Local Author Spotlight 2021

  1. See our most recent spotlights!

    Authors spotlighted in this series include: 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

November – December 2021
Martín Espada


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

I have a favorite place to walk, a peaceful trail with cascades, where I hear poems in my head and sometimes speak the lines out loud. I won’t describe this place, because words fail me, and I won’t say where it is, because I don’t want to see this place overrun by the stampede to tranquility.

Do you have a special library memory?

I remember my first library. I was born in the East New York section of Brooklyn in 1957, and raised in the Linden projects there. When I was in grade school, I would walk to the local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library on New Lots Avenue, fifteen minutes and a world away. That became a kind of sanctuary. One day my father told me I couldn’t walk there anymore, saying there was too much crime in the neighborhood. But I never forgot my sanctuary. One day I’ll write a poem about it.

Is there a member of this community who has been instrumental to your writing?

The person in the community most instrumental to my writing is my wife, Lauren Marie Schmidt. Lauren is a poet herself, with four books to her credit (see Filthy Labors, Northwestern 2017), and a novelist with a manuscript under consideration at a major publisher. She is also a very committed teacher, who spent years working in urban education, including adult literacy, and now teaches humanities at an independent school in one of the hill towns. She is my first reader and my first listener. When a book is in the production process, she proofreads everything, and — given her experience teaching the rules to those learning how to read — she never misses anything. Best of all, she is also an excellent subject. In Floaters — a collection noted for its political poems — there are seven love poems to her, including the sonnet I wrote for our wedding.

Do you have a website for your books which you would like to share?

My website is www.martinespada.net. See the books page.

Recent Books by Martín  (see all his books)

Martín's Favorite Books  (with his comments)

Correspondence Between the Stonehaulers by Jack Agüeros (Hanging Loose, 1991) [not currently available in CW MARS]. Jack Agüeros was a New York Puerto Rican poet, fiction writer, playwright, essayist, translator, and the director of El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem. This is his first poetry collection, sonnets and psalms of the Puerto Rican community, demanding respect for the community through the use of these forms. He was also my second father; see my elegy “Flan”.

Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry by John Murillo (Four Way, 2021). John Murillo is a self-described “Afro-Chicano” poet, the product of a Black father and a Mexican mother, who grew up in Los Angeles at the time of the “L.A. Riots.” His poems offer critiques of urban violence and traditional masculinity at the same time they articulate resistance of stereotypes. This collection received the Kingsley Tufts Award. He is a professor at Wesleyan University.

The Moon Reflected Fire by Doug Anderson (Alice James, 1994). Doug Anderson served as medic with the Marine Corps during the war in Vietnam. He would come to oppose the war, and wrote a series of poems based on that harrowing experience, as well as a cycle of poems about Homer’s Odyssey from the perspective of a foot soldier. This book received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He lives in Ashfield.

The Hunger Moon: Selected Poems 1980-2010 by Marge Piercy (Knopf, 2011). Marge Piercy is a working-class Jewish poet and novelist from Detroit, emerging from the feminist and anti-war movements of the 1960s. Her narrative poems engage with these multiple identities and experiences, often with a satirical edge. She lives in Wellfleet on Cape Cod.

When Living Was a Labor Camp by Diana García (University of Arizona, 2000) [not currently available in CW MARS]. Diana García was born in a migrant labor camp — CPC Camp #15, as in the California Packing Corporation — in the San Joaquín Valley. In this, her only collection of poetry, she writes of working in the fields with her family, harvesting figs, and recalls the massive deportations of Mexicans in the 1950s. The book received an American Book Award. She is a professor at California State University-Monterey Bay.

(Note: It’s impossible for me to choose only five of my “favorite” books, but this is a representative sample of favorites.)

September – October 2021
John Clayton


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

I take walks but not to a special place. I walk on any old trail or road, and I talk to myself about a character – what does this character want? What music does he listen to? Does she lie to herself? What does she wear? I think about my own childhood – my mother, my father, my aunt. I look for a situation – a fragment from the past or from my imagination. I cast my fly into deep water, not having the least idea if any fish reside in this stream. All it takes is one strike – and I can reel in a scene, a moment of tension, of conflict.

How does living in the Amherst area affect your writing?

Amherst and the Pioneer Valley have been wonderful for me as a writer. It’s a quiet area; the Valley doesn’t make demands, doesn’t mess with your mind. I feel at home here. Teaching literature for over thirty years at UMass, I had the great good fortune of teaching the modern novel. Or not so modern. Henry James, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin, Vladimir Nabokov, Edith Wharton, Leslie Marmon Silko – on and on. Books opened up truths for me, really taught me to write.

Why did you write your new book?

Parkinson’s Blues was my response to disease – my loss of dopamine in my brain. I couldn’t avoid writing about it. I wanted to find the comedy as well as the pathos in the painful and uncomfortable; I wanted to find the connection between past and present. Parkinson’s Blues was the beginning of my writing memoir instead of fiction.

Parkinson's Blues - Stories of My Life

Do you have a website for your books which you would like to share?

My website is at johnjclayton.com. I also have a Wikipedia page.

Recent Books by John  (see all his books)

John's Favorite Books  (with his comments)

Woolf’s To the Lighthouse for its melding of consciousness and the ordinary; Bellow’s Seize the Day and Herzog for merging of street language and philosophical language; Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” one of the deepest fictions I know about love and self-deception; Chekhov’s stories in Ecco Press’s thirteen volumes [Ed. note: Ecco Press's one-volume The Essential Tales of Chekhov is available through CW MARS, but the multi-volume edition is not]. Let me not forget George Eliot’s Middlemarch or Dickens’s Bleak House or Lolita for Nabokov’s handling of unreliable narration; and the deepest, most beautiful, American novel, Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

July – August 2021
Barbara Elleman


How has living in Amherst affected your writing?

My third-floor home library faces out over a beautiful wooded area, where, when looking up from my computer, I might find autumn's splash of colored leaves, or winter's huge swirling snowdrops, or the green swaying branches of a coming spring. Meanwhile my screen silently awaits the right words to smooth out a sentence or clarify a meaning; in time, they do emerge and my work continues.

Do you have a special library memory?

I have collected books for years — titles of all kinds and for all ages. When I began to be interested in children's illustrated books, I widened my interest to include the art of illustration and what goes into ensuring that art and the story combine artistically on the page while satisfying the child reader. I began collecting — and studying — books on this subject, which now form the Barbara Elleman Research Library at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

What is your favorite book set in New England?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Bring Me a Unicorn: 1922-1928 (about her years at Smith). Robert McCloskey's books; also The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall.

Barbara Elleman

Why did you write your new book?

When Penguin let the 1999 edition of Tomie dePaola: His Art and His Stories go out of print, I had a chance meeting with Doug Whitman, Tomie's literary agent. He suggested that I secure the rights, find a new publisher, and write about Tomie's work since that last edition. Then he said — "leave it up to me." Soon that was accomplished and I had not only an editor but especially a new (and excellent) art director.

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

Amor Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow.

New Book
by Barbara

(see all her books)

Barbara's Favorite Books

May – June 2021
Pawan Dhingra


Why did you write your new book?

Education and childhood are changing as competition grows and seeps into even elementary school. Immigrant communities experience it and so do many others. I wanted to explain the reasons behind these trends, how teachers respond, and how children feel as they navigate this new reality. Families are spending more and more money on after-school education, which is rising since COVID, and parents want to know if it makes sense for them to do the same.

Is there a member of this community who has been instrumental to your writing? A local event that has been meaningful to you as a writer?

I have been inspired by the protests that I have attended in town, including for Black Lives Matter and StopAsianHate. Youth, college students, educators, parents, seniors of all backgrounds arrive there to claim space and dignity. These events help bring the town together and affirm our decision to move here with our family.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

For two months one summer, about twenty years ago, I was in Anniston, Alabama. The library provided not only air conditioning, but a thoughtfulness that I needed as I wrote my first book. I became bonded with the librarians in my daily ritual of sitting at the same sun-lit table and chair, and them in their multiple and often hushed tasks. My regret is that I ended up leaving without saying a proper good-bye to them.

Do you have a website for your books which you would like to share?


Pawan Dhingra

New Book
by Pawan

(see all his books)

Pawan's Favorite Books  (with his comments)

Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. As someone who works in diversity, equity and inclusion matters, I appreciated how the book raises fundamental questions about what is behind the inequalities that we try to deal with.

Chaat: The Best Recipes From the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India by Maneet Chauhan and Jody Eddy. This is a cookbook, which I include here not only because the recipes are wonderful but the author’s descriptions of train stations in India, where much of the food is tasted, makes me want to trace her journey.

Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan. I’ve been a fan of Bob Dylan for many years, and his memoir gave me insights not only into his inspirations and regrets but also into New York City from his perspective.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. The sweeping nature of the book and the struggles of the characters in this saga were captivating. Hearing Min Jin Lee speak at Amherst brought it all home.

The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More by Barry Schwartz. As someone who makes a habit out of second-guessing myself, this book gave me good company.

March – April 2021

Martha Ackmann


Why did you write your new book?

For almost twenty years, I taught a Mount Holyoke College seminar on Dickinson in the Emily Dickinson Museum. My students loved learning about the poet in the very rooms where she wrote. When I wrapped the day’s lesson around a pivotal moment in Dickinson’s life, I noticed my students became especially engaged. That reaction gave me the idea of writing a biography of Emily Dickinson that focused on ten transformative days in her life. And because I’ve lived in Amherst for over forty years, I also wanted to give readers a sense of the texture and influence of this remarkable place. I often think of These Fevered Days as my love letter to Amherst.

What was your favorite book growing up?

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. A fifth-grade teacher changed my life. Mrs. Nolte gave us a creative writing assignment — the first one I ever had — and I loved it. I felt something click in my brain when I wrote from imagination. Next she asked us to do a research project about our hometown: Florissant, Missouri. I dove in, studying old maps in the local library and reading reminiscences of early settlers in the town historical society. I felt like a detective. And Mrs. Nolte read to us every day after recess. We would come in tired and sweaty, and I remember closing my eyes, putting my head on my hands, and listening to her read Caddie Woodlawn. As she read, I conjured up images in my head of prairie pioneers and endless land. It was magic. The creative writing assignment, plus the research project, and the soothing sound of Mrs. Nolte’s voice pointed me in the direction my life would take. I wish I could have thanked her.

Martha Ackmann - Photo by James Gehrt

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. Totally transporting and on-point reading for these pandemic times.

Do you have a website for your books which you would like to share?

marthaackmann.com; also marthaackmannbooks on Facebook and MarthaAckmann on Twitter

Recent Books by Martha  (see all her books)

Martha's Favorite Books  (with her comments)

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. You don’t grow up on the banks of the Mississippi River without Mark Twain seeping into your consciousness. Huck’s “All right then, I’ll go to hell,” is as good a motto as I’ve ever had.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It was the first book I read that combined the techniques of storytelling with the reportage of nonfiction. I know there are problems with the book — but it knocked my socks off for showing me what narrative nonfiction could do.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Vast, sprawling, and thoroughly engaging. There’s never been a better opening to a novel. Sentence fragments and all.

The writings of Audre Lorde. I have ditched most of the brain cells for everything I taught over the years in gender studies classes, but not Audre Lorde. Sister Outsider and Zami will always stay with me.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I’m a big fan of graphic novels, and Fun Home hits it out of the park. Searing, hilarious, and uncompromising.

January – February 2021

Jonathan Adolph


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

Though it ranges farther afield, John McPhee’s The Founding Fish has some great scenes of shad fishing at the Holyoke dam, where I too go to lose tackle and envy the luck of others during the annual spring run. I would read anything by McPhee, the longtime New Yorker writer who first hooked me decades ago with an entire book on oranges.

Why did you write your new book?

I wish I could tell you that I predicted the entire 2020 pandemic and decided to write Cardboard Box Engineering because I knew families would be stuck inside with bored children and piles of shipping boxes. But when I began, all I had was the suspicion that today’s digital generation might like the chance to build cool stuff with their own hands. I figured projects that involved using knives, saws, pointed skewers, and hot glue guns might be enough to lure them from their screens. But I also saw the book as having a social payoff. The more kids tinkering with cardboard today, I reasoned, the more inventors and engineers we’ll have tomorrow, helping create a more sustainable world.
Jonathan Adolph
What was your favorite book growing up?

I still recall reading My Side of the Mountain by Jean George, and for years afterward wishing I could live in a hollow tree with a pet falcon. Combined with my Ranger Rick magazines, that book was my gateway drug to environmental awareness, which in turn led me to an appreciation for the sciences. Those passions have only intensified: I am now a staunch defender of the natural world (except for the freeloading creatures eating my garden — you know who you are!), and I’ll rant at length about why reason-based humanism represents our best hope for a livable future. Blame it all on Jean George.

Recent Books by Jonathan

  (see all his books)

Jonathan's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)
YouTube may be able to teach me how to do just about anything, but I’m still drawn to well-designed, thoughtfully edited, instructional books. Two I’ve consulted repeatedly over the years:

The New Victory Garden by Bob Thomson. I acquired this how-to guide back in 1987, when I was planting my first vegetable gardens, and it’s been a trusted resource ever since. It approaches gardening as a yearlong campaign, with each chapter presenting a month’s tasks. My only quibble is it doesn’t offer psychological counseling to help with gardening’s inevitable, soul-crushing disappointments.

You Can Teach Hitting by Dusty Baker (and others). A quirky pick, I realize, but one that baseball coaches and players will appreciate. I bought my now dog-eared copy 20 years ago when I was enlisted to coach my son’s Little League team. The design, photography, and clear language throughout all help ease the pain of what every kid (and creaky old-timer) soon discovers: hitting a baseball consistently is very difficult. Baker’s MLB success makes him a voice of authority, but what comes across even more strongly is his compassion for those of us whose love for the game far exceeds our ability to play it.

Other books that have left an impression:

Straight Man by Richard Russo – has hilarious resonance for anyone living in a college town.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – let me hang out with characters who are even more neurotic and obsessed with music than I am.

Growing Up by Russell Baker – showed me how a gifted journalist can sift significance from life’s everyday moments.

Authors Previously Spotlighted

Lawrence Douglas

Annye C. Anderson

Artemis Roehrig & Corrine Demas

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

Cammie McGovern

View our earlier Local Author Spotlights by year: 2020, 2019, 2018 & 2017 | Or browse more books by local authors

Staff Picks



  1. Reads: literary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries, memoirs, suspense/thrillers, young adult, and the occasional sci-fi / fantasy


  1. “I like literary fiction. I like writing that is poetic. I like writers who I sense struggle to find the perfect word. I like writers who make me see the world differently; whether they have a talent for imaginative description, or have their characters express insights that feel absolutely spot on, but brand new to me. I like fiction that makes me question existing ideas. I also love writers who have a brilliant knack for making things funny. Besides fiction, the humorous-yet-poignant essay is one of my favorite things to read."


  1. Reads: literary fiction, biographies & nonfiction, mysteries with richly developed characters, chick lit, an occasional young adult novel
  1. Station Eleven
  2. The Pull of the Stars
  3. Disappearing Earth
  4. The Thursday Murder Club
  5. Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague
  6. Sea Wife
  7. Doomsday Book
  8. The Vanishing Half
  9. Our Malady
  10. Washington Black
  11. News of the World
  12. The Beauty in Breaking
  13. How to be an antiracist
  14. Brother Robert by Annye C. Anderson - An intimate memoir by blues legend Robert Johnson’s stepsister
  15. Hidden Valley Road
  16. These Fevered Days
  17. braiding sweetgrass
  18. Once More We Saw Stars
  19. Limits of the World
  20. A Place for Us
  21. Circe
  22. The World According to Fannie Davis
  23. How Hard Can It Be
  24. Educated
  25. Vanessa and Her Sister 158x235.jpg
  26. harrietwolf.jpg
  27. __Alice in Bed 157x235.jpg
  28. __btwntheworld.jpg
  29. oneplusone 155x235.jpg
  30. newjimcrow 160x235.jpg
  31. inventionofwings 155x235.jpg
  32. alliknowandlove 155x235.jpg
  33. _sixthextinction 155x234.jpg
  34. faultinourstars 157x235.jpg
  35. dearcommitteemembers 162x235.jpg
  36. allthelightwecannotsee 156x235.jpg


  1. Reads: literary fiction, scifi & fantasy, narrative nonfiction, short stories, essays
See more staff picks at Kids Room and Teens. Or browse our Weekly Staff Picks.