13 Valley writers longlisted for Massachusetts Book Awards


  • David Gillham’s historical novel “Shadows of Berlin” is up for a Massachusetts Book Award.

  • Uzma Aslam Khan’s historical novel “The Miraculous True Story of Nomi Ali” has been longlisted for a Massachusetts Book Award.

  • Northampton poet Franny Choi has been longlisted for a Massachusetts Book Award. Photo by Francesca B. Marie

  • Northampton poet Franny Choi’s collection “The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On” has been longlisted for a Massachusetts Book Award.

  • Belchertown writer Uzma Aslam Khan, who teaches at Hampshire College, has been longlisted for a Massachusetts Book Award in fiction. Photo courtesy Massachusetts Center for the Book


Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2023

Valley writers have had a strong run of major awards in recent years, from poet Martín Espada winning a National Book Award in 2021 to novelist Ruth Ozeki claiming Great Britain’s Women’s Prize for Literature last year.

Now. over a dozen area writers have been recognized by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, which each year issues awards in five categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, middle grade/young adult literature, and picture books/early readers.

For this year’s awards, which recognize books published last year, 13 Valley writers have been longlisted for potential wins in all five categories, as the book center, located in Northampton, has dubbed their new work “Must Reads.”

World War II is a central theme of the two fiction nominees, David R. Gillham of Amherst and Uzma Aslam Khan of Belchertown; Khan teaches fiction writing at Hampshire College.

Gillham’s novel, “Shadows of Berlin,” traces the struggles of a German-Jewish woman in New York City in the 1950s to move beyond the horrors of the Holocaust. Khan’s book, “The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali,” follows the lives of two siblings in the Andaman Islands, in the Indian Ocean, a British possession used as a penal colony for Indians before it’s occupied by the Japanese during WWII.

The New York Times, which calls Khan’s novel “a miraculous performance,” also chose it as one of the 10 best historical novels of 2022.

The collections of three poets from Northampton — Franny Choi, Mikko Harvey, and Maya Janson — have been longlisted by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Also longlisted is work by poets Arda Collins of Amherst and Nathan McClain of Springfield.

McClain, who previously lived in Amherst, teaches writing at Hampshire College and is the poetry editor of The Massachusetts Review, and Collins is currently a visiting poet at Smith College.

Meantime, Jeanne Atkins of Whately has won recognition for “Hidden Powers,” a biography, written in verse, for middle-grade readers about Lise Meitner, an early 20th century Austrian-Swedish physicist who did groundbreaking research in nuclear fission.

Another “Must Read” book for younger readers is “The Moth Girl” by Heather Kamins of South Hadley, a story about a girl’s journey to claim her life despite a serious illness. Two other nominated books in this category are by Wes Dyson of Chicopee and Crystal Maldonado of Springfield.

The two final “Must Reads” by Valley writers are “The Third Person,” a graphic memoir by Emma Grove of Springfield, and “Whose Nest is Best?” a board book for young children by Heidi E.Y. Stemple of Hatfield.

The award winners for the contest will be announced later this year. Previous winners from the Valley have included Espada, Ozeki, Lesléa Newman, Ocean Vuong, Jane Yolen, Karen Skofield, and Mike Curato.

The Massachusetts Center for the Book, a public-private partnership, is one of 50 book agencies — one from each state — 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 spfarrer@gazettenet.com.