National Book Awards bring opportunity for conversation and exploration

For thirteen years the National Book Awards at Concordia has gathered the public to engage in a conversation with some of the best authors and their books in the nation.

This year marks the 14th year and will be held this Thursday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Centrum, Knutson Campus Center. 

This year, Sigrid Nunez, 2018 fiction winner of “The Friend” and Victoria Johnson, 2018 nonfiction finalist for “American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic,” will join Stephanie Curtis in an engaging conversation. Curtis is the senior producer of audience development and engagement at MPR news.  

In 2006, Scott Olsen reached out to the National Book Foundation, under the college’s permission, and asked if they would be interested in partnering with Concordia and organizing this event. They agreed and have been doing it ever since. The campus event has now expanded to Amherst in MA, Rollins in FL, and Sam Houston in TX.

“Every single year is original and dynamic and really exciting in no small part because it’s current. The trends in what books get to be the shortlist or get to be winners, you can see sort of following popular trends in the country. A lot of political books right now for example. Five or ten years ago there were more memoirs,” Olsen said.

“The Friend” is an exploration of grief, literature, and memory. When a woman loses her friend and mentor, his unwanted dog is left behind to burden her. “American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic” is Johnson’s restoration of Dr. Hosack’s life.

Olsen describes the event as a celebration of excellence and a time for community building. Having some of the best books in the country on every topic you can think of such as: economics, biology, history, business, poetry, and fiction. 

Even if you might not be an English major or the major that is associated with either topics of the books, you should still go says Victoria Halvorson, junior and Political Science and Communications major. 

“The themes presented every year are very important and are things that everyone should know,” Halvorson said.

Laura Probst, a librarian, realized she wanted to work with the National Book Foundation and be a part of bringing acclaimed authors to Concordia to bring the campus and the community together. It is also not a common program for most colleges and universities. 

“It’s about three talented people and sitting in on their conversation about ideas and themes in and around those books. Students’ time is valuable but any time there is an opportunity to hear these diverse voices, it will be worthwhile to attend,” Probst continued.

“We all get together and sort of have a conversation about something common. The same way that symposium does, the same way that the summer book read does. We are not only a collection of majors, but we are also a college, a community that has several specific things we can all rally around. It’s a way to highlight the very best thinking and a variety of disciplance,” Olsen said.

Julia Youngs, junior and Global Studies-Development major, works in the Cultural Events office so she helps put this event on. Youngs has not yet been to this event but believes it is important for everyone to go.

“I think that it is a great opportunity to make your college bigger and learn more about different topics. These are also pretty well known authors, which is super cool,” Youngs said.

President Craft also had a few words to say about this event, “It’s a rare and wonderful thing to have writers so gifted as those the NBA brings to us: authors like Louise Erdrich and civil rights leader John Lewis.  This year it’s novelist Sigrid Nunez and historian Victoria Johnson. Students should come for the love of good books, good writers, great conversation.”

There will also be two masterclasses that will go into a little more depth about their topics which are Biology and English. These classes will be directed by biology assistant professor Althea ArchMiller and English assistant professor Vincent Reusch.

Scott Olsen and Laura Probst, co-directors of the National Book Awards at Concordia, will be attending the National Book Awards in New York in November to decide on two authors they want for the next National Book Awards at Concordia this coming Spring. 

The event this Thursday is free to the public. 

Olsen says that everyone should go to this event, even if you are particularly interested in these topics or not.

“If the world’s best is on your doorstep, open the door,” Olsen said.


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