State book award finalists include four Whatcom authors - Salish Current
September 5, 2023
State book award finalists include four Whatcom authors
Dean Kahn

Finalists from Whatcom County nominated for state book awards include authors of  a book of poetry, two nonfiction books and an illustrated book for young people. (Courtesy image)

September 5, 2023
State book award finalists include four Whatcom authors
Dean Kahn


Not surprisingly, Seattle writers accounted for half of the 30 nominees for the 2023 Washington State Book Awards — but Bellingham placed second with four selections. Bellingham writers in the running for top honors are: 

Rena Priest for “Northwest Know-How: Beaches,” and Clyde W. Ford for “Of Blood and Sweat: Black Lives and the Making of White Power and Wealth,” both in the general nonfiction/biography category; Caitlin Scarano for “The Necessity of Wildfire,” in the poetry category; and Tom Crestodina for “Working Boats: An Inside Look at Ten Amazing Watercraft,” in the category of picture books for youths. 

Here’s a closer look at the nominees: 

‘Northwest Know-How: Beaches’

A member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, Rena Priest served as Washington’s sixth State Poet Laureate, from 2021 to 2023. Her debut collection, “Patriarchy Blues,” received an American Book Award, and her second collection, “Sublime Subliminal,” was published as the finalist for the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. 

Her latest work, “Northwest Know-How: Beaches,” features poems, retellings of legends and fun descriptions of 29 of the most beloved beaches in the Pacific Northwest. 

“ ‘Northwest Know-How: Beaches’, illustrated beautifully by Jake Stoumbos, is an inviting little book,” said Bellingham poet Rachel Mehl, a longtime committee member of the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest, a community competition. “As an Indigenous poet, Priest generously shares both her childhood experiences on beaches growing up on the reservation, and her own poetry. She also gives the inside scoop on the best beaches with descriptions and tidbits.” 

‘Of Blood and Sweat: Black Lives and the Making of White Power and Wealth’

Clyde W. Ford is line for a repeat win if “Of Blood and Sweat” wins his category. An earlier work, “Think Black,” won a 2021 Washington State Book Award. A native of New York City, Ford is the author of 13 works of fiction and nonfiction. He’s also a psychotherapist and a speaker for Humanities Washington, where he presents a program entitled “Let’s Talk About Race” around the state. 

In “Of Blood and Sweat,” Ford explores the role Black men and women have played in creating American institutions in agriculture, politics, jurisprudence, law enforcement, culture, medicine and many other fields, while not being allowed to fully participate or share in the rewards. 

“The book traces the indelible stain that slavery left and describes the impact it has had on current race relations and racism in America,” said Chuck Robinson of Lynden, former co-owner of Village Books and a community advisor to Salish Current. “Ford writes with a clarity that leaves little doubt that this dark period of history was the foundation of the racial injustice that exists today, and makes a compelling argument for reparations.” (Read more: “Review: ‘Of Blood and Sweat’ traces role of Black labor in building white wealth and power,” Salish Current, April 12, 2022)

‘The Necessity of Wildfire’

Caitlin Scarano, a native of Virginia active in environmental protection efforts, holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a master’s degree from Bowling Green State University, in Ohio. Her debut collection of poems, “Do Not Bring Him Water,” was released in 2017. 

“The Necessity of Wildfire,” her second full-length collection of poems, won the Wren Poetry Prize and also won a 2023 Pacific Northwest Book Award from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. 

“Caitlin Scarano’s poetry in ‘The Necessity of Wildfire’ is profoundly moving,” said Whatcom County writer Leslie Wharton, who, along with Scarano, judged this year’s Sue Boynton Poetry Contest. “The collection has recurring themes: deer; fear; bees; fire; family past, current and future; humans as animals, tender prey and unpredictable predators. I read these poems as a stark, honest depiction of women’s exploration of love and place in an uncertain world.”

‘Working Boats: An Inside Look at Ten Amazing Watercraft’

Tom Crestidona developed an interest in drawing while growing up in Chicago. He eventually landed in Seattle, where he became fascinated with boats and earned a degree in maritime engineering. That led to a career fishing in Alaska. When he became a father, he drew a cutaway image of his salmon seiner so his son would have a visual connection to his away-from-home work. His drawings are meticulous and eye-grabbing; think of Richard Scarry books for kids, powered by Red Bull. 

His drawings coalesced into “Working Boats: An Inside Look at Ten Amazing Watercraft,” with fascinating, detailed cutaways of various Alaskan vessels, from seiners, king crabbers and halibut schooners, to fireboats, Coast Guard cutters and double-ended ferries. 

My son, who works as a cook aboard a seiner during the summer, brought home a copy of Crestodina’s book for my three grandchildren. Ages 5, 3 and 4 months, they’re a touch young to fully dive into the book, but it won’t be long before it grabs them. In the meantime, I’m enjoying it, and learning a lot. 

Finalists in seven categories were chosen by the Washington Center for the Book for outstanding books published by Washington authors in 2022. Nominees were announced Sept. 5; winners will be announced Sept. 26. 

Washington Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book, is administered by Washington State Library. This year’s judges, who included Valerie McBeth, a librarian at Northwest Indian College, read and evaluated 242 entries. 

— Contributed by Dean Kahn

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