Out of roughly 400 works and thousands of pages, two North Shore authors were named winners of the 2015 Massachusetts Book Awards.
January Gill O’Neil of Beverlywas recognized in the poetry category for “Misery Islands,” and Katherine Howe of Marblehead received the award for Middle Reader/Young Adult category for her novel, “Conversion.”
“I am thrilled,” said O’Neil, who is the first African-American female to win the award in the poetry category. “I feel a great sense of gratitude and I’m very humbled by that.”
In total, 30 authors were recognized for their work.
“The volume and quality of submissions this year from authors, agents, editors, and publishers was truly impressive,” said Sharon Shaloo, executive director of the Massachusetts Center for the Book , which hosts the Mass Book Awards, said in a statement. “This program is a regular reminder that our contemporary author community is an accomplished and active component of creative life in the Commonwealth.”
O’Neil’s work was one of 56 poetry collections submitted this year. She said she likes to focus on the extraordinary in the ordinary.
“My poetry and much of what is being written today is about the small moments,” said O’Neil, who is also the executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and an assistant professor at Salem State University . “So if I’m having a bad day, or if I’m picking up my daughter from school as I am now, or I just got a job, or a relationship broke up, it’s about all of those things.”
Howe’s novel revolves around a group of teen girls who must uncover the mystery behind a mysterious outbreak at their prep school in Danvers.
Although she is currently residing in Marblehead, Howe originally is from Texas, but attributes her literary career to the communities north of Boston.
“I don’t think I’d be a novelist if I hadn’t moved to the North Shore,” she said.
Howe’s first novel, “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane,” was as she calls it, “a Salem story.
“It was really interesting to me that I was now living in this part of the world where for generations we believed witchcraft was real and I felt like I’d never seen a version of the story that actually took that belief seriously,” Howe said. “I feel like I’ve seen fantasy versions of witchcraft and I’ve certainly seen skeptical versions of witchcraft but I felt like I’ve never seen in-between, a story that’s took seriously the Colonial belief in magic.”
O’Neil echoes Howe’s sentiments, calling the North Shore a creative vortex.
“As we have jokingly said, because of the influence of the colleges in addition to Salem State, Endicott College, and in particular Montserrat College of Art,” O’Neil said. “So not only do we have a lot of writers in the area, we have a vibrant artist community in general.”
O’Neil, Howe, and the other winners will be celebrated in a ceremony at the State House on Jan. 12.
“It makes me happy because I feel like Massachusetts in particular has such a phenomenal legacy of authors and writing,” Howe said. “Massachusetts writing has colored my entire creative life. It is really an honor to be a part of it.”Alexandra Malloy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.