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Village Books Literary Citizenship Award

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Awarded annually to coincide with the bookstore’s anniversary of its founding on June 20th, 1980.

Recipients of this award are of diverse backgrounds and professions, but each have demonstrated a commitment to engage with the literary community with the intent of giving as much, if not more so, than they receive. This can take many different forms such as giving back to the literary community in a meaningful way, making yourself available to other writers as time allows to provide your knowledge and expertise, championing other people's successes, and involving yourself in the local literary landscape of independent bookstores, libraries, and writing organizations.

On June 20, 2023, on the occasion of Village Books’ 43rd anniversary, Paul Hanson, Kelly Evert, and Sarah Hutton, co-owners and stewards of Village Books and Paper Dreams, announce the debut of this award. The first recipients of the Village Books Literary Citizenship Award are:

Joan Airoldi (1946-2022)

Joan served as Executive Director of the Whatcom County Library System (WCLS) from 2002-2013. In 2004, she took on the FBI by refusing to provide information to an agent regarding a Deming Library patron's use of a book on Osama bin Laden. A grand jury subpoena was issued to get the records, but when it became clear Airoldi and the WCLS board were prepared to challenge the subpoena in court, it was withdrawn. She will be remembered as a Library Champion on a multitude of counts: establishing the Whatcom READS program in collaboration with partners at Whatcom Community College, advocating for new libraries in Ferndale, North Fork, South Whatcom, Island and Point Roberts and encouraging all of us to “Be Curious” and to “Listen, Learn & Lead”.  Joan’s courage in defending patrons’ rights to privacy earned her national recognition with a PEN/Newman Award.  She generously donated the prize money to start the Whatcom County Library Foundation.

Laurel Leigh Erdoiza (1963-2023)

Professionally, Laurel was known as a writer, teacher, and editor whose 20 years of freelancing extends internationally. She was a script doctor, structural editor, and managed many publishing projects for Chronicle Books. She taught creative writing and memoir classes through the Chuckanut Writers Program, helped found the Chuckanut Writers Conference in 2004, and received the Bellingham Mayors Arts Award, and was published widely including the Pushcart-nominated essay “Nursey” (published in Clover, A Literary Rag in 2015). Those who knew Laurel personally have experienced firsthand both her talent and generosity of spirit. She walked hand-in-hand with collaboration and mentorship, helping countless writers hone their skills, find their voice, and bring their works out into the world. This included her hosting Village Books’ Open Mic for more than a decade, establishing and fostering the spirit of welcoming support that continues to this day. “It’s a good day to write.” ~ Laurel Leigh Erdoiza

Rena Priest

Rena is an enrolled member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. She served as the 6th Washington State Poet Laureate (2021-2023) and was named the 2022 Maxine Cushing Gray Distinguished Writing Fellow. Priest is also the recipient of an Allied Arts Foundation Professional Poets Award and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, Indigenous Nations Poets, Nia Tero, and the Vadon Foundation, and has taught at the Chuckanut Writers Conference. The thread that runs through all of Rena’s accomplishments and accolades is how she builds and connects community.  “I think that there’s a way that poetry connects people. It’s very special– it’s like a soul connection, but it’s not invasive in any way,” she says. “The way that it works is subtle. It’s gentle, but it’s deep and profound.” For the book, I Sing the Salmon Home, Rena gathered poems from over 150 Washington poets ranging from first graders to tribal elders, all inspired by the Northwest’s beloved, iconic salmon. A diverse chorus of voices, they join together in poems that praise salmon’s heroic journey, beauty, courage, and generosity and witness the threats salmon face from pollution, dams and warming oceans.

“Our literary world is a social ecosystem that relies on others: readers, writers, editors, reviewers, publishers, booksellers, and so on. The writing and publishing world is one made of relationships. Writing itself may be a somewhat solitary activity, but once the story or poem is ‘done’ we rely on others to read, share, and publish our work. Yet there are so many levels of participation from others in this community.”
~ Lori May, author of The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship & The Writing Life

Village Books celebrates and thanks these three talented and dedicated community builders, community mentors, and community defenders. They have each demonstrated, in their own unique way, the virtues that embody a Good Literary Citizen. For this, we award $1000 to each of them and hereby induct them into the Village Books Literary Citizen Hall of Fame which will be on permanent display in Village Books, Fairhaven. The awards ceremony will take place on October 18th! More details to follow.