When the director of my MFA program announced that any student who wanted to attend the Third Annual Vermont Book Award Gala could go for free if we volunteered to set up chairs and hang up coats, I jumped at the chance. Who am I to resist a reason to dress up and dance?
First, a little background on the history of the event. The Vermont Book Award is a $5,000 literary prize created by VCFA to celebrate the literature of Vermont. To qualify, a book must be a work of outstanding literary merit by a Vermont writer. Authors and poets are nominated by Vermont independent booksellers, as well as publishers. From a selection of over 400 nominees, a panel of judges narrows the list down to eight finalists. The winner is then selected from those finalists and announced at a fancy schmancy gala in the fall.
Which brings me to Saturday night! I’m not sure if the gala can be properly described to you, but I will do my best, and trust me when I say it was amazing.
The event was hosted in the VCFA Alumni Hall. Now this is New England, so even the alumni hall has a “stable/barn” feel to it, especially with the wooden beams and rafters. But, once the party started, this was absolutely no barn. Picture caramel wooden floors perfect for dancing; colossal brick loft walls; pane glass windows letting in vitamin D and light, and then later, blanketed by luxurious velvet indigo curtains. Surrounded by a 20-foot spread of charcuterie and finger food was a centerpiece of potted trees, with fairy-lit trees tangled around boughs, and stacks on stacks of gloriously dusty, collectible books.
We emerging writers took in the same precious air in that hall with literary notables, such as Katherine Paterson (of Bridge to Terabithia fame) and last year’s Book Award winner, Major Jackson. A most humbling feeling indeed. We drank cocktails called Anne of Vert Gables and snacked on scrumptious delectables from Montpelier’s own Mad Taco. Later, we danced until our feet were bleeding to Burlington singer Kat Wright and her band, The Indomitable Souls. Love her raw, jazzy and soulful style, much in the vein of Adele and Amy Winehouse. You can spend hours watching her band’s videos on YouTube—they are so good!
The moment we all were waiting for was truly titillating. Standing in a room filled with over 200 people, all witnessing eight terrific readings by the finalists. We gave a toast with our free prosecco (*yum!*) like it was New Year’s Eve. In the end, it was Jensen Beach who won the award for his newest story collection, Swallowed by the Cold. I give my heartiest congratulations to him, as well as to all of the other finalists. They are all worthy of winning in my eyes.
What an entrance into the public world of being a writer! I am most grateful to everyone who spent so much time and effort in planning and coordinating this beautiful literary evening, and to Kat Wright and the local vendors and all the deliciously lovely writerly folk who attended. I was so honored to be a part of it and am very much looking forward to the Fourth Annual Gala!