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Looking for a Good Book? Check Out the 2021 Oregon Book Awards Winners

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by Blair Stenvick

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Fabrizio Grassi / EyeEm / Getty images

The winners of the 2021 Oregon Book Awards—an annual competition from Literary Arts honoring the best works from local authors—were announced yesterday. As someone who perennially identifies as “looking for a good book,” I can’t wait to delve into this list. If you feel the same, here’s an overview of the seven winning titles, as well as some notes the Oregon Book Awards judges shared when announcing the winners.

• The Ken Kesey Award for Fiction goes to The Great Offshore Grounds by Portland-based author Vanessa Veselka. The novel takes a classic cross-country road trip tale and turns it on its head, weaving in mythologies, complicated sibling dynamics, and a detour into the ocean. Judge Hilary Leichter writes that she was “riveted by every line, the humor of being alive, the pathos of this deeply American narrative, and the energy of the prose” while reading.

• Hood River’s Sierra Crane Murdoch picked up the Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction for her book Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country. Yellow Bird tells the story of a white oil worker who goes missing in North Dakota, and about the Native woman who searches for the truth about his disappearance. Judge Ingrid Rojas Contreras writes that the work “balances the true crime elements with a searing family saga, a character and a community seeking different redemptions.”

The Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction goes to Portland-based Nicholas Buccola, for his book The Fire Is upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America. The book looks at the historic 1965 debate between the revolutionary Baldwin and the conservative Buckley, and expands outward to explore race and power in the United States. “Buccola’s incisive and critical commentary enlivens these men and their ideas, as well as the implications of their positions, demonstrating all the ways this debate remains relevant still,” writes judge Adam Sowards.

• Anna Elkins of Rogue River won the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry for Hope of Stones, an imagined conversation between herself, a sixteenth-century Spanish nun, and an eighteenth-century French architect. Judge Tyree Daye calls Hope of Stones “an excellent example of time travel in a book.”

• The Angus Bowmer Award for Drama goes to You Cannot Undo This Action, a play from Conor Eifler of Portland. The play concerns teenagers and social media—material fraught for cliches, but as OBA judge Michelle Carter writes, “The teenagers of You Cannot Undo This Action are smart, hilarious, brave, fearful, wise, naive, and full of longing… Technology gives these characters’ personalities full expression.”

• For the Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature, Eugene’s Kathryn Ormsbee picked up the prize for The Sullivan Sisters, in which three estranged sisters are forced back together during a road trip to the Oregon coast. “At its center it’s a gripping mystery,” writes judge Cynthia Hand, “but It’s also a story about sisterhood and about learning how to truly support your family through thick and thin.”

• And finally, we’ve got the Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature. This one goes to Portland’s Jenn Reese for A Game of Fox and Squirrels, a middle-grade book about a girl’s recovery from a traumatic past, told through animal-based metaphors. Judge Eliot Schrefer writes that the book “never veers into preciousness or cleverness; instead it’s the perfect form to shed new light on the wonder and terror that live next-door in the mind of a child.”

Want to read some of these winning titles? You can find them all at Broadway Books. You can also check for a copy from Powell’s or another indie bookstore, or check one out from the Multnomah County Library.

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