This year, for the first time, ASWM offered a book award for best scholarly nonfiction, named for Sarasvati, Hindu goddess of creativity and the arts. The five-person panel of judges included Mary Jo Neitz, Wendy Griffin, Chandra Alexandre, and ASWM board members Sid Reger and Denise Saint-Arnault.
The nonfiction winner was “Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Female Figures of Eurasia” by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor Mair (Cambria Press). Dexter was also one of the keynote speakers at this year’s conference, and was present to accept the award on behalf of the publisher.
The judging panel evaluated each entry in terms of how much it added to the field of goddess studies, how well researched the book was, and how eloquently expressed the findings were. In all categories, “Sacred Display” was commended by the judging panel. The book analyzes cross-cultural images of female “display figures,” such as Sheela-na-Gigs and frog goddesses. The authors argue that the apparently “sexual” display of these figures in fact reflect an ancient and widespread belief in the power of the female body to create fertility, magic, and sovereignty.
In making their decision, the judges cites the “absolute treasury of new translations that adds significantly to the field,” as well as “an innovative combination of textual and visual analysis in which each illuminated the other.” The subject, one that has not previously been studied in such depth, was described as “a provocative one,” for nude female figures are often described as pornographic or otherwise not evocative of women’s empowerment. “By placing these figures at the center of their study, the authors challenged the presumption that nakedness equals powerlessness when the nude person is female,” according to the judges.
Posted in Awards, Conferences and Symposia
Tagged best scholarly nonfiction, book award, Cambria Press, female figures, Miriam Robbins Dexter, prehistoric art, Sacred Display, Sarasvati award, Sheela-na-Gig, Victor Mair
This year, for the first time, ASWM offered book awards in three categories: nonfiction, fiction and poetry. The award series is named for Sarasvati, Hindu goddess of the arts and creativity. Judges for the fiction and poetry awards were bookstore owner Barbara Criswell of Aquarius Books in Kansas City, and ASWM board members Patricia Monaghan and Maureen Aakre Ross.
Winner of the fiction award was Elizabeth Cunningham for “Red-Robed Priestess” (Monkfish Press), the final volume of a four-part series. In making their decision, the judges praised the book’s strong female figures, especially the leading character, Maeve, who was described as “embodying the passions and challenges of any woman’s life.” They also praised the author’s inventive yet respectful use of various mythologies and religious traditions, including Celtic and Christian. “Although this award is for a single book,” the judges added in their commendation, “this award also recognizes the three volumes of the Maeve series that have gone before and have served as mileposts in the literature of women’s spirituality.”
Winner of the poetry award was Annie Finch for “Among the Goddesses” (Red Hen Press). In making their decision, the judges praised the poet’s penetrating connection of mythic figures with contemporary women’s issues as well as the bold centralizing of the conflicted issue of abortion at the book’s center.
The crafted narrative that links the individual poems was also singled out for praise by judges who noted that “the American reading public is less comfortable with non-narrative forms, so providing a strong story that draws the reader through the book was a decision that opened this intensely-crafted work to more readers.” Yet the individual poems themselves were also praised as “high-caliber and high-octane poems in diverse voices” as well as “breaking away from the overwhelmingly self-centering personal voice that limits much contemporary poetry, while retaining the immediacy of dialogue.” A final unique quality praised by the judges was the potential of the work for public performance, which opens the work to larger audiences as well as to collaboration with artists in other media.
Posted in Awards, Conferences and Symposia
Tagged among the goddesses, Annie Finch, book awards, Celtic mythology, Elizabeth Cunningham, fiction, Maeve chronicles, poetry, Red-robed Priestess, Sarasvati award