Home Arts The Vermont Book Awards Commemorates the Best in Local Literature

The Vermont Book Awards Commemorates the Best in Local Literature

Vermont Book Awards keynote speaker Eva McKend and author Sandra Simonds, who won the evening’s prize in Creative Fiction for her book “Assia.” Photo by Jess Turner.
Writers and readers from across the state gathered at the Vermont College of Fine Arts College Hall on the evening of May 4 to celebrate a shared passion: books.

Supported by a partnership between VCFA, Vermont Humanities, and the Vermont Department of Libraries, this year’s Vermont Book Awards applauded the best in literature created by Vermont writers in 2023, honoring nominees in the categories of Creative Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Children’s Literature, and Poetry. Over 50 books published by Vermont authors were nominated for the four awards, creating a competitive field populated by National Book Award finalists and winners, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, New York Times bestselling authors, even the former poet laureate of Vermont. 

Attendees of the celebration came together for a dessert reception, awards ceremony, and the opportunity to connect with fellow book lovers.

“There are more writers per capita in Vermont than in any other state,” said Montpelier author Miciah Bay Gault, who has been coordinating the prize since 2015. “This is one of the rare events when almost all the writers of Vermont are together in the same room, and these are writers who are geniuses, writers who are winning National Book Awards.

Author Susan Ritz, also of Montpelier, has attended the event every year since its inception and describes the evening as a means to “bring together the glittering literati” of the state. “It honors the writers,” she said. “We are a huge piece of the culture here in Vermont.”

Kenneth M. Cadow, whose young adult novel “Gather” was chosen as the Vermont Humanities 2024 Vermont Reads book (as well as a 2023 National Book Award finalist and a 2023 Vermont Book Award finalist) took to the stage to discuss the profound impact of connectivity that books can deliver to their readers.

“What I love about literature is that thing that makes us human,” Cadow said.

CNN national political correspondent Eva McKend served as the keynote speaker during the awards ceremony. A former news anchor at Burlington’s WCAX-TV, McKend and Gault became acquainted when Gault used to appear on the station’s live morning program to announce the awards finalists. 

“To be a great writer, you need to constantly be reading … that always stuck with me.” McKend asserted during her speech, before reading a short passage from “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison. “A good book can change you,” she said.

McKend described the evening’s nominees as “not only brilliant minds, but our neighbors.”

Local craft was a running theme throughout the event, as the Vermont Book Awards not only carried a cash prize, but each winner received an art object by Trevor Corp, a Vermont artist commissioned to create one-of-a-kind multimedia sculptural pieces for the four honorees. The sculptures were described by Executive Director Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup of Vermont Humanities as an “intersection of fine art, found art, and functional art,” as each award is also a working lamp, designed to cast light on the work of the writer who received it.

Author Dan Nott, who took home the evening’s Children’s Literature award for his graphic work of nonfiction, “Hidden Systems,” proudly clutched his sculptural trophy and described feeling “so excited and so grateful.”

Of his award winning book, he said, “Even though my book is about infrastructure, there’s a Vermont perspective. Everything comes back to ecology and the natural landscape that underpins everything we’ve built.”

In addition to Nott, the evening’s other winners were Sandra Simonds in Creative Fiction for “Assia,” Mary Ruefle in Creative Nonfiction for “The Book,” and Vievee Francis in Poetry for “The Shared World.”

“These four winners embody the spirit of literature in Vermont, in that their work is rooted in deep questions and complicated answers, deep love, sense of purpose,” said Gault. “The winning books are innovative, unexpected, and transcendent.”

The full list of 2023 Vermont Book Award finalists is at vermonthumanities.org/event/vermont-book-award-23.