Judge’s Comments for Creative Nonfiction

Barbara Sjoholm was the judge this year for the Sarah Winnemucca Award in Creative Nonfiction. Her comments on this year’s finalists:

THE BRIDES OF MARCH by Beren deMoitier: “Beren deMoitier manages to create a spirited romp out of a contentious and often painful civil rights issue in present-day Oregon. Veering from laughter to despair and at times a breathless “you-are-there” intensity, The Brides of March takes the reader back to the brief window of time, in March of 2004, when same-sex marriage was legal and couples rushed to the courthouse and the altar to take advantage of the law. A mother of three, Beren deMoitier and her partner of twenty years took their vows with a bevy of other brides (and grooms), only to find themselves the subject of public debate when the law was rescinded and their marriage declared invalid. Both poignant and hilarious, The Brides of March goes to the heart of a basic injustice in our society and should be required reading for those who want to deny the benefits of marriage to gay couples.”

SOBER TRUTHS by Jill Kelly: “Forget James Frey. Jill Kelly’s memoir of alcohol addiction and recovery is more believable and, arguably, better written. She doesn’t wallow in self-pity, but gives a vivid and honest account of what it means to give up drinking and find the way to a new life. Much of Kelly’s memoir centers on what ordinary life is like after the treatment center and will be valuable reading for anyone looking to deal with on-going recovery issues that present themselves in terms of anxiety, loneliness, and self-doubt. Kelly, being modest, would not present herself as a heroine, but her eventual success in learning to deal with her demons and discovering editing as a job and painting for fun is inspiring indeed. Her colorful self-portrait is on the cover of this book; testament to a resurgent creative spirit.”

DANCING WITH ROSE by Lauren Kessler: “Mention Alzheimer’s Disease and you’ll either hear a sad, even frightening family story or a joke, both of which go to the heart of our fears about losing our memory and thus our precious selfhood. What Lauren Kessler’s book of reportage and memoir accomplishes is to make us see that Alzheimer’s, like life itself, isn’t so easily pinned down. There are as many ways to lose your memory as there are individuals, and in fact losing your memory doesn’t exactly mean losing your identity. Taking a job as an aide in a nursing facility devoted to Alzheimer’s patients, Kessler gets to know and care about a wide variety of often elderly people who are cranky and delightful, both lost in time and very present in a series of nows. This is one of those books that will stay with me a long time and that I’ll be recommending highly to just about everyone I know.”

MOUNTAIN RESCUE DOCTOR by Christopher van Tilburg: “As someone who doesn’t much like heights or extreme sports I had to gulp and skip over a few paragraphs of this book, but most of the time I was riveted by van Tilburg’s tales of emergency medicine in the Hood River and Mount Hood areas. Dr. van Tilburg belongs to a group of highly skilled doctors who form rescue teams to help injured hikers and climbers to safety. The author has an eye for the beauty and the peril of the mountains and gorges of Oregon and strong sympathy for his patients, even when they’ve made unsound decisions. His story of the climbers who have died on Mount Hood in single or group tragedies is sobering, but his other tales of missteps and happy rescue endings make for high-octane reading.”

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