Sharon Shaloo is putting literature on the map – literally. This executive director for the Mass Center for the Book has been working on creating a literary map of Massachusetts, among her many other projects.
Every year Mass Book presents the Mass. Book Awards that honors writers in the Commonwealth and beyond. A resident of Arlington and member of the town’s Tourism and Economic Development Committee, Shaloo has worked on a literary map of the state, which includes landmarks from every city and town in the commonwealth.
Shaloo grew up in New Jersey and earned her undergraduate degree from Rutgers University. She has lived in Indiana, New York City and participated in a teaching exchange in London. When her husband’s career path brought her to the Bay State, she originally moved to Boston, but later chose to settle in Arlington.
Doug Holder: First off, I hear that your funding is at stake presently.
Sharon Shaloo: Yes. The Massachusetts Center for the Book was established in 2000. For the first twelve to fourteen years of our operation our funding was coming through the budget lines in the state budget. Currently we are funded in the house budget, but not in the senate. So, as we speak we are waiting to hear about our future from the Budget Conference Committee. So if you like what we are doing contact your state rep, or state senator and ask them to vote for the 7,9508 line of funds.
DH: There are many book awards, etc. Why do you feel the Mass. Book Award is necessary?
SS: First let me explain about the Mass. Book Award. We were formed by a consortium of libraries, educators, and humanities institutions back in 2000. The Center for the Book is in every state. So we are affiliated with The Center for the Book and the Library of Congress. We develop programs in the state that in partnership with libraries and other organizations promote literature. That’s what the Book Awards were meant to do to – to put librarians in collaboration with booksellers, critics, reviewers in order to promote the best that is written in and about Massachusetts for the past year. We are by far the largest state book award in the country. Our award-winning books are placed at the State Library/Special Collection at the Mass. State House. A hundred years from now people will be looking at these books.
DH: What are the categories of the award?
SS: Poetry, non-fiction, fiction, and children and young adult literature.
DH: Who were the winners at the last award ceremony?
SS: Fiction: Celeste Ng, Non-Fiction: Elizabeth Kolbert, Poetry: January O’Neil, Young Adult/ Children: Katherine Howe/ Peter and Paul Reynolds.
DH: Who were the judges you had in the past?
SS: We’ve had Ifeanyi Menkiti, Nick Flynn, Lloyd Schwartz and, many others. We get a distinguished group of writers and academics each year. Each year I am amazed what they find and I am very proud.
DH: What do you think is the future of the physical book?
SS: I love the physical book. I hope it will stick around. I started my career in publishing in New York City. This was when hot type was going the way of the dinosaur. I talked to compositors and they told me how much they missed their craft. Great paper lasts and we need to ensure that our digital preservation is just as good
DH: I know you love the work of Edith Wharton, and you were on the board of the Edith Wharton Society.
SS: It goes back a long way. I am a lapsed academic. I studied turn of the century American literature. I found that Wharton’s turn of the century writing touched on the same things as the writing that was coming out in 2000. Wharton was a strong woman, and in New York I worked for the literary agent Helen Brann. She was the first woman to establish an independent literary agency in New York. So I found Wharton’s work very germane to what I admired and thought about.
DH: You have been involved in creating a literary map of the state.
SS: Yes. So far we have included over 300 sites. This is a site-based map not an author based. We are looking to cut literary trails, with an emphasis on writing and social justice.
* Since this article was written funding has been restored for the Mass. Center for the Book.