Literary Awards

2015 Literary Award Winner

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MediumNickolas Butler
Shotgun Lovesongs 

The Literary Awards Committee of the Wisconsin Library Association has chosen Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs as the Literary Award winner for 2015. The award is for the highest literary achievement by a Wisconsin author for a work written in 2014. 

Shotgun Lovesongs is, in many ways, a quiet novel. The reader is allowed to sit with the characters, and to be moved by their emotions and their bonds of love and friendship.  While the sense of place is very strong, it still relates to most rural communities (and is therefore relatable for many readers). The Awards Committee appreciated the characters’ flaws and depth and the novel’s multiple points of view, each adding another layer to the story. Mr. Butler’s excellent descriptions bring both the setting and the people into focus for readers. This is a novel that lingers in the readers’ mind, with big thematic moments but not artificial melodrama.  

The Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award is made possible by a grant from the WLA Foundation.

2014 Literary Award Winner

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larrywatson-1Larry Watson
Let Him Go

The Wisconsin Library Association has chosen Let Him Go by Larry Watson, who taught at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for 25 years before joining the faculty at Marquette University, as the winner of the 2014 Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award, given for the highest literary achievement by a Wisconsin author for a book published in 2013.

Let Him Go is the story of George and Margaret Blackledge living in 1951 North Dakota. They’ve lost their only son and now their 4-year-old grandson has been taken away as well. Margaret is determined to get him back and George, who is just about done with life, nevertheless does what he can to help her. “Watson is the master of spare prose. Let Him Go is quietly riveting as Watson explores just what’s worth fighting for and the sacrifices people are willing to make.” said Jane Jorgenson, Chair of the Literary Awards Committee.

The Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award is made possible by a grant from the WLA Foundation.

2012 Literary Award

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Chad Harbach
The Art of Fielding


Chad Harbach grew up in Racine, Wisconsin. He graduated from Harvard University and received an MFA from the University of Virginia. In 2004, Harbach and four other writers launched the literary journal n+1. Harbach is both an editor and writer for the journal, contributing essays on environmentalism, David Foster Wallace and the Boston Red Sox.

Harbach worked on The Art of Fielding for nine years. In March 2010, he told Bloomberg News, “What fascinates me about baseball is that although it’s a team game, and a team becomes a kind of family, the players on the field are each very much alone. Your teammates depend on you and support you, but at the moments that count they can’t bail you out.”


After a heated auction ($665,000), the book was acquired in the spring of 2010 by Little, Brown & Co. A Vanity Fair e-book describing the writing and publication of the novel was later released.


About the Book

In his debut novel, The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach examines the lives of 5 people and the ways in which their paths intersect at the fictional Westish College in Wisconsin. Henry Skrimshander is recruited to play by sophomore Mike Schwartz. Through Schwartz’s intervention, Henry is admitted late and finds housing with Owen, another star on the team. Schwartz and Owen take Henry under their wing to help him adjust to the world of academia.

Guert Affenlight, the college president, finds himself falling helplessly in love after what seems a lifetime alone as a single parent to his daughter Pella. Pella, meanwhile, shows up at Westish to try to figure out her own future. When Henry commits an unlikely error during a game, it seems the lives of all of these characters begin to spin out of control.

Not really about baseball, this story is more about perfection and failure, heartbreak and doubt, and how we find meaning in our lives. These characters will stay with the reader long after the last page.


From the publisher:

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others.


2013 Literary Award

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Eliot Treichel
Close is Fine: Stories

Eliot Treichel is a native of Wisconsin who now lives in Eugene, Oregon. He holds an MFA from Bennington College and currently teaches writing at Lane Community College. His short stories have appeared in Narrative, Beloit Fiction Journal, CutBank, Passages North, Southern Indiana Review and other literary journals. He has also written for Canoe & Kayak, Paddler and Eugene Magazine. In 2012, he was awarded a residency fellowship at Playa, as well as a Career Development Grant from the Oregon Arts Commission. Close Is Fine is his first book.

About the Book

Eliot Treichel’s debut short story collection showcases life’s private reflections—big and small—that shape and define individuals. Though the setting is small-town Wisconsin, the emptiness of this rough, lonely expanse feels universal. Anyone who has yearned to ease the ache of a fading relationship will be able to connect to Treichel’s expertly captured characters and their plights of family, fidelity and friendship.

He says about his craft, ”I first understood that life was actually made up of stories, and that stories were things you constructed, and that the story was the reality, but that it was also not the reality. This moment is the headwaters of my writing life—a life largely made up of rivers.

There was the Fox, which was just a short bike ride from my house. While the Suamico was narrow and meandering, the Fox was big and wide—a river of dams and locks and paper mills, of carp and catfish and sheepshead, fish you were advised against eating because of how toxic the water was.

There was the Arkansas River in Colorado, a river of snow-capped peaks and crashing whitewater, a river my dad and I went rafting on one summer vacation. This was my introduction to river guides and their penchant for storytelling. They seemed to have a game among themselves, a game to see how wild of a story they could get the tourists to believe, a game I wanted to play.

nd then there was the Wolf, the river that became the inspiration for my story collection, Close Is Fine. The Wolf, which cuts across northern Wisconsin and drains into Green Bay, is where I became a river guide myself. Where I learned that in addition to being an instructor and someone who had to keep people safe, you were also primarily an entertainer—that you were filling the role of mythmaker for them.”

1994 Literary Award

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Montana 1948: A Novel
by Larry Watson
book cover Milkweed Editions, 1993

In the summer of 1948, in a small Montana town, something happened that David Hayden, twelve years old at the time, has never been able to forget: a shocking sequence of events that shattered his quiet world and marked a sudden, painful coming of age. Montana 1948, a slim but powerful work, is the remembering of that time by the narrator as a grown man, forty years later. In his story of the place he loved but refuses to revisit, questions are raised concerning racial prejudice, sexual exploitation, small town hypocrisy, privilege versus conscience, and the courage to do the right thing regardless of consequences.

...all of northeastern Montana is hard country -- the land is dry and sparse and the wind never stops blowing.

Bentrock, the hardscrabble prairie town of 2000 souls that is David's home, still has elements of the frontier. Wes Hayden, David's honest, well-meaning father is the county sheriff, a job he inherited from his father, a domineering patriarch. His devout, strong-minded wife works for the Registrar of Deeds at the courthouse. Marie Little Soldier, a Sioux Indian, is the family's housekeeper and is idolized by David, an only child. When she falls ill and desperately resists examination by Dr. Frank Hayden, David's charismatic, war hero uncle, the family is forced to face an ugly truth. In spare, thoughtful prose this drama of two brothers, an innocent victim, a courageous wife and the young boy who learns by listening and watching the adults builds to a harrowing climax.

Winner of the 1993 Milkweed National Fiction Prize as well as a Mountain & Plains Booksellers Association Regional Book Award, Montana 1948 was named among the "Best Books of 1993" by Library Journal and the American Library Association's Booklist. It has enjoyed success in bookstores around the country and garnered widespread media attention, with Pocket Books/Washington Square Press purchasing paperback rights, and film rights optioned by Paramount. Beautiful language, keen sense of place, a mesmerizing story and a passion for justice are key ingredients in this deeply felt, memorable tale.

Larry Watson

Born in 1947 in Rugby, North Dakota and raised in Bismarck, Larry Watson received B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from the University of North Dakota and a Ph.D in creative writing from the University of Utah. Since 1978 he has been professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he teaches creative writing and literature. He also codirects the Central Wisconsin Writing Project, a national program dedicated to improving instruction in writing in American schools.

In addition to the prize-winning Montana 1948, Watson has written an earlier novel, In a Dark Time (Scribner 's, 1980), and a chapbook of poetry, Leaving Dakota (Song Press, 1983). His poems and stories have appeared in a wide variety of literary reviews. In 1983 he received a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board for fiction and in 1987, a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. An avid sports participant and fan, Larry's other interests include Midwestern literature and the history of the Dakota and Montana regions. Like Wesley Hayden in Montana 1948, his own father served as a small town sheriff (in North Dakota), a position he inherited from his father, one of the most powerful men in Pierce County. Watson maintains, however, that parallels between novel and real life end there.

Larry and Susan, his wife of twenty-five years, live in Stevens Point. They have two daughters, Elly, who has two children of her own, and Amy, a senior in high school. Another novel is in the hands of his publisher.