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Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams writes a memoir

Arne Knudsen

The making of a Nobel Laureate

In her memoir, Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, sounds like the girl next door as she traces her journey from small-town Vermont to internationally recognized activist in the campaign to outlaw and clear land mines. “My Name Is Jody Williams” (University of California) is as much about her personal life as it is about her politics; the two are inextricably entwined. Her political awakening as the war in Vietnam raged on is central to her story. She is matter of fact about her tumultuous family life, a short-lived marriage at age 21, and the summer of 1970 in which her transformation from “button-down almost- sorority girl” to college hippie was “seemingly completed.”

After graduating from the University of Vermont, she enrolled in the School for International Training in Brattleboro, and in 1981, as President Reagan launched a fight against communism in Central America, she became an activist for the other side. About 10 years later, while waiting to give a friend a ride, she got drawn into a meeting at the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. By the end of it, she had promised to spend three months exploring the possibility of starting a campaign to ban land mines. Five years later, the Mine Ban Treaty had been created. A short time after that the Nobel Peace Prize went to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Williams (pictured, with land mine victim Song Kasal), its founding coordinator. The “optimistic pessimist,” as Williams calls herself, had made history.

PEN N.E. Award winners

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Bernd Heinrich’s “Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) has won the PEN New England Award for nonfiction. The book is not so much about death itself as it is about the way in which live animals feed on dead ones. Heinrich is biology professor emeritus at the University of Vermont.

“The Vanishers” (Doubleday) by Heidi Julavits is the fiction winner. The story revolves around Julia Severn, a top student at a renowned New Hampshire school for psychics whose jealous mentor subjects her to a cruel punishment.

The PEN New England Awards honor literary excellence by New England authors and, as in the case of “The Vanishers,” books with New England settings.

The winners will be honored, along with Kevin Powers, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for debut fiction, at 2 p.m. March 24 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Registration is recommended. Details at jfklibrary.org.

Story, story nights

This is no joke: There will be two “Storied Nights in Somerville.” On Saturday and April 6, prose writers and storytellers will take to the stage at Bloc 11 in Union Square from 7 to 9 p.m. Novelists Stephen McCauley and Elizabeth Searle, memoirist Daniel Gewertz, songwriter Thea Hopkins, and storyteller Michael Mack are among the names on the nights’ roster.

Coming out

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Double Feature” by Owen King (Scribner)

Six Years” by Harlan Coben (Dutton)

Family Pictures” by Jane Green (St. Martin’s)

Pick of the Week

Jean-Paul Adriaansen of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H., recommends “Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church” by Lauren Drain with Lisa Pulitzer (Grand Central): “In this fascinating memoir, Drain, whose family joined the church when she was 15, explains the inner working of a church known for being anti-gay and for picketing military funerals and describes how hard she worked to become a full member. The combination of her asking too many challenging questions about the Bible and her interest in boys caused her to be banished from the church and from her family.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.

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