County Fare: Williamstown authors earn state book awards


Two Williamstown writers have earned 2016 Massachusetts Book Awards, presented by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.

Ali Benjamin won the top prize in the Young Adult/Middle Readers category for her debut novel, "The Thing About Jellyfish" (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 2015) and Lawrence Raab received 2016 Honors for his poetry collection "Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts" (Tupelo Press Inc., September 2015).

The center will be promoting these and other winning titles of at this weekend's Boston Book Festival. Recognizing significant works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children's/young adult literature published by commonwealth residents or about Massachusetts subjects, the 16th annual awards program is nationally regarded as one of the most select state programs.

"We received hundreds of submissions from authors, agents, editors and publishers," said Sharon Shaloo, the center's executive director. "The quantity and quality of the books is truly notable. Reflective of our robust literary culture, the 'MassBooks' underscore the unique characteristics of a commonwealth that can boast a strong and accomplished community of writers, illustrators and scholars."

Benjamin has earned numerous awards and distinctions for "The Thing About Jellyfish," including being a finalist for a National Book Award. The story follows seventh-grade narrator Suzy Swanson as she comes to grips with the death of her childhood friend. Booklist calls it "An uncommonly fine first novel," and the New York Times Book Review says, "There are ... a lot of children who might not only benefit from this book but also find themselves deeply moved by it."

Tony Hoagland, author of "Twenty Poems That Could Save America," said that Raab's latest work is "A tender, lonely, deeply intelligent tour of that distinctive country of the soul." "Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts" was also a National Book Award finalist.

Beyond the Berkshires, the 2016 Fiction award-winner is Paul Tremblay's "A Head Full of Ghosts," and the Nonfiction winner is "Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter," by Kate Clifford Larson. "Immortality," by Alan Feldman, won the 2016 Poetry Award and "Ketzel, the Cat who Composed," by Leslea Newman, received the top Picture Book Award.

Winners and honorees will be celebrated at a public Statehouse ceremony and reception on Dec. 6. For information about the event, contact To see a full list of this year's winners and finalists, visit,

Winning in physics

The Nobel Prize in Physics may have gone to three university-based laureates, but two locally based physics professors from Williams College have earned some notable distinctions for their work and contributions to the field.

On Sept. 28, the American Association of Physics Teachers announced today that Jay M. Pasachoff has been selected to receive the 2017 Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award. Pasachoff is an astronomer and is Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College and has authored textbooks and tradebooks in astronomy, physics, mathematics and other sciences.

On Tuesday, Williams College announced that professor of physics and director of the Williams Science Center Protik "Tiku" Majumder, has been awarded the 2017 American Physical Society Prize for a Faculty Member for Research at an Undergraduate Institution.

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Pasachoff's work is focused in the field of astronomy, while Majumder's research involves atomic structure and measurement.

The Richtmyer Award recognizes Pasachoff for his "outstanding contributions to physics and effectively communicating those contributions to physics educators."

The award will be presented at a ceremonial session of the AAPT Winter Meeting in Atlanta. In connection with the award, Pasachoff will deliver a talk titled "Observing the Great American Eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017." Pasachoff is a veteran of 63 solar eclipses. The 2017 eclipse will be the first time in 99 years that the 70-mile-wide path of totality crosses the United States from coast to coast.

Williams College, for the observations to be headed by Pasachoff in 2017, received earlier this year a $252,000 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation's Solar Terrestrial Program of the Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Division. The grant is to support Pasachoff, colleagues from around the United States and from some foreign countries, and Williams College students to prepare for and to observe the total eclipse, and then to study the resulting data and write it up for scientific colleagues and for the public.

Pasachoff had earlier received a $25,000 grant for part of the expedition from the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society. The Williams College team will be based in Salem, Ore., near the location where the cloudiness statistics based on 20 years of satellite imaging are most favorable.

The American Physical Society is recognizing Majumder for the contributions of his research and for his "sustained, inspirational mentorship of undergraduate researchers."

In his laboratory, Majumder and his students pursue precise measurements of atomic structure in Group IIIA atoms. Majumder's lab has produced two student winners of the APS' LeRoy Apker Award, for undergraduate research in physics.

David Tucker-Smith, professor and chairman of the physics department said, "On top of being an accomplished experimental atomic physicist, highly regarded in his field, Tiku continues to be an outstanding mentor of research students. His record of impacting the many Williams students who have worked with him in significant and long-lasting ways really is remarkable."

Majumder is the third Williams physics professor to win the prize, which comes with a $5,000 award for the recipient and $5,000 for the recipient's institution. Stuart Crampton, Barclay Jermain Professor of Natural Philosophy, emeritus, received the award in 1989, and Barclay Jermain Professor of Natural Philosophy Professor William Wootters received it in 2007.

Majumder has been teaching at Williams since 1994, and has been the Science Center director for the past six years.

"We've puzzled through experimental challenges together, charted our way from experimental design to data analysis, attended conferences, and co-authored papers together," he said. "It's been particularly rewarding to work with students so closely here, and then continue to connect with many who are now grad students, postdocs and career scientists around the country."

County Fare, a weekly column featuring "tales from throughout the Berkshires," is compiled by Eagle staffers.


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