
“The Forever Girl” by David Pagel, Harold I. Stevens, published by Megalith Press
“At the Cabin: In the Woods by the Lake Up North” written by Cheryl Weibye Wilke, illustrated by Rebecca Stouffer, published by Raven Productions, Inc.
“Bubble Wrap Girl” written by Kari van Wakeren, illustrated by CA Nobens, published by Beaver’s Pond Press
“But That Is Not Me!” written by Susan Larson Kidd, photographs by Richard Hoeg, self-published
“The Clue in the Trees: an Enchantment Lake Mystery” written by Margi Preus, published by University of Minnesota Press
“Dead Man’s Rapids” by William Durbin, Barbara Durbin, published by University of Minnesota Press
“Grandpa Alan’s Sugar Shack” written by Alan Page, Kamie Page, illustrated by David Geister
“Sadie Braves the Wilderness” written by Yvonne Pearson, illustrated by Karen Ritz, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press
“Seven Ways to Trick a Troll” written by Lise-Lunge-Larsen, illustrated by Kari Vick, published by the University of Minnesota Press
“Winds & Currents: Native American Stories” by Joan Henrik, published by Holy Cow! Press (this was the only title nominated in this category, so there will be no winner or honorable mention)