MONTPELIER — After a two-year hiatus the Vermont Book Award is back and bigger than ever.
In past years, one award was given to the author of the best book of the year with novels, nonfiction and poetry competing for the same prize. Three awards will be granted for 2021 by a coalition, including the Vermont Department of Libraries, Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) in Montpelier and the Vermont Humanities Council.
VCFA had run the competition in previous years.
The award, founded by VCFA in 2014, will be housed at the Vermont Department of Libraries, and all three organizations will work together to support and administer the prize celebrating the literature of Vermont.
“In the past, the college ran the prize alone, but now we’ve got this exciting partnership that’s revitalizing the prize and furthering its reach. Now the Vermont Book Award is housed at Vermont Department of Libraries. Vermont Humanities will be hosting the springtime event at which the winners of the Vermont Book Award will be announced. And then there’s me, an employee of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, still coordinating the prize. So you see it’s a team effort, and all three organizations contribute to the administrative decisions and work of the prize,” said Miciah Bay Gault, coordinator for the awards.
Leslie Ward, president of VCFA, agrees. “Reaching out to the Department of Libraries and Vermont Humanities to explore a partnership felt like the logical thing to do, since we have a shared interest in supporting and recognizing Vermont’s outstanding writers We are excited about the possibilities the expanded leadership model will provide in furthering the reach of the prize,” she said.
Three awards rather than one makes sense, Gault said. “While I always loved the excitement of having one high-stakes winner in past years, I do think the new structure is an improvement. We’ll be able to recognize one winner in poetry, another in creative nonfiction (true stories told with the use of literary craft) and another in fiction. This means we’re able to celebrate more Vermont writers each year, and we won’t be asking our judges to compare poetry to fiction to nonfiction.”
Young adult, or YA novels will be considered in the same category as adult fiction.
“The intended audience is different, and our judges will definitely take that into account, but the genre is the same. We didn’t want to silo children’s lit into its own category, since excellent writing for children can be every bit as brilliant, ground-breaking, and necessary as excellent writing for adults,” Gault said.
Vermont’s independent booksellers and the librarians nominate the books. Nominations also will be open to the public this winter. Approximately 40 to 50 books are nominated each year.
“As the sponsor of Vermont’s three youth-oriented readers’ choice book awards, we see how much joy the selection, voting, and celebration of the winner brings to young Vermont readers,” said Vermont State Librarian Jason Broughton. “It’s a natural fit for us to partner with VCFA and Vermont Humanities to bring that same level of excitement to adult readers while elevating Vermont authors.”
Winners will be revealed at a springtime celebration in Montpelier hosted by the Vermont Humanities Council, along with the Vermont Reads and the Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award. Vermont Reads is a statewide community reading program that more than 200 Vermont towns, cities and villages have participated in over the past two decades. The Swenson Award honors a humanities teacher who exhibits infectious enthusiasm for their subject and inspires life-long learning in students.
In order to be eligible for an award, a book must be written by a Vermont writer who lives here for at least half the year and published in 2021. Self-published books are not eligible, nor are books written by staff and trustees of VCFA, the Vermont Department of Libraries and the Vermont Humanities Council. Anthologies containing work written by multiple authors are also not eligible.
“In a state like Vermont that has so many writers, it seemed important to have a state literary prize. VPR’s ‘Brave Little State’ podcast actually did a whole episode about why so many writers live in Vermont, and the episode begins by confirming, via the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that Vermont does in fact have a very high concentration of writer. We’re actually in the top five states in terms of concentration of writers. With stats like that, how can we not have a Vermont Book Award?” Gault said.
Winners of the Vermont Book Award receive a prize of $1,000.
“Vermont Humanities is delighted to be working with VCFA and the Vermont State Library to advance the goals of the Vermont Book Awards to honor the many outstanding writers working in Vermont. From Lucy Terry Prince to Rajnii Eddins, from Howard Frank Mosher to Julia Alvarez, Vermont writers are among the finest in the American tradition, and we look forward to relaunching the awards in 2022,” said Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup, executive director of Vermont Humanities.
The 2019 award went to Jason Lutes for his graphic novel, “Berlin.”
Poet Kerrin McCadden was the first recipient of the prize in 2015. Other winners include poet Major Jackson; fiction writer Jensen Beach; and baker/memoirist Martin Philip.
“Writers so often work endless hours in solitude, and often they like it that way. But the Vermont Book Award is a way to bring those writers briefly into the spotlight and really celebrate what they’ve accomplished. For a writer to say they’ve won the Vermont Book Award, that’s a really lovely thing; it’s affirming, and it helps elevate the status of the book,” Gault said. “More importantly, though, the Vermont Book Award encourages literary community. So many groups are involved in this prize, booksellers and librarians, publishers, writers, and, let’s not forget, readers. Vermont readers are just so impressively well-read and engaged. I’m continually delighted to discover new writers living and working in Vermont, but it’s also been a joy to observe through my work on the Vermont Book Award just how passionate Vermont readers are.”