Valley Writers Take Top Honors at 2022 Massachusetts Book Awards; novelist Ruth Ozeki and poet Martín Espada win first place


Continuing their strong run in recent years, a number of Valley writers have won awards or accolades at the 2022 Massachusetts Book Awards, the competition’s 22nd year.

Northampton author and Smith College writing professor Ruth Ozeki won first place for fiction for her novel ‘The Book of Form and Emptiness’, which also won her the prestigious Women’s Prize for Literature earlier this year from Great Britain, a scholarship of £30,000 (worth approximately $36,700). in US dollars at the time of grant).

Meanwhile, poet Martín Espada, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, won a top poetry award for his collection “Floaters – his second major book award in a year, while Espada, who lives in Shelburne Falls, won the National Poetry Book Award last November for “Floaters.”

And Holyoke poet and children’s book author Lesléa Newman, a former Northampton Poet Laureate, received a Massachusetts Book Honor for her collection of poetry “I Wish My Father.”

The awards are all for books published in 2021 and are awarded by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, a public-private partnership that moved to Northampton from Concord in 2021. The organization awards awards each year in five categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, middle school/young adult literature and picture books/early readers.

Ozeki’s novel, his fourth, is partly the story of a troubled young teenager, Benny Oh, who begins to hear voices coming from different objects; When her single mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, those voices grow louder.

The story, with a mix of humor and tension, becomes a meditation on a range of ideas, from the power of books to mental health to the threat of climate change. TIME calls it “inventive, lively, and powered by a sense of wonder.”

As Espada explains in his collection, “Floaters” takes its name from a term that some US Border Patrol agents use to describe migrants who drown while crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico to the United States. The title poem was inspired by a grim 2019 photograph that showed the bodies of two Salvadoran migrants, a father and daughter, lying face down in the river after trying to get to Texas.

“Floaters” as a whole examines the checkered history of immigration to the United States as well as chapters from Espada’s own life. The National Book Foundation, which sponsors the National Book Awards, called it a collection “that is vital to our times and will be vital to those of our future, trying to make sense of today”.

And in “I Wish My Father,” Newman crafted a eulogy for her late father, whom she cared for during his last years of life. These connected poems trace the struggles father and daughter faced during this time; one reviewer said the collection “speaks eloquently of the saying that if you write entirely about one person, you write about all people in their humanity”.

Another Western Massachusetts author, Williamstown journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, won a non-fiction award for “Under White Skies: The Nature of the Future,” an examination of what a world transformed by climate change. Kolbert, a writer for the New Yorker, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for a previous environmental study, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.”

Here in the valley, this year’s group of winners and winners of Massachusetts Book Award join a distinguished list from recent years that includes Northampton poet and novelist Ocean Vuong, mid-level Northampton writer and illustrator Mike Curato , Amherst poet Karen Skolfield and Montague novelist Jennifer Acker.

“Especially in times of disruption, the continued excellence of Massachusetts’ writing community is a source of inspiration and hope,” said Sharon Shaloo, executive director of the Mass Center for the Book, in a statement on the honorees. 2021.

“How wonderful to live among the creative forces represented here,” she added. “Congratulations to all and thank you for your work.”

Steve Pfarrer can be contacted at [email protected]


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