Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This Was 2020, more indie book success June 17, 2022

Award-winning This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

AS A LONG-TIME WRITER, I’ve accumulated a lengthy list of publication credits. That’s rewarding. Publication validates me as a writer. But it is knowing people are reading my work which proves especially rewarding.

The beginning of my poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am thrilled to share that This Was 2020—Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year is the top circulating book across all Indie Author Project library collections in the U.S. and Canada thus far in 2022. My poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” is included in This Was 2020, an anthology of 54 poems and essays by 51 Minnesota writers. To earn the number one circulation spot is an achievement worth noting and celebrating.

This is exciting news added to the initial success of the book as the 2021 Minnesota Author Project award winner in the Communities Create category.

A summary and author list from the back cover. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I’m not surprised by the book’s success. The collection of stories and poems selected via a competitive process is remarkable—packed with experiences, insights, emotions and more. I feel humbled and honored to be a part of this awarding-winning book featuring the work of talented Minnesota writers.

Paul Lai, formerly with Ramsey County Library, deserves much credit for his hard work on this MN Writes MN Reads project. It’s a mega undertaking to organize a contest open to writers throughout the state and then work through the process to publication. But it doesn’t end there. Lai also organized book readings and kept writers like me informed. I am grateful for his talent, enthusiasm and dedication.

My bio printed in This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

If you haven’t read This Was 2020, I encourage you to do so. The book, Lai says, is available at all 14 library systems in Minnesota. Locally, Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault carries two copies. Writers need readers. And readers need writers. Thank you for reading.


NOTE: This marks the second time my poetry has been included in a book vying for the Minnesota Author Project, Communities Create Award. In 2020, Legacies: Poetic Living Wills was a finalist for the honor. The book featured my poem, “Life at Forty Degrees,” and the poems of 15 other area poets.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


This Was 2020 wins Minnesota book award & I’m celebrating October 11, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2021.

WITH JOY AND GRATITUDE, I share some particularly exciting news. Joy at the honor. Gratitude for the opportunity.

The book This Was 2020—Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year has garnered the 2021 Minnesota Author Project Award in the Communities Create category. That announcement came late last week at the annual Minnesota Library Association Conference.

The beginning of my poem published in This Was 2020. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

My poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” is among 54 pieces of prose and poetry by 51 Minnesotans published in the collection. In my poem, I write about my experience attending my father-in-law’s funeral in a rural central Minnesota church during the pandemic. To have that poem selected for inclusion reveals just one aspect of how COVID-19 has affected all of us.

As Paul Lai, Ramsey County librarian and lead on this book project states, This Was 2020 “…highlights the voices of people in Minnesota as they remember a difficult year.” And those voices come from across the state, most from the metro, but also from greater Minnesota. The writing, Lai notes, offers glimpses into our communities.

Judges for the award also sing the book’s praises, calling it “a beautiful anthology that memorialized a very difficult year in Minnesota.”

That assessment fits as writers penned pieces related to the pandemic and to social justice issues re-ignited by the murder of George Floyd with ensuing protests. I encourage you to read this book for the thought-provoking, and often emotional, content. (Click here to read an earlier review I posted on This Was 2020.)

“This book is one small way to help us all grieve, protest, imagine, co-create and empathize so that we build stronger connections rather than more walls between each other,” Lai says in a reflective video. I appreciate that comment, that encouraging insight. (To hear Lai’s comments, forward to around 10 minutes into the video.)

Lai has been so supportive of the writers published in this collection. In a congratulatory email to all of us, he termed our writing “powerful, thoughtful, heartfelt, creative and caring.” I value that appreciation.

The incredible art of artist Carolyn Olson of Duluth graces the cover of This Was 2020. This is titled “Grocery Store Cashier and Bagger,” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The book award comes with a $1,000 cash prize, which will go to the Friends of the Ramsey County Libraries, official publisher of the print book. Those monies will support the library’s collections and programs. Additionally, the award provides access for the e-book version in the national Indie Author Project network and author spotlights promoting the book. More opportunities to be heard.

I feel such joy and gratitude. Joy at this accomplishment, not only for myself as a professional writer, but also for my fellow Minnesota writers. This state has incredible literary talent. And I feel gratitude for those who foster writing projects like This Was 2020 and for those who publicly recognize the value of voices expressed in writing.

FYI: To view This Was 2020 online, please click here. I encourage you also to purchase a print copy, perhaps from your favorite indie bookstore. Enjoy. And appreciate. And use what you read to build stronger connections rather than more walls.

You may also click here to see all of the book finalists/winners in the three Minnesota Author Project award categories.

Publication of This Was 2020 was made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. It was edited by Ramsey County Library and published by Friends of the Ramsey County Libraries. The Minnesota Library Foundation and Biblio Labs sponsored the cash prizes.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Zumbrota exhibit explores water during this year of extreme drought October 19, 2012


And I expect part of that passion comes from the lack of arts in my life when I was growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, out there in “the middle of nowhere,” as some would say, life focused more on survival than anything.

By survival I mean my father earning enough money to support his wife and six children on a modest crop and dairy farm.

So much depended on the weather, on the rain or lack thereof. Enough rain meant a bountiful crop to feed the cattle and/or sell grain on the market. Too little rain meant scrimping on feed and less money to pay the bills, buy the groceries, clothe the family.

But let’s circle back to my original statement about loving the arts and connect that to water.

Recently I entered, and successfully competed in, an “It’s All One Water” poetry competition sponsored by the Zumbro Watershed Partnership and Crossings at Carnegie, a privately-owned art center in Zumbrota.

This evening a public reception will be held at Crossings, 320 East Avenue, beginning at 6:30 p.m. It is an opportunity to view works by 56 writers and photographers who “explored the aspects of water which fascinate them and created their own artistic expression of this most basic foundation for life,” according to promo info for the event.

At 7:30 p.m., writers, photographers and guests will move down the block to the historic Zumbrota State Theatre where writers will read their works while the water-themed photographs are projected onto a screen.

I will read my “In which Autumn searches for Water.”

My poetic expression about water traces back to my farm roots, to that constant and undeniable link between the land and the sky.

That connection is so much a part of my fiber that I cannot think about water in recreational terms—I can’t swim, don’t like being on the water and grew up in a Minnesota county without a natural lake. Rather, for me, water has always been about sustaining life, about growing a crop, about watering the cows or watering plants or measuring rainfall.

So when I learned of the “It’s All One Water” poetry competition shortly after an autumn walk at the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, where I found dry ponds, I knew exactly what I would write. I personified Autumn, creating a thirsty woman in search of an also personified Water. It works and I think well, especially given the current historic drought conditions throughout our country.

About a third of Minnesota is suffering from extreme drought. On Thursday the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued a news release urging Minnesotans to adopt water conservation measures (no washing vehicles, watering lawns and trees, etc.) as drought conditions are straining our state’s water resources.

Here’s a snippet of my drought-related water poem, verse three of five:

But she finds there, at the pond site, the absence of Water,
only thin reeds of cattails and defiant weeds in the cracked soil,
deep varicose veins crisscrossing Earth.

You can hear me read “In which Autumn searches for Water” this evening or view the entire exhibit from now until the end of October at Crossings. Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursdays; or from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturdays. A limited number of chapbooks are available. Monies from Minnesota’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund helped to fund the “It’s All One Water” exhibit.

CLICK HERE to reach the Crossings at Carnegie website.

CLICK HERE to link to the Zumbro Watershed Partnership website.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW drought conditions in the U.S.