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More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part 2

Speed dating with the Must Read Massachusetts Authors at the Massachusetts Library Association conference on Wednesday, May 9, was so much fun. Six of the authors whose books have been selected as finalists for Massachusetts Book Awards in one of four categories (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult) had just 4½ minutes at six different tables crowded with librarians to get each group excited to read their books.

Photo of the six authors

L to R: Laura Harrington, Diana Gordon, Kimberly Marcus, Jef Czekaj, Lawrence Vincent, and Leonard Rosen

Book cover image of All Cry Chaos

Leonard Rosen drew on his academic and nonfiction writing background to write his first literary thriller.

Leonard Rosen‘s experience in teaching writing classes at Bentley University and Harvard University came through as soon as he sat down and hooked the attention of the classroom table with a show-and-tell. “The idea for All Cry Chaos came to me when I was on a flight from Boston to L.A. and looked out the window and saw this,” he said, showing the group a enlarged aerial photograph of ridge lines branching out from a main trunk in a dry desert landscape. Flipping through a succession of photos of hands, bloodshot eyes, trees, and a cabbage leaf (“even my appetizer at dinner”) he explained how he began to notice a similar pattern all over the place. “It made me wonder, ‘Is there a Pattern-maker?’ That is to say, ‘Is there a God?’ And that is the question the character in my book takes on.” His main character, Henri Poincaré, is close to retirement as an Interpol agent when a prominent mathematician/Harvard professor is dramatically murdered at the World Trade Organization meeting in Amsterdam. Poincaré gets drawn into the victim’s complex theories and mathematical discoveries to solve the case.

Cover image of book Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible

D.M. Gordon’s book is from Hedgerow Press, a new poetry imprint from Levellers Press in Western Mass.

Somewhat sadly, Diana Gordon, whose second collection of poetry has the intriguing title Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible, had to endure a moment of awkward silence when she sat down and asked the group at the table: “Do you like to read poetry?” When no one answered, however, she smoothly segued into the relationship of authors and librarians (“Writers need libraries and libraries need writers.”) and read a short poem from her book. She suggested offering poetry readings at the library where people would read and discuss other people’s poems, not just share their own poetry, and that librarians would not have to be poetry experts to facilitate a group like this. She herself facilitates a weekly poetry discussion group at the Forbes Library in Northampton.

Photo of Jef Czekaj

Jef Czekaj of Somerville explaining how he came to write and illustrate  the children’s book, A Call for a New Alphabet.

Jef Czekaj is a cartoonist, children’s book author/illustrator, and a D.J. He uses his real name for his writing and illustrating (“Czekaj” is pronounced CHECK-eye,) but D.J.s under a pseudonym. His Must-Read children’s picture book, A Call for a New Alphabet, is about an exasperated letter X. Jef took the confessional approach at our table, announcing straightaway, “I was a linguistics major, and when I graduated, I realized I couldn’t do anything with my linguistics degree.” Luckily, he found an artistic niche that also allows him to use his fondness for language. His books Hip and Hop, Don’t Stop!, Cat Secrets, and The Circulatory Story were all Junior Library Guild selections.

See the previous post, More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part One, for the speed-dating skinny on Kimberly Marcus, author of the YA novel Exposed; L.M. Vincent, author of the quirky microhistory In Search of Motif No. 1; and Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss.

All six of the Must-Read authors were friendly and engaging to talk with, and all were open to a second date, i.e. being invited to libraries to speak. The full list of Must Read authors will be posted by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and all Massachusetts libraries will be receiving a copy of the poster showing all of the Must Read titles.

Photo of Must-Read Books Banner 2012

Must-Read Books selected by Massachusetts Book Awards judges

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2012 Hemingway/PEN & Winship/PEN New England Awards

Books by award winners and finalists on display.

The annual Hemingway Foundation/PEN amd Winship/PEN New England Awards ceremony is the first sign of spring for the literati in New England, according to Tom Putnam, the director of the J.F.K. Presidential Library and Museum and the host of yesterday’s event, to which I tagged along with my mother, who is a member there. (Thanks, Mom!)

Teju Cole, author of Open City, received the 2012 PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction. Yannick Murphy, author of The Call, received the Laurence L. and Thomas Winship/PEN New England Award for the best work of fiction by a New England author last year.

Patrick Hemingway reading Ernest Hemingway's work.

Each year to open the ceremony, Patrick Hemingway, sole surviving son of Ernest Hemingway and literary executor, reads something from his father’s writing. He remarked that he wasn’t sure what to read to complement Open City, a book about a doctor in his last year of training in psychiatry, but decided to read selections from his father’s notes about people he knew, as they sounded a lot like clinical observations a psychiatrist might make!

Teju Cole, courtesy photo

My photo of Teju Cole didn’t come out, so I’m borrowing a courtesy photo. A Nigerian-American, he joked that his winning the award might be seen as a Nigerian email scam “gone horribly right” and added that he was glad that Patrick Hemingway liked his book because he’d heard “Patrick Hemingway doesn’t bullsh*t.” He read an excerpt from close to the end of Open City, a scene set in Central Park with parachutists come out of a clear blue spring sky to land in the park, reminding the narrator of a memory from his childhood of saving another child’s life.

Finalists for the Hemingway/PEN Award, Amy Waldman (The Submission) and Stephanie Powell Watts (We Are Taking Only What We Need) also received awards.

Author Yannick Murphy, publisher photo

Yannick (pronounced Yah-NEEK) Murphy turned out to be a woman, which was a surprise to me, because from the name I had assumed the author was male. (My photo of her didn’t come out either.) She joked that she came home to her house in Vermont in a bitchy mood the day the call about her winning the Winship/PEN New England Award came in, so her husband and son revealed the surprise that she would soon be getting a call about this honor and the awards ceremony would be April 1st in Boston. Instead of cheering her up, they had to argue her out of the idea that they were playing an early April Fool’s Day joke on her! The Call is a novel formatted as if it were the daily records of a rural New England veterinarian. Her reading was a little dry, making me think how much better a professional audiobook narrator would do at bringing out the humor and the subtleties of the text, but the premise of the book sounds intriguing.

Nonfiction prize winner Mitchell Zuckoff (Lost in Shangri-La) and poetry prize winner Elizabeth Willis (Address) also received 2012 Laurence L. and Thomas Winship/PEN New England Awards.

Andre Dubus III, author of a memoir, Townie, and the novel House of Sand and Fog among others books, gave the keynote address, introduced by Marianne Leone. He gave an entertaining and informative speech about Ernest Hemingway’s place in literature that made me want to read The Sun Also Rises again, even though I went off Hemingway years ago. His students at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell must love him for his vibrant presence and obvious love of literature (or else hate him for making them turn off their phones and all other digital gadgets in the classroom!)

You can see a list of past Hemingway/PEN award winners here and past Winship/PEN award winners here. If you want to feel as if you were there with me and my mom, or want to check the accuracy of my account (Writing this, I am relying almost entirely on memory, which isn’t good) the webcast will be available on the JFK Library site soon.

And, yes, I bought a book!

Mementos: Open City and the event program

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