Local Author Spotlight 2020

  1. See our most recent spotlights!

    Authors spotlighted in this series include: Tem Blessed, Cassandra Clare, Sabina Murray, Sarah Dixwell Brown, Nyanyika Banda, Megan Dowd Lambert, Austin Sarat, Alan Goodman, Corinne Andrews, Edward Bruce Bynum, Robert H. Romer, Joseph J. Ellis, Patricia Romney, Martín Espada, John Clayton, Barbara Elleman, Pawan Dhingra, Martha Ackmann, Jonathan Adolph, Lawrence Douglas, Annye C. Anderson, Corinne Demas & Artemis Roehrig, Ilan Stavans, Ocean Vuong, 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, and Cammie McGovern

September – October 2020

Lawrence Douglas


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

I love writing in cafés. I’ve written seven books and almost all of them were written in cafés. My two favorite places to write are the Lady Killigrew restaurant in the Montague Bookmill and Café Leonhard in Stuttgarter Platz, Berlin. The Bookmill has the better view but Leonhard has, or, rather, had, the better coffee (plus daily newspaper threaded through those pool cue-like newspaper holders). Alas, Leonhard recently fell victim to the Covid pandemic, its doors now shuttered for good.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

When I was in seventh grade, I was tiny for my age — no more than 4’ 10” — but considered myself a precocious reader. In my high school’s library, I found a copy of Conrad’s Lord Jim and handed it to the librarian, who towered over me. “What made you choose this book?” she asked, eyeing me doubtfully. “It’s a Conrad I haven’t read,” I said. That wasn’t exactly a lie — in fact, I had read nothing by Conrad but associated his name with Literature. “Maybe you’d like to try another writer,” she said, cheerfully, handing me a book called The Wanderer by Alain-Fournier. [Librarian note: this book was also published as The Lost Domain.] It looked to me like juvenilia. “No thanks!” I snapped, indignantly. I should have taken her suggestion. Lord Jim defeated me after twenty or so pages. Decades later I finally read The Wanderer and loved it.
Lawrence Douglas
What was your favorite book growing up?

When I was a high school senior, I read and re-read Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum. I loved everything about it, beginning with the stylized cover drawing, inked by Grass himself, of Oskar pounding away on his toy drum. Now both of my sons have read it — and loved it, too.

Recent Books by Lawrence

  (see all his books)
NOTE: To learn more about Will He Go?, listen to our interview with the author or visit Twelve Books, where you can also read an excerpt.

Lawrence's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)
Light by the Swedish novelist Torgny Lindgren — a brilliant, grotesque, darkly humorous imagining of a medieval village visited by the Great Sickness, presumably the Bubonic Plague.

My Friends by the Frenchman Emmanuel Bove [not currently available in CW MARS] — a slender masterpiece about isolation that happily has been rescued from its own oblivion by the New York Review Classics series.

Life and Fate by the Soviet Jewish writer Vasily Grossman — a magnificent doorstop about the Soviet Union during the battle of Stalingrad, an apt read under conditions of lockdown.

Giving up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel — Mantel’s droll memoir of her early struggles with disease, apparitions and the devil.

Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist — Kleist’s novella of 1810, in a brilliant new translation by Michael Hofmann, loses its thread toward the end, but the first half is a work of pure, inspired genius.

July – August 2020

Annye C. Anderson


Why did you write your book?

I wanted to show Brother Robert as the man I knew him to be and not the man depicted by authors who did not know him. Writers had very little time to interview him before his early death.

What do you want the world to know about Brother Robert?

I wanted people to know that Brother Robert had a loving family, that he was not a vagabond. He had a home to come to wherever he went, in Mississippi or in Memphis, Tennessee.

What was it like to relive all those years?

I had never forgotten him, he was always in my memory, and also in Sister Carrie’s and Sister Bessie’s. To them he was Baby Brother. To me, he was Brother Robert. He was fifteen years older than me. Back then, you addressed people as Sister or Brother.

Have you always been a good storyteller?

Some people said I was, but I never thought so. This has been in my mind for years. I always talked to everyone about writing a book about Brother Robert, including to Julius Lester, who was very interested in the blues. But I never had enough time because I was busy gathering material for a legal fight to open the estate.

What does the Jones Library mean to you?

It means an awful lot. I have spent many hours there. I came almost every day before the pandemic. To keep my strength up, I like to get out a lot. I am a country music buff and I enjoy the library’s books on the classic singers of country music. I know them all. I grew up listening to WSM, the famed country music radio station in Nashville. Jimmie Rodgers was my favorite, and also Brother Robert’s. Both men loved Texas and trains, both hoboed.

New Book by Annye C. Anderson

What is life like for you in Amherst?

I am a farmer and am known as the Garlic Lady of the Valley. I’ve been involved with many local organizations including Amherst College, the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), the Amherst Farmers Market, the Survival Center, Not Bread Alone, and the Taste of Amherst. I think people should know that Amherst has a problem with racism. The South has no monopoly on racism. It exists all over the United States and it needs to be eradicated. We need more Black teachers, more Black businesses, more Black students at UMass. As a former teacher, I think education is the answer. I have a lot of faith in our young people, but they need to be taught about the contributions that Blacks have made in this country. There should be statues for Crispus Attucks, a man of African and Native American descent, who was the first American to die in the Revolutionary War. Parents need to be more involved in Black children’s education.

What's next for you?

I am writing a second book on Robert Johnson. I am interviewing various bluesmen who knew him.

Annye C. Anderson's Favorite Books

  (with her comments)

Ain’t No Uncle Tom in My Blues: Life and Times of the Undaunted Professor Harp by Hugh N. Holmes, Jr.

Hugh Holmes showed me around Boston and its blues places, and always walked me to my car afterwards. His book is very timely, he tells all the trials and tribulations of being a Black artist.

NOTE: This book will soon be added to the Jones Library collection.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

I loved this book. Henry Louis Gates is a prolific writer and does so much research. His book shows that Virginia governor Ralph Northam wasn’t the first to pose in blackface, that this behavior was around from the country’s beginnings. Also that photograph would have been seen by many people who worked on the yearbook or in the school’s administration; they are all guilty of saying nothing.

The Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s by Henry Hampton and Steve Fayer

It is a slap in the face to only have Black history once a year. Also Americans should know about more than Martin Luther King. People were fighting for our rights long before him.

The Coming Race War in America: A Wake-Up Call by Carl T. Rowan

A book that is still relevant today.

Native American Voices: A Reader by Susan Lobo & Steve Talbot

I like it when people who are the source tell their story. Many of the problems we have in the United States occur because Whites are not educated as to what Blacks and others have contributed.

NOTE: This book is available in several editions. The first edition is owned by CW MARS libraries and is linked to here.

May – June 2020

Corinne Demas & Artemis Roehrig

Interview with Corinne Demas

How does living in the Amherst area affect your writing?

Amherst is a perfect place for writers — no doubt why so many of us have chosen to live here. The town supports the active writing community and honors the writers who’ve lived here. I look out at Main Street from Emily Dickinson’s bedroom windows, or hike the Robert Frost Trail. Amherst Books, one of several great independent bookstores in the area, regularly hosts author events, and showcases books by local authors (famous or not!). The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is a local gem and offers a glorious array of children’s books in the museum shop.

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

I head to the woods behind my house every day, in every weather, with my dog on his leash. Every season brings its inspirations. Now, in spring: the pair of mallard ducks circling the small pond, a deer leaping through the trees, its white plume of a tail high in the air, marsh marigolds’ bright yellow flowers among the uncurling skunk cabbage, a pileated woodpecker thumping out its message high above me, tree frogs chorusing like ducks, then going silent as I approach.

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

Jane Yolen’s Letting Swift River Go.
What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

I’m delving, once again, into Jane Austen’s Emma (so much more complex than even the best film adaptation). Austen is an ideal companion in stressful times!

Interview with Artemis Roehrig

How does living in the Amherst area affect your writing?

The colleges bring so many wonderful and interesting people from so many different places. On top of that there are so many outdoor areas to explore. Basically, this area is a hotbed of stories.

Why did you write your new book?

Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? Amazing Sea Creature Facts (published April 2020; coming soon to our libraries) is the third in a series of nature books — after Do Doodlebugs Doodle? Amazing Sea Creature Facts and Does a Fiddler Crab Fiddle? — that were inspired by my time as an environmental educator. I wanted to write a nonfiction picture book that could be read to read aloud to both a toddler and an older child — the older child can appreciate all of the animal facts, while the younger kid can participate by yelling “no!”

When I was working on The Grumpy Pirate (forthcoming), I had a kid who wasn’t sleeping through the night. Sleep deprivation is very inspiring for the topic of grumpiness!

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

What was your favorite book growing up?

I loved The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, and The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

Recent Books by Corinne & Artemis

  (see all of Corinne's books; see all of Artemis's books)

Corinne's Favorite Books

  (with her comments)

Mistress Masham’s Repose by T. H. White was a childhood favorite of mine, and I still admire it for its prose style and the depth of imagination. Maria, age ten, owner of a decaying estate, Malplaquet, is a plucky heroine, and what could be more entrancing than her discovery of exiled Lilliputians? Though published in 1946, the novel is ageless.

The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown is a beautifully symmetrical picture book. It awakens a child’s curiosity and offers an emotionally satisfying conclusion that is sweet but not saccharine. Like Brown’s more famous Goodnight Moon, it delights the ear, again and again. Even though I’ve read it innumerable times over many years, its magical quality endures. Leonard Weisgard’s illustrations are both rich and endearing.
Also, the collections of some of my favorite short story writers: Anton Chekhov, Eudora Welty, and William Trevor. And if I could list two more: Katherine Mansfield and Alice Munro!

Artemis's Favorite Books

  (with her comments)
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: This just had so many different layers to it: science, nature, medicine, anthropology, relationships. Patchett doesn’t let her good writing get in the way of the plot or vice versa.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: I picked this up since it was by a Northampton author, and was not disappointed. It’s gritty and ugly and beautiful.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay: I read this for a book club dance class I took at The Center in Amherst. These stories provoked so many fascinating discussions.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: It has butterflies in it!

The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George: This was a fascinating read long before the toilet paper shortages!

March – April 2020

Ilan Stavans


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.

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