Local Author Spotlight

Our community is home to a large number of outstanding authors. To celebrate them, we will offer – every two months – an introduction to a different children's or adult author who resides or works in one of the four towns in our school district and who has published a new book within the past year. The selection shall be made by a vote of our librarians. Happy reading!

See More Books by Local Authors!
March – April 2020

Ilan Stavans

NOTE: Ilan will be the recipient of the Award for Local Literary Achievement at the 2020 Samuel Minot Jones Awards!


Do you have a favorite book that is set in or is about the Pioneer Valley or New England?

Nineteenth-century New England is the stage of remarkable literary works, three of them favorites of mine: Moby Dick (1851), by Herman Melville — but is it fair to describe this magisterial novel as set in New Bedford?; The Scarlet Letter (1851), by Nathaniel Hawthorne, about intolerance, a topic about which unfortunately we continue to know too much; and Walden (1854), by Henry David Thoreau, a meditation on solitude — which isn’t the same as loneliness — and resistance, themes I’m attracted to.
Local Author Spotlight - Ilan Stavans - Photo by Kevin Gutting
Is there a member of this community who has been instrumental to your writing?

My irreplaceable neighbor Emily Dickinson. I talk to her almost every day.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

I don’t have one but a thousand. A library is the most important place for me in any town; without one, that town to me has no heart. The library is where we come together as a community, where we explore our history, where we activate our democracy, where we find our true self. I like to get lost in libraries; I like to waste time and also find new meanings of time in a library; and I like to open books at random in a library and when I do I like to see if they still have an old library card in the back because it allows me to trace what other readers have connected to that book as well.

Recent Books by Ilan

  (see all his books)

Ilan's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

"My all-time favorite, and a book I reread every year, is Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. Published in two parts separated by ten years (1605 and 1615), it is a puzzling novel about — well, just about everything: how to be kind, how to live a worthy life, how to have friends, how to age, and how to dream.

I often return to the Bible not as a religious text but as a form of literature.

I admire One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) by Gabriel García Márquez, which, in my view, is a retelling of the Bible except this time around the protagonist isn’t the people of Israel but a small, scrappy town called Macondo off the Caribbean coast.

If I was left adrift on an island with only one book, I would ask for Shakespeare's poems and plays. No other work of literature seems to me as inexhaustible. I like some plays more than others: Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and The Tempest; and I think a dozen or so of the sonnets are perfect.

Finally, the Oxford English Dictionary, since it contains all other books — past, present, and future — in its pages."

January – February 2020

Ocean Vuong


What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

There’s a tiny coffee shop called Yup Coffee where I go on summer mornings to do a lot of my work. It overlooks a dam and a brook and has a free donation-driven library.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

When I was 9 and couldn’t read yet (I was/am still a slow learner), I spent my recess in the library listening to tapes of famous speeches. The librarians, knowing I couldn’t read, helped me set up my head set and guided me through speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, a reenactment of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, etc. I did not know they were speeches, however. I only felt them as poetry, language in the voice made real, made new and, mostly, made possible.
Local Author Spotlight - Ocean Vuong - Photo by Tom Hines
Do you have a favorite book that is set in or is about the Pioneer Valley or New England?

Moby Dick and, of course, Dickinson’s poems.

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh

Recent Books by Ocean

  (see all his books)

Ocean's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

"Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson: a queer story written by a straight woman who gets it right, mostly by refusing to be shy about facing the dramatic, even overtly so, to tell a story of a boy growing into and out of his interior life at once. A masterwork of hybridity.

Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald: a pastoral version of the flaneur novel that quickly transforms and transgresses into constellations of histories, lost narratives, memories and retellings of human life. A masterpiece in the utilization of form.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison: a rich and unforgiving story of friendship, betrayal, and ultimately, of mercy, among black men. This book taught me so much about how forgiveness can work without forgetting the violence that made it so necessary in the first place.

When My Brother was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz: a masterclass in how to use myriad forms and modes to propel a magical realist mode of storytelling and some of the most heartbreaking, joyous and haunting images I’ve ever read.

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee: a testament to the redemptive and life-giving power of an autobiographical novel; that writers do not retell their lives merely because it is easy or available to them, but that it’s a chance to give dignity and imaginative scope to history and its great wounds, its losses and triumphs at once."

Authors Previously Spotlighted

Christopher Benfey

Micha Archer

Joanne Creighton

Bruce Watson

Aaron Becker

Charles Mann

Holly Black

Lewis Mainzer

Nicole Blum & Catherine Newman

Michael Ponsor

David Hyde Costello

William Taubman

Rich Michelson

Madeleine Blais

Cammie McGovern

View our earlier Local Author Spotlights by year: 2019, 2018 & 2017 | Or browse more books by local authors