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Alexie, Ruskovich among the winners at the Pacific Northwest Book Awards

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 9, 2018, 11:12 a.m.

Two authors from the Inland Northwest are among the winners of the 2018 Pacific Northwest Book Awards.

Emily Ruskovich, who grew up near Athol, won for her debut novel, “Idaho.” Sherman Alexie, a National Book Award winner who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, took a prize for his memoir of his late mother, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”

In her novel, Ruskovich – now on the faculty at Boise State University’s creative writing graduate program after teaching for several years at the University of Colorado in Denver – weaves an opaque tale about memory and loss and mystery. The story is set in North Idaho and centers on Ann, who strives to understand a mystery from her husband’s past, when his first wife murdered their daughter, and their second daughter went missing. It’s a challenging book in that there are no clear answers, but Ruskovich tells it in such a compelling way that, as the Washington Post noted in its review, “ ‘Idaho’ is a powerful and deeply moving book, an impressive debut that portends good, even great, things to come.”

Alexie, who lives in Seattle, is no stranger to accolades. In addition to his National Book Award – for his young adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” – he won a PEN/Hemingway Award for his debut story collection, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” an American Book Award for “Reservation Blues,” and, most recently, a Washington Book Award for his children’s book, “Thunder Boy Jr.”

His effective and affecting memoir tells the story of his relationship with his mother, Lillian, who died in 2015 shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. It’s about how difficult a woman she was, and yet how Alexie struggled in grieving her death. It made several end of the year lists, including a top 10 pick from the BBC and the San Francisco Chronicle’s best 100 books of 2017.

Other winners are “American War: A Novel,” by Portland writer Omar El Akkad; “The Book of Mistakes,” by Corinna Luyken of Olympia; “Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color,” by Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring of Tacoma; “Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean,” by Jonathan White of Orcas Island. The Indie Spirit Honor went to Brian Doyle, of Lake Oswego, who died last year. His books include the novels “Mink River” and “Martin Marten.”

The Pacific Northwest Book Awards, announced Tuesday, are presented by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, a nonprofit trade association of independent book retailers in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.


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