by Nat Frothingham
VCFA Book Award Gala
At a glittering third annual Vermont Book Award Gala at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) on Sept. 23 a gathering of more than 200 writers, readers and friends of literature and the arts assembled to honor and celebrate the writing and current literary achievement of Vermont authors.
As part of his opening remarks, VCFA President Thomas Christopher Greene reflected on the life and personality of acclaimed Northeast Kingdom writer Howard Frank Mosher who died in January.
Remembering the beginnings of his own writing career — Greene acknowledged Mosher’s encouragement and said of Mosher, “He was one of the most generous writers who ever lived.” (Please see Greene’s “Notes from the Hill” on the facing page.)
Greene went on to announce a new, annual $10,000 scholarship that would honor Howard Frank Mosher. This scholarship, provided to the College of Fine Arts by the Vermont independent bookseller Phoenix Books, will benefit “an emerging fiction writer from Vermont in his or her first year of VCFA’s MFA in Writing & Publishing residential program. The first of these scholarships will be awarded in 2018.
After VCFA President Greene’s opening remarks, each of the eight 2017 book award finalists was invited to take the stage and read briefly from their work. And after these readings concluded, the 2017 book award winner was announced.
This year’s winner is Vermont writer Jensen Beach for his collection of short stories entitled “Swallowed by the Cold.” The award comes with a $5,000 prize and a handcrafted statue.
According to a VCFA press release, the book award judges felt that Jensen’s stories in “Swallowed by the Cold” — “created a world they wanted to return to again and again.” They felt also that the world Jensen had created “lived on in them after they finished reading.”
According to a note on the book jacket of “Swallowed by the Cold” — Jensen’s stories “are set in a Swedish village on the Baltic Sea as well as in Stockholm over the course of two eventful years.”
Each of Jensen’s stories both stand alone and can be read individually. But they are also thematically related. As we read each story and come to know the people who are part of
the narrative, we learn about a number of disturbing turns of fate — turns of fate that could happen to anyone of us — sometimes an accident, a misfortune, a sudden life reversal. In telling each story, Jensen handles the details with a sureness, precision — indeed a restraint — that leaves us feeling hushed, haunted and chastened.
An excerpt from “Swallowed by the Cold” by Jensen Beach
“Summer was when it really started. At the end of July, just after they’d come back from Thailand, Jenny was on her way home from a fiftieth birthday party Jacob hadn’t attended. It was late and the freeway was empty apart from the trucks speeding north out to the island and coastal towns.
From a long way off, she saw the faint wash of headlights shining up and out onto the road. As she got closer, she saw that a car had overturned in the shallow ditch beside the road. She put her hazard lights on and pulled onto the shoulder as close as she could get without driving her car into the ditch. She called for an ambulance. It was a chilly night. As quickly as she could she made her way down the gravel embankment.
The driver, whose name she would later learn was Henrik Brandt, had been badly injured. There were no passengers. Henrik was buckled into the driver’s seat. His hair brushed agains the center ceiling lamp. The bones of his left arm had broken clean through the skin. They were chalky white and moist with blood. She felt her stomach turn. Saliva filled her mouth and she retched. The food from the party, the single glass of wine she’s allowed herself. She sat on the cold gravel beside the car and talked through the broken windshield. A radio program on North Korea had been playing when she came across the accident. She told Henrik about the program. He went in and out of consciousness as she spoke …”
2017 Finalists for the Vermont Book Award
Jensen Beach, “Swallowed by the Cold” — a collection of short stories; Melanie Finn, “The Gloaming” — a novel; Margot Harrison — “The Killer is Me” — a novel; Robin MacArthur — stories; Angela Palm, “Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere but Here; Elizabeth A.I. Powell — a book of poems; Alison Prine — “Steel,” a book of poems; Mary Ruefle — “My Private Property,” a book of poems.
Ground Rules for the Vermont Book Award Competition
(This lightly edited list of ground rules for the Vermont Book Award is drawn from a VCFA description of how the award process is organized and managed.)
The Vermont Book Award was established by Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2014 to honor work of outstanding literary merit by Vermont authors.
To be eligible for the award, a book must be written by a Vermont writer and published between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of the year prior to the award. Self-published books are ineligible as are books written by staff, trustees, and current VCFA students.
A committee of independent Vermont booksellers nominates books in four categories: Children’s Literature, Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, and Poetry. Publishers may also nominate books. Nominations are open each year from Jan. 1 to March 1.
Each year, VCFA selects judges in each of the four genre categories. Judges are Vermont writers, teachers, librarians, and passionate supporters of literature in Vermont. VCFA staff takes no part in the judges’ deliberations, except to verify a nominee’s eligibility.
The judging panel reads the nominated books and selects finalists from each category, to be announced in the summer. The judging panel selects one winner from among the finalists. Books are judged on literary excellence. The winner of the Vermont Book Award receives a prize of $5,000 and a one-of-a-kind award statue crafted by a local artist.