Anthill Collective's mural behind ArtsRiot in Burlington
Before we take a deep breath and dive into 2017, it seems a good time to look back on the year from which we are about to graduate: 2016. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a sampling of events, exhibits and happenings in local arts and culture. It gives us one more chance to wax nostalgic on where we've been and what we wrote about over the past 12 months.
OK, this didn't happen in Vermont, but it's relevant. Remember when Sen. Bernie Sanders ran for president? As a reflection of his popularity, a Sanders-themed art show titled “The Art of a Political Revolution” — which included Vermont artists — launched in Los Angeles.
Vermont Shakespeare Company greeted the year by announcing a name change — to Vermont Shakespeare Festival. The new moniker symbolized another step toward the nonprofit's dream of presenting a full-blown, well, Shakespeare festival. Meantime, the company went on to present several events throughout the year, including its timely production of Julius Caesar in the summer.
The Vermont Humanities Council has made its selection for the 2017 iteration of Vermont Reads: Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming will be the centerpiece for programming in towns and municipalities across the state.
Woodson's memoir, written in verse, has been awarded the Coretta Scott King BookAward and the National Book Award, among other honors, since its publication in 2014. And, it's the first book by an African American woman to become the Vermont Reads choice.
Elizabeth Bluemle, Darrilyn Peters and Josie Leavitt at Flying Pig Bookstore
When customers flock to local shops for Small Business Saturday this weekend, one independent bookstore will be marking a milestone.
Shelburne's Flying Pig Bookstore turns 20 years old today and, on Saturday, owners Elizabeth Bluemle and Josie Leavitt will celebrate with "cupcakes, cider and customer memories," according to a press release.
Bluemle and Leavitt opened the store shortly after moving north from New York City "without jobs planned," Bluemle told me in a 2007 interview. When he saw a "For Rent" sign on Charlotte's former post office, "I just immediately wanted that building," she recalled.
The duo opened the store about 10 weeks later with a name that slyly referenced its origin as a "pipe dream," says their press release — i.e., something that will "happen when pigs fly."
It's a sad month for Vermont poetry. Northeast Kingdom poet Leland Kinsey died less than two weeks ago, at age 66. And early this Sunday morning, September 25, beloved poet and playwright David Budbill passed away, at 76. He had been diagnosed about a year ago with a form of Parkinson's disease called progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP.
Budbill was a prolific writer of brilliantly lucid, Asian-influenced poems, as well as plays — his best known is Judevine , which also inspired the libretto for A Fleeting Animal, with Vermont composer Erik Nielsen. He also wrote essays, young adult fiction, a cyberzine and more. He was a musician who played the shakuhachi (a Japanese flute), and occasionally performed with his longtime collaborator, New York bassist William Parker.
This weekend at the Bookstock Literary Festival in Woodstock, Howard Axelrod will read from his highly acclaimed memoir, The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude. Published by Beacon Press in 2015, it was named one of the year's best books by Slate, the Chicago Tribune and others.
His story began in the backwoods of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.
In the fall of 1999 Axelrod, then 25, posted his handwritten wish on bulletin boards outside general stores and laundromats in Peacham, Johnson, Jay, Barton, Newport, Morrisville and Eden: “Wanted: a cabin or house set in the woods, with good light, very solitary. Proximity to a stream or brook. Running water and electricity preferred.”
Only one man replied: Lev, the owner of a remote house resembling “a battered pirate ship run aground,” as Axelrod later described it. Thus began his transformative two years alone at the end of a dirt road in Barton.
“Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.” So begins the creepy cover copy for Hex, a novel of the modern fantastic from Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt. A best-seller in its native Netherlands, the book recently appeared in English translation.
The “here” in question is a hamlet in New York’s Hudson Valley, haunted and isolated for centuries by the ghost of a witch who has a disturbing habit of standing at children’s bedsides, her eyes and mouth sewn shut.
That’s just one of the "Mid-Summer Nightmares” that Bear Pond Books in Montpelier will present on Tuesday, July 12, at 7 p.m. (More info here.) Olde Heuvelt will read from his work — his only Vermont stop on a national tour — along with three other authors of dark fiction, two of them local.
By Ken Picard
on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 12:25 PM
Photo courtesy of Kate Messner and Bloomsbury Publishing
Children's book author Kate Messner should have been celebrating the day her latest book, The Seventh Wish, was released June 7. Instead, she was saddened and bewildered to learn that her reading to fourth and fifth graders at South Burlington's Chamberlin Elementary School had been abruptly canceled the night before due to its subject matter: heroin addiction.
What's worse, Messner reported, the school returned all 20 copies of the book it had previously purchased from Burlington's Phoenix Books for its school library.
“I’m shocked. I didn’t expect this," said Messner, who's written more than two dozen other books for children and teens, none of which has ever generated controversy. "I’m not that author who writes books that get censored. It’s just stunning to me. It’s a sad, strange place to be.”
Misty Valley Books, the beloved independent bookstore in Chester, has just been purchased by Phoenix Books. The 29-year-old Misty Valley is known for its diverse collection and its in-store events.
Phoenix Books, Vermont’s largest independent booksellers, operates stores in Essex, Rutland and downtown Burlington. Owners Michael DeSanto and Renee Reiner opened Phoenix’s Essex location in 2007; the Burlington store made its debut in 2012. Rutland’s Phoenix Books opened in 2015 as part of a downtown revitalization campaign.
Renee Reiner and Mike DeSanto, owners of Phoenix Books
Independent bookstore Phoenix Books announced this week that it is among five contenders shortlisted for the Publishers Weekly 2016 Bookstore of the Year Award. Since opening their first store in Essex in 2007, bookstore co-owners and spouses Mike DeSanto and Renee Reiner have expanded, adding storefronts in downtown Burlington and Rutland.
DeSanto and Reiner claim that 2015 was their best year on record — Burlington sales were up 14 percent — and they recently received another pretty feather in their cap: the 2015 Independent Spirit Award granted by the Book Publishers Representatives of New England.
Reached by telephone, DeSanto and Reiner expressed gratitude about their nomination while also condemning the continual expansion of Amazon.com. "[Amazon] sells everything except human beings on the internet, and I wouldn't put it past them to do that," said DeSanto. "In this sort of climate, to be recognized as a local independent bookstore is remarkable," Reiner added: "[It's] heartwarming, to say the least."
Publishers Weekly will name the Bookstore of the Year in late March. The winner will be featured in its April 18 publication and honored at BookExpo America in May.