- Courtesy of Elena Seibert
- Alison Bechdel
A masked crowd dressed to the nines came to honor the best books published by Vermonters in 2021. Attendees mingled, drank cocktails made with local liquors, nibbled on desserts, and then sat down to watch the naming of three winners: Alison Bechdel for creative nonfiction (The Secret to Superhuman Strength; read our review), Melanie Finn for fiction (The Hare; read our review) and Shanta Lee Gander for poetry (Ghettoclaustrophobia: Dreamin of Mama While Trying to Speak Woman in Woke 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 a single annual winner.
That's not the only change. Established 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 proceeded to announce the 2022 title for Vermont Reads.
This year, the statewide reading program will focus on The Most Costly Journey: Stories by Migrant Farmworkers in Vermont Drawn by New England Cartoonists. A publication of the Vermont Folklife Center, the graphic anthology "bring[s] to life the challenges that migrant farmworkers face, from debilitating loneliness to the constant specter of deportation," as Melissa Pasanen wrote in Seven Days last fall.
While Bolton cartoonist Bechdel wasn't able to attend the ceremony, she accepted her award in a heartfelt video clip in which she talked about the fascination that originally drew her to "a dimension called Vermont."
VCFA president Leslie Ward gave the fiction award to Finn for her feminist literary thriller about a naive young woman who follows a charismatic man to a harrowing life in the Vermont countryside.
Vermont State Librarian Catherine Delneo gave the poetry award to Gander — who's also a visual artist and performer, with a multimedia show currently on view at the University of Vermont's Fleming Museum of Art.
The past Vermont Book Award winners are poets Kerrin McCadden and Major Jackson, fiction writer Jensen Beach, baker/writer Martin Philip and cartoonist Jason Lutes. Find the full list of this year's finalists here.