July 17, 2011

Society Notebook: All Write

The Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance salutes standouts in a thriving literary community.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

The Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance honored 14 individuals and one publishing house Thursday night at the 2011 Maine Literary Awards reception and ceremony.

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Short fiction award winner Maggie Butler, Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance board president Sibyl Masquelier and nonfiction book award winner Susan Hand Shetterly

Photos by Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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Fiction book award winner Lily King, author Caitlin Shetterly and short-poetry award finalist Martin Steingesser

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Enhancing the evening's lettered atmosphere was the choice of venue. The penthouse party room in the Glickman Family Library on the University of Southern Maine's Portland campus provided the perfect spot for the state's distinguished scribes to mingle and celebrate their winners.

The awards went to Lily King, fiction book, for "Father of the Rain"; Susan Hand Shetterly, nonfiction book, for "Settled in the Wild"; Richard Foerster, poetry book, for "Penetralia"; the late Robert E. Baldwin, children's book, for "The Fish House Door"; Cynthia Lord, young adult book, for "Touch Blue"; Wesley McNair, anthology book, for editing "Maine in Four Seasons"; Carolyn Gage, drama, for "Stigmata"; Maggie Butler, short fiction; Charles Stanhope, short nonfiction; Alice Bolstridge, short poetry; Hila Shooter, youth competition, fiction; Fadumo Issack, youth nonfiction; Jeremy Colson, youth poetry; and Alice James Books, excellence in publishing award.

New this year was an award for distinguished achievement, presented to poet Robert Chute by Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair.

"He's turned out a body of work that is unique," McNair said.

When I had a chance to chat with Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance board president Sibyl Masquelier, who served as one of the judges, she told me all the submissions this year were of the highest quality, and narrowing each category down to three finalists, not to mention one winner, proved challenging.

"This was really tough," Masquelier said.

"What an exceptional trove of books we had nominated this year," Joshua Bodwell, the executive director of the alliance, told the crowd when the awards ceremony began.

He then invited a blindfolded assistant director Stephen Abbott onto the stage to demonstrate how the winners were chosen.

"As you might suspect, we deployed a highly sophisticated statistical model," Bodwell told the crowd.

Meanwhile Abbott, holding a paper tail, stumbled around the stage, where a projection of a donkey with the names of the three fiction book award finalists were assigned to various sections of the animal.

Abbott then stuck the tail to the section labeled "Lily King" and Bodwell declared her the category winner.

This levity continued throughout the awards presentation, which also revealed a deep appreciation for Maine's collegial and rich writing community.

"I used to be a writer in Massachusetts," King told the crowd after accepting her award. "And I have to say it's so much more fun to be a writer in Maine."

When accepting the drama award, Gage told the guests about the controversy her work stirred when she lived in another state.

"Maine has been so open and receptive to my work, which is lesbian-themed," Gage said.

Reza Jalali, whose book "Moon Watchers" was a finalist in the children's book category, said the story about Ramadan also has been warmly embraced in Maine and recently was added to the school curriculum in New York.

"We had a senator's staff member deliver a copy to Michelle Obama," Jalali told me. "She supposedly read it to her girls and sent me a lovely note."

All the books submitted to the competition will be donated to the Maine State Library and the Swan's Island Library, which burned to the ground in 2008 and has recently been rebuilt.

McNair prompted the crowd to deliver a standing ovation when he said, "I think everyone here understands how much Josh Bodwell has brought to this organization."

Under Bodwell's leadership, which began a little over a year ago, the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance has entered a period of expansion and rejuvenation. Its membership grew from 800 to 1,000 in the past year and the organization has secured $85,000 in grants in the past 10 months.

One of the last laughs of the evening came when youth competition poetry winner Colson told the crowd, "I never thought I'd win an award for 'Irrelevant Nonsense,'" which just happens to be the name of his poem.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance assistant director Stephen Abbott, board member Candace Karu and executive director Joshua Bodwell at the group’s awards ceremony

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Audrey Maynard of Tilbury House Publishers and children’s book finalist Reza Jalali


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