The National Book Award Is Behind the Counter: Minneapolis’s Birchbark Books and Native Arts


It should surprise few that, when visiting a city other than my own, I like to make it out to at least one bookstore. That’s how I came to be standing in Minneapolis’s Birchbark Books and Native Arts over the weekend, an air-conditioned oasis on a brutally humid day.


The store’s owner is Louise Erdrich, and — not surprisingly — the shop is well-stocked with signed copies of her books. To my mind, it fell pretty impressively into the category of stores that do a lot with a modest space: the decor was interesting, and the range of titles covered was vast. There’s also a tangible political vibe present — as its website notes, “Independent bookstores = Democracy cells.”

In the end, I picked up a signed copy of Edrich’s Love Medicine for myself, along with a few books as gifts. While paying, I admired the National Book Award hanging near the cash register. There was a lot to like about that, too — the demystification of it, for one. And with acclaimed writers like Erdrich and Ann Patchett owning bookstores, one wonders if this will become the literary equivalent of the high school trophy case. I’d be happy to live in a world where a trip to buy books also brings one within feet of any number of beloved literary awards.

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