After a two-year hiatus, the Vermont Book Award returned with a ceremony Saturday at Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Alumnx Hall in Montpellier.
A masked crowd dressed in nines came to honor the best books published by Vermonters in 2021. Attendees mingled, drank cocktails made from local liquors, nibbled on desserts, then sat down to watch the nomination of the three winners : Alison Bechdel for creative non-fiction (The secret of superhuman strength; read our review), Melanie Finn for fiction (Hare; read our review) and Shanta Lee Gander for poetry (Ghettoclaustrophobia: Dreaming of mom while trying to speak Woman in waking tongues; read our review).
This is the first time the Vermont Book Award has been presented in three separate categories. From the inaugural award in 2015 to 2019, there was only one annual winner.
This is not the only change. Created by VCFA in 2014, the award is now presented by a coalition of the college (which runs respected MFA programs in writing), Vermont Humanities and the Vermont Department of Libraries.
Vermont Humanities Executive Director Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup opened the ceremony by introducing Katherine Paterson. The author of children’s classics such as Bridge to Terabithia made the announcement of the 2022 title for vermont bed.
This year, the statewide reading program will focus on The Costliest Journey: Stories of Vermont’s Migrant Farm Workers Drawn by New England Cartoonists. A publication of the Vermont Folklife Center, the graphic anthology “bring[s] to life the challenges faced by migrant farmworkers, from debilitating loneliness to the constant specter of deportation,” as Melissa Pasanen wrote in Seven days last fall.
While the Bolton Bechdel cartoonist was unable to attend the ceremony, she accepted her award in a heartfelt music video in which she spoke of the fascination that originally drew her to “a dimension called Vermont “.
VCFA President Leslie Ward presented the fiction award to Finn for her feminist literary thriller about a naive young woman who follows a charismatic man through a harrowing life in rural Vermont.
Vermont State Librarian Catherine Delneo presented the Poetry Prize to Gander, who is also a visual artist and performer, with a multimedia exhibit currently on display at the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum of Art.
Past winners of the Vermont Book Award are poets Kerrin McCadden and Major Jackson, fiction writer Jensen Beach, baker/writer Martin Philip and cartoonist Jason Lutes. See the full list of this year’s finalists here.