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!
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

Interview



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

Interview



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