Minnesota did well at this year’s National Book Awards, with two winners: Louise Erdrich and William Alexander. To put that in perspective, until this year only five Minnesota authors had won an NBA in the past seventy-five years.
Naturally, the 2012 NBA results have people asking, “Why Minnesota? Why now? Is there something in the water?”
Well, we have a lot of water here in Minnesota—11,842 lakes worth, to be precise. And we have a similarly impressive number of writers. In my little universe of Minnesota kidlit I can name 126 living, published writers of children’s literature, and I suspect there are a few dozen I missed.
And that’s just kidlit writers. There are similar numbers of published writers in literary fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, drama, and poetry. I would guess that there are well over a thousand published writers in this state, and probably twenty times that many who are working on as yet unpublished works.
That makes Minnesota, a state that has a mere ten electoral votes and contains only about 1.7% of the U.S. population, relatively saturated with writers. How and why this has come to be is a long story which I may address in a future post. For now, I’ll just say that the writer population in Minnesota seems to have reached the point of self-sustainability. Writers come to Minnesota, and they stay in Minnesota, because there are a lot of writers here.
You know that image of Doctor Zhivago huddled alone in his freezing garret scribbling out his love poems by candlelight? That is not reality. It never was. Writers need other writers. They need other writers who understand that what they do matters, and who understand how challenging it can be. They need other writers to compete against, to offer criticism and encouragement, to set an example, to raise the bar. They need other writers to applaud them when they succeed and curse them jealously for that same success. They need mirroring, they need to witness the triumphs and failures of their peers, they need community.
We have community in Minnesota. Many of us are quite active within it, others mostly keep to themselves. But even the most solitary of us benefit, I believe, from living in a place where we do not have to be alone.