Portland poet Betsy Sholl, awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award at last week’s Maine Literary Awards, said being singled out among Maine writers motivates her to keep writing, especially now during division and chaos.

“However many poems one has written, there is always the next poem you don’t know how to write,” she said in an email Monday morning. “What such an award does is give a little courage to face it.”

Betsy Sholl Photo courtesy of Alice Persons

Sholl won the award Thursday night during an online presentation of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Maine’s poet laureate from 2006 to 2011, Sholl previously won a Maine Literary Award for Poetry in 2015 for her collection of poems “Otherwise Unseeable.” She won the Distinguished Achievement Award for “exceptional and steadfast contributions to the Maine literary arts as a poet and teacher.”

At a time of uncertainty and upheaval, literature can help bring people together, she said.

“What I’ve been thinking about poetry, and literature in general, is that reading and writing are ways of strengthening the imagination, and imagination is necessary for creating empathy. In our divided culture what we seem to lack is the ability to imagine the lives of others. If we don’t know anyone who has had COVID-19 or lost someone to it, it’s easy to think it’s a hoax. If we are white we can totally ignore what it’s like for others to feel the color of their skin put them in danger at every moment,” she wrote in her email.

“Poetry and literature in general don’t always have to address these things directly. But by placing us in the mind and heart of other voices, it gives us a sense of a larger world and increases our ability to sympathize, identify with others beyond our individual identities.”

She said receiving the award was a surprise, and she applauded Maine Writers & Publishers for its support of all writers over time and creating a strong literary community in Maine. Each year, the alliance donates copies of every nominated book to a Maine library. This year, the collection is going to the Maine Correctional Center.

Other winners:

Book Award for Crime Fiction: Gerry Boyle, “Random Act”

Book Award for Fiction: Jason Brown, “A Faithful but Melancholy Account of Several Barbarities Lately Committed”

Book Award for Nonfiction: Jane Brox, “Silence”

Book Award for Memoir: Maureen Stanton, “Body Leaping Backward”

Book Award for Poetry: Kristen Case, “Principles of Economics”

John N. Cole Award for Maine Nonfiction: Michael Norton, “Chasing Maine’s Second”

Book Award for Young People’s Literature: Arisa White, “Biddy Mason Speaks Up”

Book Award for Children’s Literature: Charlotte Agell, “Maybe Tomorrow?”

Book Award for Speculative Fiction: No award given

Book Award for Excellence in Publishing: Scott T. Hanson, “Restoring Your Historic House” (Tilbury House); and Alan Silken & Cory Silken, “Setting Sail in America” (Seapoint Books)

Book Award for Anthology: Martha White, ed., “E.B. White, On Democracy”

Drama Award: Linda Britt, “I Smile, Of Course, And Go On Drinking Tea”

Short Works Competition in Fiction: Rebecca Turkewitz, “At This Late Hour”

Short Works Competition in Nonfiction: Jennifer Lunden, “Fugitive Justice”

Short Works Competition in Poetry: Jefferson Navicky, “Our Fathers” and other poems

Youth Competition in Fiction: Catherine Morrissette, “Growing Pains”

Youth Competition in Nonfiction: Gabby Bekoka, “Lemme Tell You”

Youth Competition in Poetry: Lulu Rasor, “Grendel’s Mother Takes the Mic”


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