Year In Review: Martha’s Vineyard books of 2014

And Some Thoughts About Our Literary Future.

Ed Hoagland, 82, has two books coming out this year. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The Island’s 2014 literary life was chock-a-block with fledgling authors, fresh growth in our writing hothouses, and several new opportunities for our band of Island word carpenters to display their work.

In fact, bookish goings-on for the past few years prompted me to think that the Island has an opportunity to create a new literary season during the period currently known as winter — for five reasons.

We have street cred, which is the basis of all brands. Several generations of best-quality, nationally-known writers: the Styrons, Mike Wallace, Art Buchwald, David G. McCullough, Ward Just, John Hough, Geraldine Brooks, Tony Horwitz, Rick Patterson, Ed Hoagland, Linda Fairstein, and on and on.

We have creative hothouses, including the laudable Pathways Projects Institutes, brainchild of Marianne Goldberg, which provides support, a performance venue, and an audience for Island writers.

We have teachers and places for manufacturing good writing, including mentors John Hough and Nancy Aronie, Justen Ahren’s Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency, Cynthia Riggs-Attebery’s long-running Cleaveland House group, and a host of other writing and poetry groups.

We have a market with strong demand. No one, with the possible exception of Peter Oberfest, was more amazed than I by the turnout at the Islanders Read conference on a muggy August day at the old Grange Hall. Hundreds and hundreds of people showed up with serious writing intentions.

We have a successful on-Island publishing house. More on that below.

The pieces are in place.

The 2014 reads I enjoyed most include some first efforts that pleasantly surprised me, a couple of books by established writers, and several from folks who are making a second career in writing. As always, the books discussed here include offerings written by Island-connected writers that I read this year.

I made up the award titles, but we couldn’t actually have an awards ceremony. It would be a good fundraiser and a helluva good evening, though.

First novels by Jib Ellis (Bandstand, The Search for the Oak Island Gold) and Thea Marsh (Shores of the Heart) led that category. They were good reads with some literary sizzle and future promise. The Mystery Of The Cliff House, a young adult book by Jay Henry Kaufman belongs in the group as well.

Frank Partel Jr. gets the Most Improved Writer award for Down in Laos, a history-based novel of the war in Vietnam. Mr. Partel’s third Vietnam naval novel freed itself from past bondage of incomprehensible U.S. Navy acronyms and set free a wonderful story.

The Out of Her Comfort Zone award goes to Cynthia Riggs-Attebery for Murder on C-Dock, a radical departure from her successful string of nonagenarian Victoria Trumbull sleuthers.

BOOM! by Tony Horwitz gets the Most Infuriatingly Underappreciated Book award. Mr. Horwitz spent six months traveling the 1,200 miles of the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas recording the development of a shale oil project whose pipeline, if approved, will pass through, not under, the aquifer of some of this country’s most fertile farmland.

Media Watch reports that the project is one of the most under-reported business and environmental stories of the year, yet the facts are there in BOOM!, currently an e-book, since Mr. Horwitz’s online publisher went belly-up before launching the book. Read it.

The late painter Ray Ellis was the subject of two important Island books this year with assists from C.K. Wolfson and Derbyman Ed Jerome. Painting A Life: Ray Ellis: An Artist Seen Through His Work by C.K. Wolfson is a biography of an important and well-loved artist who served his community literally until his dying day.

An Amazing Story of the Vineyard’s Derby: 25 years of Paintings, History and Fishing by Ed Jerome and Ray Ellis, Introduction by C.K. Wolfson, is the second Ray Ellis book. The book includes all of his Derby prints and the back story of their genesis. Sales of Mr. Ellis’s Derby prints are the backbone of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of scholarships and help to Islanders over the decades. A book to own.

I like John Hough Jr. for the Wish I Wrote That Book award for Little Big Horn, which made Custer, the event, and the period come to life for me. Mr. Hough combines a journalist’s nose with a literary skill to put you in that period and place.

The Personal Courage Award goes to Some Kind of Lucky: a 50-year love affair with Martha’s Vineyard by Joan Cowen Bowman, photos by Alison Shaw. Ms. Bowman offers an unflinching look at her life that will resonate with all readers, particularly those of us approaching the summing-up phase of our lives.

There were other 2014 books of note, thanks to writers like Rick Herrick and Chris Knowles who let us know the trove of ideas, knowledge, and talent available to us here.

Sadly, we learned this year that Jan Pogue, co-creator of the Vineyard Stories, our successful on-Island publishing house, will begin a two-year process of winding down the company she and John Walter, her late husband, brought to life — to our everlasting gratitude and delight.

Ms. Pogue’s life here is a terrific story of spiritual journey. We’ll tell it another time. Suffice to say now that dozens of Island stories would not have been told, certainly with far less beauty and elegance, had Vineyard Stories not been here to tell them.