Vermont Book Award Announces a Competitive Field of Finalists | Books | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Vermont Book Award Announces a Competitive Field of Finalists


Published April 7, 2024 at 10:09 a.m.
Updated April 10, 2024 at 10:12 a.m.

Vermont Book Award finalist Jeff Sharlet. - FILE PHOTO BY ALEX DRIEHAUS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File photo by Alex Driehaus ©️ Seven Days
  • Vermont Book Award finalist Jeff Sharlet.
From stories about the immigrant experience to reporting on Donald Trump rallies and fascistic megachurches to graphic nonfiction about water, electricity and the internet, the finalists for the 2024 Vermont Book Award were announced on Friday and feature works by an impressive field of writers. Vying for the state's most prestigious literary honor are several National Book Award winners and finalists, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a former Vermont poet laureate, several bestselling authors, and a few newcomers.

Created in 2014 by the Vermont College of Fine Arts, the Vermont Book Award — now a collaboration among the college, Vermont Humanities and the Vermont Department of Libraries — recognizes works in four categories: creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry and children’s literature.

  • Courtesy photo. ©️ Seven Days
Finalists for creative nonfiction include Brad Kessler's Deep North: Stories of Somali Resettlement in Vermont. Kessler is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, Lick Creek and Birds in Fall, the latter of which won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The Book, by Mary Ruefle, is a compendium of prose poems on an array of topics. The Bennington poet, essayist and former poet laureate was a 2020 Pulitzer finalist for her book Dunce. Seven Days' Jim Schley described her work as “commonsensical and wily, mournful and comic, friendly and roguish — all within the same poem.”

Best-selling author Jeff Sharlet's The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War documents what the Dartmouth College writing professor sees as the rise of fascism in America. The Undertow was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for nonfiction and one of the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2023. Seven Days' Chelsea Edgar profiled Sharlet in a June 7, 2023 cover story, "Seeing is Believing."

Finalists in the fiction category include Genevieve Plunkett's In the Lobby of the Dream Hotel. The Bennington author's second book is a nonlinear tale about protagonist Portia Elby’s bipolar disorder, uncertainty and what Seven Days writer Amy Lilly described as her “recurring fantasy ... to get away from herself.”

Assia, the debut novel by poet Sandra Simonds, is loosely based on the life of Assia Wevill, a German Jew who escaped Nazi Germany and whose affair with Ted Hughes broke up his marriage to Sylvia Plath.

Rounding out the fiction category is Lush Lives by Bennington College art history professor J. Vanessa Lyon, who started writing fiction at the outset of the pandemic. Her website press page reads simply, “We shall see.” Indeed.

Finalists for the poetry award include another Bennington College instructor: Michael Dumanis, for Creature. Also nominated is Vievee Francis' The Shared World, the fourth book by the White River Junction poet. Francis' third collection, Forest Primeval, won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. And Leslie Sainz's Have You Been Long Enough at Table explores the personal and historical tragedies of the Cuban American experience through a feminist lens.

Ellen Bryant Voigt, 80, a former Vermont state poet (now called poet laureate) and MacArthur Fellowship "Genius Grant" recipient, has produced a staggering body of work: nine poetry books that made her a finalist for the National Book Award, a Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Collected Poems, published last spring, brings together five decades of poems which, Seven Days' Schley wrote, celebrate "family joys and griefs, music, the space and violence of nature, physical passion, the interplay of myth and actuality." Voigt's collection is also a Vermont Book Award poetry finalist this year.
Vermont Book Award finalist for children's literature Ken Cadow with his dog, Quinnie. - FILE PHOTO BY JUSTIN CASH ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File photo by Justin Cash ©️ Seven Days
  • Vermont Book Award finalist for children's literature Ken Cadow with his dog, Quinnie.
The children’s literature finalists include two books about boys and their dogs: Elf Dog and Owl Head, by 2006 National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson; and Kenneth Cadow’s debut novel, Gather, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Cadow, who was featured in a Seven Days cover story by Alison Novak in November, is coprincipal of Oxbow High School in Bradford and wrote much of the novel in a tiny cabin he built behind his Norwich home.

The young adult novel The Minus-One Club was written by Montpelier's Kekla Magoon. The author of more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books for children and teens is a National Book Award finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, Vermont Book Award finalist and the recipient of a Michael L. Printz Honor.

Also nominated is the category's only graphic literature, Hidden Systems: Water, Electricity, the Internet, and the Secrets Behind the Systems We Use Every Day, by artist, cartoonist and educator Dan Nott, whose award-winning illustrations have appeared in Seven Days.

Winners will be announced on Saturday, May 4, at an awards ceremony at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier and each will receive a $1,000 prize.

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