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Mass. Book Award winners; a new memoir examines the traps and contradictions of masculinity

Mass. appeal

The Massachusetts Center for the Book has announced the winners of the Massachusetts Book Award for books published in 2017 and 2018. The awards honor books by residents, or about Massachusetts subjects. For 2017, the fiction award goes to The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman (Dial). Martin Puchner’s The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization (Random House) took the non-fiction prize. Richard Hoffman’s collection Noon Until Night (Barrow Street) won for poetry; The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas (Penguin) won in YA; and Julia Denos’s Windows (Candlewick) won in the picture book category.


For 2018 books, Steve Yarbrough’s The Unmade World (Unbridled) won for fiction. Jill Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States (Norton) took the non-fiction prize. The award for poetry went to The Wall (Pittsburgh) by Ilan Stavans. In the YA category, Jane Yolen’s Mapping the Bones (Penguin) won, and the picture book prize went to Grace Lin’s A Big Mooncake for Little Star (Little, Brown). Massachusetts has the largest state book awards program in the country, and an awards ceremony will be held on September 17 at the Massachusetts State House.

Male review

Jaed Coffin has stories. Of living as a monk in Thailand (the subject of his first book, “A Chant to Sooth Wild Elephants” (Da Capo), and, more recently, of leaving New England for the west and paddling a kayak for forty days to land in Alaska, of his Thai mother, divorced from his white father, of walking into a gym in Sitka and joining a boxing club, of fighting, of escaping, of the clutch-hold father has on son – all of which he tells with a vulnerability of punching force in his new memoir Roughhouse Friday,” (FSG) which comes out this week. Coffin, who lives in Brunswick, Maine, and teaches at the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire, excavates the traps and contradictions of masculinity, looking at anger, strength, longing, and fear. Coffin will read and discuss the book on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Stonecoast Writers Conference in Freeport, Maine, and Wednesday at noon at the Portland Public Library.


Emily’s lift

The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Mass, has just received a gift of $22 million out of a $25 million bequest to Amherst College. It’s the largest gift the museum’s ever received, and the money is earmarked to be aimed towards improving and maintaining the museum’s two historic buildings, its three acres of gardens and land, and its collections which include over 7,000 objects and artifacts. The endowed gift was given by the late William Vickery, a 1957 graduate of Amherst who worked in advertising and was a founding member of the Dickinson Museum’s board of governors. The remaining $3 million will go towards maintaining the pianos in the college’s music department. Vickery’s gift ensures the power of Dickinson’s life and poetry will live on. “And—when I die—/In meek array—display you—/Still to show—how rich I go—/Lest Skies impeach a wealth so wonderful—/And banish me—”

Coming out

Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers edited by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton (Univ. of Washington)

Pet Sounds by Stephanie Young (Nightboat)


The Weil Conjectures by Karen Olsson (FSG)

Pick of the Week

April Poole at Porter Square Books in Cambridge recommends With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen): “In Acevedo's sophomore novel, she tackles complex issues of teen parenthood and identity in a thoughtful way. Readers will be captured by Emoni's story—and her cooking. Be ready to root for her and get hungry!”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at