2022 Literary Awards


2022 Awards Announcements

The Literary Awards Committee of the Wisconsin Library Association annually selects outstanding books by Wisconsin-connected authors and awards them WLA Literary Awards or the title of Notable Wisconsin Authors/Illustrators.

WLA Literary Award (Nonfiction)

This award is for the highest literary achievement by an author with a Wisconsin connection, for a work of nonfiction written in the previous year.

The Birdman of Koshkonong: The Life of Thure Kumlien by Martha Bergland

The Birdman of Koshkonong delves into the life of one of Wisconsin’s most influential, yet least well-known, naturalists. An accomplished ornithologist and botanist, Kumlien was instrumental in recording the impact of early agriculture on Wisconsin’s native flora and fauna in the mid-1800s. Martha currently resides in Milwaukee.




 WLA Literary Award (Fiction)

This award is for the highest literary achievement by an author with a Wisconsin connection, for a work of fiction written in the previous year.

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey. In the crucible of collective life, Marie emerges a leader with a progressive vision for her sisters. Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around. Groff received her MFA from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.



WLA Literary Award (Poetry)

This award is for the highest literary achievement by an author with a Wisconsin connection, for a work of poetry written in the previous year.

Tragic City by Clemonce Heard

Tragic City is a contemplation on the neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma–the location of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Heard artfully weaves the Zeitgeister of the present and past using pop culture references like Frank Ocean or Cool Runnings with an insider's understanding of the geohistorical faultlines. The poetic forms flow freely between couplets, quatrains, quintrains and free verse which pulls the reader swiftly through the 103 pages. Heard was the 2019-2020 Ronald Wallace Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.



Notable Wisconsin Authors & Illustrators

Designed to promote greater awareness of the state’s literary heritage, the award recognizes an author’s entire body of work. This year’s Notable Authors are: 

Roberto Harrison (1962 -  )

Roberto Harrison was born in 1962 in Corvallis, Oregon to Panamanian parents. The family returned to Panama when Roberto was one year old and then to Delaware when he was six. As an undergraduate, Harrison studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Boston College. He then enrolled in a graduate program in Mathematics at Indiana University in Bloomington before taking a break to travel, live in San Francisco, and to focus on painting. After returning to Bloomington, Harrison worked for several years as a computer support specialist and shifted his creative output into poetry. After seven years in Bloomington Harrison moved again, this time to Milwaukee where he has been since 1991. In Milwaukee, Harrison has become a major figure in the poetry community surrounding the Woodland Pattern Book Center.  His work includes eight collections of poetry: Os (2006), Counter Daemons (2006), Bicycle (2015), Culebra (2016), Bridge of the World (2017), Yaviza (2017), Tropical Lung: Mitologia Panamena (2020) Tropical Lung: exi(s)t(s) (2021) as well as many chapbooks, including: Chorrera (2003), Bus (2005) Mani (2005), Interface (2018)

Roberto’s poetry wrestles with varied themes including his panamanian heritage, his penchant for mathematics and computer programming as well as his meditation on the Bicycle. While the themes are varied, the verse is always challenging, conceptual and spiritual. 

In addition to poetry, Roberto has been active in the Milwaukee literary community as publisher of the Croton Bug magazine, editor of the poetry journal Crayon from 1997-2008, editor of the Bronze Skull chapbook series and coeditor of the Resist Much / Obey Little anthology. From 2017-2019 Roberto also served as the Milwaukee Poet Laureate. Roberto lives in Milwaukee with his wife and fellow poet, Brenda Cardenas.

 Lan Samantha Chang (1965 -  )

Born to Chinese immigrant parents in 1965, Lan Samantha Chang grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, and spent her formative years dreaming about becoming a writer.  After graduating high school, she attended Yale University, earning a degree in East Asian Studies followed shortly by an MPA from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  In 1991, she fully realized her writing dream by being accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and graduating in 1993 with an MFA.  She is currently the sixth director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the first woman and first Asian American to hold the position.

Lan Samantha Chang has published one story collection, Hunger (1998), and three novels: Inheritance (2004), All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost (2010), and most recently, The Family Chao (2022).  The latter has been chosen as a Barnes & Noble book club pick for February 2022 and was added to former President Barack Obama’s Summer Reading List for 2022.  Ms. Chang was also recently “included on a list of eight trailblazing authors in an article published in Oprah Daily” (Anaka Sanders, The Daily Iowan).

The Family Chao is a novel set in Haven, Wisconsin, and follows the drama that unfolds in a Chinese immigrant family after the suspicious death of their patriarch.  Reimagining Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, it adeptly examines family, race, and culture in a predominantly white, small, midwestern town.  In addition to being selected for book clubs and reading lists, The Family Chao is the recipient of a Kirkus Reviews Starred Review, a Publishers Weekly Starred Review, and a BookPage Starred Review.

Together with the success of her novels, Ms. Chang’s short stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, and The Best American Short Stories. Over the years, she has garnered the praise and admiration of her peers earning many awards and distinctions, most notably as the Wallace E Stegner Fellow, Stanford (1993); the National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Writing Fellowship in Prose (1998); the PEN Open Book Award (2005); the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2008); and the Berlin Prize Fellow, American Academy in Berlin (2021).  She lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with her husband and daughter.