Jensen Beach honored with Vermont Book Award

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Jensen Beach honored with Vermont Book Award

Jensen Beach

Jensen Beach

Jensen Beach

Jensen Beach

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Assistant Professor of Writing and Literature Jensen Beach was recently honored with the 2017 Vermont Book Award for his collection of short stories, “Swallowed by the Cold.”

While Beach says the recognition is gratifying, he is even happier to be considered a Vermont writer.

“It’s nice to feel like I’m completely embedded into the culture here and am [considered] a Vermont writer. It’s really pretty exciting,” he said.

Beach had no inkling that he would be receiving the award, noting that it was an honor just to be nominated alongside the other finalists.

“I would have been thrilled with anyone winning the award,” he said. “I had no sense that I was going to win. The books that were also nominated this year were phenomenal books. Liz Powell’s collection obviously is amazing, one of my favorite poetry collections from the last year. Alison Prine’s book ‘Steel’ was kind of heart breaking and amazing.”

Beach has even taught out of fellow finalist Robin McArthur’s book, “Half Wild,” in one of his fiction workshops last year.

According to Beach, one of the biggest influences on his work, including “Swallowed by the Cold,” was “Stories of Happy People” by Swedish author Lars Gustafsson.

“I read that book and I sat down and I was inspired by its tone, by its approach. Lars Gustafsson was a Swedish writer and a poet and so there’s kind of a sensibility to the sentences that made sense to me,” Beach said. “They were rooted in quiet, but at the same time somehow exciting in their poetry, and so I found that inspiring from the perspective of it being a Swedish writer . . . I remember reading that book, putting that book down and then immediately [starting] to write, and I wrote the first five or six pages in the book.”

Beach’s writing hinges upon putting his characters through situations in which they face suffering without relying on massive events that are beyond the characters’ control, and that’s what he feels is part of why his book is successful.

“I think the characters in ‘Swallowed by the Cold’ are often suffering as a result of their own choices and not necessarily because of some big external variable,” he said. “Though certainly there are things in the book like that. But I think most of the suffering generated in the book is the way in which characters are thinking and the choices that they’re making and the values that they hold and the situations that they act out of. And, to my thinking as a writer, that’s what generates good fiction . . . characters who operate in kind of unexpected and painful ways. I’ll say that the stuff I’m working on now, the stories and the novel that I’m working on, the characters are flawed in similar ways to this book. I don’t know how to write stories in which characters don’t suffer. I’m kind of a masochist in that way.”

As for the award itself, he plans to keep it in his office at Johnson just as soon as he remembers to bring it in with him.

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