Valley writers shine at Massachusetts Books Awards

  • Northampton writer and illustrator Mike Curato has won a 2021 Massachusetts Book Award for his YA graphic novel, “Flamer,” novel IMAGE COURTESY OF MASSACHUSETTS  CENTER FOR THE BOOK

  • Mike Curato’s graphic novel, “Flamer,” a semi-autobiographical tale, has won first place in the Middle Grade/Young Adult category in this year’s Massachusetts Book Awards.

  • Northampton novelist Jennifer Rosner has received a Fictions Honor from the Massachusetts Books Awards for her debut novel, “The Yellow Bird Sings.” PHOTO BY ELIZABETH SOLAKA/IMAGE COURTESY OF MASSACHUSETTS CENTER FOR THE BOOK

  • “The Yellow Bird Sings” is about a special bond that grows between a mother and her daughter as they hide from the Nazis during World War II.

  • Holyoke poet and UMass Amherst professor of English Peter Gizzi has won an Honors Poetry award from the Massachusetts Center of the Book for his collection “Now It’s Dark.”

Staff Writer
Published: 12/5/2021 11:25:43 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A few weeks ago, Valley poet Martín Espada struck gold when he won a National Book Award for poetry. Now a number of other Valley writers have won first-place awards or runner-up honors in the 2021 Massachusetts Book Awards.

The Massachusetts Center for the Book, a public-private partnership that is relocating to Northampton from Concord, each year issues awards in five categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, middle grade/young adult literature, and picture books/early readers.

This year, Northampton writer and illustrator Mike Curato has won first place in the Middle Grade/Young Adult category for “Flamer,” a semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a shy bi-racial boy, 14-year-old Aiden, who’s wrestling with mixed feelings about his sexuality while at a summer camp.

“This is a story that will be read and reread, and for some, it will be the defining book of their adolescence,” Kirkus Reviews says of this Young Adult title by Curato, who’s also the creator of the “Little Elliot” series of children’s books, about the adventures of a polka-dotted elephant.

The Mass Center for the Book says that in “Flamer,” Curato has shared “his own heartbreaking and triumphant personal journey with humor and compassion, offering hope for young readers struggling with self-discovery and acceptance.”

Winning a Fiction Honors award from the book center is another Northampton writer, Jennifer Rosner, for her debut novel, “The Yellow Bird Sings,” a story of the special bond that grows between a mother and her daughter as they hide from the Nazis during World War II.

“Rosner’s exquisite, heart-rending debut novel is proof that there’s always going to be room for another story about World War II,” the New York Times says of the book.

And poet Peter Gizzi, who lives in Holyoke and teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has won a Poetry Honors for his collection “Now It’s Dark,” about which Publishers Weekly writes “The ethereal yet confident poems in this book deliver their satisfying reckoning without a hint of sentimentality.”

A number of other Valley authors were long-listed for Massachusetts Books Awards, and their titles are now part of the Center for the Book’s “must read lists”: “I am the Storm” by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple; “Full Dissidence” by Howard Bryant; and “Popol Vuh” by Ilan Stavans.

Last year, two Valley writers, Ocean Vuong and Karen Skofield, won Massachusetts Book Awards in fiction and poetry, respectively, and four others received runner-up honors for their work.

Two area legislators offered congratulations to this year’s winners in prepared remarks. “Once again, the writing community of the Valley deserves accolades,” said state Sen. Jo Comerford, while state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa said she’s “proud and grateful to live with and represent a creative community.”

The Mass Center for Book is one of 50 book agencies — one from each state — that are all affiliated with the U.S. Library of Congress and charged with advancing the value of books and reading, and also with improving the outreach of Massachusetts libraries.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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