North Street Book Prize 2022
Honoring the best self-published books of poetry, children's picture books, art books, graphic novels & memoirs, genre fiction, literary fiction, and creative nonfiction & memoir
Grand Prize $8,000 Literary Fiction
Diane Chiddister, One More Day
First Prize $1,000 Art Book
Tonia Shimin, The Art of Symeon Shimin
First Prize $1,000 Childrens Picture Book
Kayla Marie Pierre, Happy Harper: Grandpa Comes Home
First Prize $1,000 Genre Fiction
Robert Chazz Chute, Endemic
First Prize $1,000 Graphic Novel and Memoir
Alicia Czechowski, Paisley Invasion
First Prize $1,000 Literary Fiction
Wendy Sibbison, Helen in Trouble
First Prize $1,000 Creative Nonfiction
Lorelei Kay, From Mormon to Mermaid
First Prize $1,000 Poetry
Gayle Lauradunn, All the Wild and Holy
Honorable Mention $250
- L. Sue Baugh, Echoes of Earth, Art Book
- William Guion, Return to Heartwood, Art Book
- Cathy Kreutter, Something Old, Something New, in Uganda!, Childrens Picture Book
- Monica Canlas Tuy & Eric Tuy, My Pinsans and Me: Amara’s Talent Show, Childrens Picture Book
- Peggy Ann Barnett, Bitter Fruit, Genre Fiction
- E.G. Radcliff, The Wild Court, Genre Fiction
- Danny Gorny, Sleepwalkers, Volume 1: #Adulting Sucks, Graphic Novel and Memoir
- Cameron Beach, The Jigsaw Project, Literary Fiction
- Lucien Agosta, Losing Time: AIDS Lessons in Love and Loss, Creative Nonfiction
- Thomas Sheehan, Ah, Devon Unbowed, Poetry
Thanks to all our entrants in the eighth annual North Street competition for self-published books. Our categories this year were poetry, genre fiction, mainstream/literary fiction, creative nonfiction/memoir, children's picture book, graphic novel and memoir, and art book. We received 1,946 entries and awarded $17,500 in cash prizes. Our winners also received marketing services from our co-sponsors Carolyn Howard-Johnson and BookBaby, plus free advertising in the Winning Writers newsletter.
Sarah Halper, a scholar of English history and literature, was our first-round screener for the books initially submitted as printed copies, while Annie Mydla, the multi-talented senior editor in our Polish satellite office, screened the entries that came in online. They generated a shortlist of about 60 books for final judges Ellen LaFleche and Jendi Reiter. Ellen took the lead on the poetry entries and consulted on the children's books and graphic novels, while Jendi covered the prose categories. Tracy Koretsky, a valued member of our critique-writing team, employed her art history background to advise Jendi on the final batch of art books.
Some categories were so strong this year that we awarded additional honorable mentions. We were impressed with the production quality and diverse topics of the art books. A recurring issue in this category was the balance between thematic unity and visual variety. We set aside some books with strong artwork because of insufficient narrative context or logical progression for the images. A catalogue raisonné is not the same as a book.
On the other end of the spectrum, photo books about a single subject, such as a type of animal or landscape, needed to vary the composition—the size of the figure in the landscape, the angle, time of day, emotional register, close-up or distant shot, and so forth—to avoid monotony. Several books with interesting premises would have benefited from tighter editing of duplicative shots.
Basic design tips: If you're going to create a two-page spread, don't let the focal point of your image disappear into the crease. Rather than print horizontally oriented images sideways in a vertical book, which is distracting and looks like you didn't think through your design choices, make the image smaller and include some useful text in the white space. Lastly, there's no excuse for tiny print in an oversized book.
Some beautifully illustrated children's books didn't make the winner's circle because of typos, which are unacceptable in literature for children learning how to read. In this category, we looked for stories that were grounded in specific, visually enjoyable, culturally rich settings, yet also universal in their psychological appeal to this age group.
The quality of the writing in our literary fiction entries did not disappoint. Some books were indistinguishable from traditionally published work. We gravitated toward stories that assessed current issues with realism, yet offered hope, and treated their characters with dignity and compassion. "Serious" literature need not be bleak and nihilistic.
We had a great time reading the genre fiction this year—another category where we couldn't choose just two from the array of exciting, creative stories. From historical fiction to high fantasy, young adult to thriller, our entrants showed that fast-paced action can coexist with social relevance and complex characterization. However, we were too often put off by pervasive proofreading errors in otherwise carefully delineated tales. Jendi's pet peeve in romance novels is the over-confident alpha male who pushes past his love interest's initial rejections with his persistence and "charm". Ignoring boundaries isn't sexy.
In memoir, we looked for narratives that skillfully braided an inner and outer journey, placing a personal story in a context of wider cultural or historical significance. Some books told a vivid tale of individual hardship and healing, but didn't show anything that set its story apart from others in its genre. Others got lost in the facts and didn't give a relatable picture of the narrator.
Graphic novels might be one of the toughest genres to execute well. So many elements have to come together—polished artwork, a story arc that can be understood and completed within the compressed space available, legible and typo-free lettering, and good contrast and composition so that the action is comprehensible at a glance. Adventure and thriller comics need to avoid gratuitous gore and voyeuristic depictions of women's bodies.
We noticed a prevalence of what we called "Twitter poetry"—a loose, chatty, mostly unpunctuated style, more like stream-of-consciousness journal jottings than fully shaped poems. These poets sometimes had interesting points of view, but the craft wasn't mature. A pithy insight here and there, like a good tweet popping up in your feed, didn't make up for the absence of sophisticated rhetorical devices.
Grand Prize winner Diane Chiddister's exquisite literary novel One More Day delves into the inner lives of four denizens of an old-age home: a playful woman with dementia and a penchant for escape attempts, an anthropologist who must rely on strengths other than his mind as he approaches death, a nurse who's better at giving than receiving love, and a dedicated administrator whose authority is challenged. Full of tenderness that stays on the right side of sentimentality, One More Day stands out for how well it braids its four characters' paths into a journey that leaves all their lives richer. In revealing the complex and strangely logical thought processes of a barely verbal woman with Alzheimer's, the novel teaches us not to underestimate such people's intelligence and depth of feelings.
Art Book winner Tonia Shimin's The Art of Symeon Shimin is a handsomely produced full-color retrospective of her father's paintings and commercial artwork, enhanced with his autobiographical essay and other critics' commentary on his significance. A Russian Jewish immigrant who couldn't fully realize his ambitions in the art world due to the demands of making a living, Shimin produced such notable works as the original poster art for the 1939 film Gone with the Wind and the mural "Contemporary Justice and the Child" for the US Department of Justice building.
Honorable Mention L. Sue Baugh's Echoes of Earth depicts her travels with fellow writer Lynn Martinelli to photograph some of the world's oldest and most striking geological formations from Australia to Greenland. We awarded an additional Honorable Mention to William Guion for Return to Heartwood, an elegant book of black-and-white photographs of historic Southern live oak trees, accompanied by meditations on our relationship with trees and the troubled history of the plantations where they grew.
Children's Picture Book winner Happy Harper: Grandpa Comes Home by Kayla Marie Pierre has everything a picture book needs: warm and colorful illustrations with a great sense of place, an uplifting story about family love, and a cute little chicken that young readers will enjoy searching for on every page. Harper loves her home in Brooklyn but misses her grandpa in Haiti. We watch her count down the days and savor each season of the year as she prepares for him to come live with her parents.
Honorable Mention Cathy Kreutter's Something Old, Something New, in Uganda! retells a Jewish folktale with a new setting. A resourceful boy finds creative uses for the fabric from the school uniform his grandfather made him, as he grows up and continues his education. We couldn't resist giving an extra Honorable Mention to My Pinsans and Me: Amara's Talent Show by Monica Canlas Tuy and Eric Tuy, in which a boisterous crew of Filipino cousins find a clever solution to their disagreement about what game to play. We liked how this entry gave readers a cultural education while telling a story that would be relatable for kids of all backgrounds.
Genre Fiction winner Robert Chazz Chute's Endemic gives the post-apocalyptic plague novel a fresh twist with a neurodivergent female book editor as an unlikely action hero. New York City is in ruins after a strange disease caused brain damage among most of the population. Can Ovid Fairweather save the day with her hydroponic gardening skills and hypervigilance from an abusive childhood? Count on it.
Honorable Mention Bitter Fruit by Peggy Ann Barnett illuminates a little-known corner of 12th-century history, an encounter between recently Christianized Norwegian Vikings and the Catholics of Southern France. A passionate but politically impossible romance between the Earl of Orkney and the Viscountess of Narbonne gets tangled up in clerical greed and heresy-hunting. We awarded an extra Honorable Mention to E.G. Radcliff's The Wild Court, a high fantasy about a half-fae king who crosses the veil between the human and faerie worlds to end a war.
Graphic Novel winner Alicia Czechowski's Paisley Invasion is a quirky coloring book about mysterious visitors from space. Like an Edward Gorey book, the wordless narrative deftly blends charm and menace. Honorable Mention Danny Gorny's Sleepwalkers: #Adulting Sucks is an unusual action comic in which a Black woman struggles to reach career and relationship milestones in her waking life, while fighting evil as a white male superhero in her dreams. We were intrigued by the story's implicit commentary on the not-so-level playing field for effective action in America.
Literary Fiction winner Helen in Trouble by Wendy Sibbison is a timely coming-of-age story about a sheltered teen girl in Virginia in 1963 who discovers her inner resources when she has to procure an illegal abortion. Sibbison portrays a mother-daughter relationship that evolves from ladylike half-truths to genuine solidarity. Honorable Mention Cameron Beach's young adult novel The Jigsaw Project depicts the psychological strain on four teenage friends when they suspect that their prank has killed a fellow student.
Creative nonfiction & memoir winner Lorelei Kay's From Mormon to Mermaid recounts the author's gradual feminist awakening and her painful but liberating de-conversion from the religion in which she was raised. Her story is backed up with citations to official Mormon documents enshrining women's second-class status, lest anyone accuse her of universalizing a bad personal experience. Honorable Mention Lucien Agosta's Losing Time is an AIDS bereavement memoir that's distinguished by gorgeous imagery and reverent attention to the day-to-day experience of loving a terminally ill partner.
Poetry winner Gayle Lauradunn's book-length poem All the Wild and Holy is the imagined autobiography of Eunice Williams, a woman in Deerfield, Massachusetts who was kidnapped in a raid by French-Canadian and Mohawk warriors in 1704 and chose to marry into a tribe rather than be ransomed by her Puritan family. In Lauradunn's lyrical and inventive retelling, Eunice's odyssey gives her the perspective to reject the Puritan upbringing that alienated her from her body and her joy. Honorable Mention Ah, Devon Unbowed, a thoughtful collection about fathers and sons of Irish heritage, makes 95-year-old Thomas F. Sheehan our first two-time prizewinner in this contest.
Our ninth North Street Book Prize is open from February 15 through June 30, 2023. We are expanding the contest to include both self-published and hybrid-published books. Middle grade joins as a new category, and the grand prize is increasing to $10,000.
We would like to recognize and encourage these finalists in our eighth contest:
Hal Banfield, I Am Dance: Words and Images of the Black Dancer
Tyler Holme, Beet Life
Jeanny Tsai, Retratos do Recôncavo
Richard Turner, No Ideas But in Things
Carol J. Walker, Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert
River Braun, Call Me Him
Annie Mydla assists with the administration and judging of our North Street Book Prize, critiques books and manuscripts, moderates our forum on Reddit, and helps maintain our website. She is a literary scholar and writer. Born in Boston, she spent her childhood and early adulthood in Rhode Island and Western Massachusetts. She now resides in Poland, where she pursues research in supernatural fiction, crime fiction, and Joseph Conrad. Her work has been published in English in The Yearbook of Joseph Conrad Studies (2017), Avant Literary Journal (2017), and in Polish translation in Tajemni wspólnicy: czytelnik, widz i tłumacz (Secret Sharers: Reader, Viewer and Translator, 2017). She is a regular contributor to the official publication of the Joseph Conrad Society of America, Joseph Conrad Today, and was the Conference Secretary of the VII International Conrad Conference at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin, Poland.
Ellen LaFleche is a judge of our North Street Book Prize. She has worked as a journalist and women's health educator in Western Massachusetts. Her manuscript, Workers' Rites, won the Philbrick Poetry Award from the Providence Athenaeum and was published as a chapbook in 2011. Another chapbook, Ovarian, was published in 2011 by the Dallas Poets Community Press, and a third chapbook, Beatrice, about a semi-cloistered nun, was published in 2012 by Tiger's Eye Press. Her poems have been published in Spoon River Poetry Review, Hunger Mountain, New Millennium Writings, The Ledge, Alligator Juniper, Many Mountains Moving, Harpur Palate, Southeast Review, and Naugatuck River Review, among many others. Prose credits include her 2014 Daily Hampshire Gazette article "Taken too soon, at 65: My husband John Clobridge's final days with ALS". She also reviews books for Wordgathering, the online journal of disability poetics. She has won the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the New Millennium Poetry Prize (shared with Jim Glenn Thatcher), the DASH Poetry Journal Prize, the Poets on Parnassus Prize for poetry about the medical experience, second prize in The Ledge Poetry Awards, and the Editor's Choice Award for Poetry from Writecorner Press.
Jendi Reiter is vice president of Winning Writers, editor of The Best Free Literary Contests, and oversees the Winning Writers literary contests. Jendi is the author of the short story collection An Incomplete List of My Wishes (Sunshot Press, 2018), the novel Two Natures (Saddle Road Press, 2016), the poetry collections Made Man (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2022), Bullies in Love (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2015), and A Talent for Sadness (Turning Point Books, 2003), and the award-winning poetry chapbooks Swallow (Amsterdam Press, 2009) and Barbie at 50 (Cervena Barva Press, 2010). Awards include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists' Grant for Poetry, the 2016 New Letters Prize for Fiction, the 2016 Rainbow Award for Best Gay Contemporary Fiction, the 2015 Wag's Revue Poetry Prize, the 2013 Little Red Tree International Poetry Prize, the 2012 Betsy Colquitt Award for Poetry from Descant magazine, the 2011 James Knudsen Editor's Prize in Fiction from Bayou Magazine, the 2011 OSA Enizagam Award for Fiction, the 2010 Anderbo Poetry Prize, and second prize in the 2010 Iowa Review Awards for Fiction. Jendi's work has appeared in Poetry, The New Criterion, Mudfish, Passages North, Cutthroat, Best American Poetry 1990, and many other publications. See their interviews in RoundPier and Lammergeier.
Photo by Ezra Autumn Wilde