Vermont bookstore finds its ‘New Voices’ echo nationally

Bill Reed Lynne Reed

Bill and Lynne Reed, owners of Misty Valley Books in Chester, browse some of the books spotlighted over the two decades of their store’s “New Voices” public literary program, set to take place again Saturday. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

CHESTER — Bill Reed picked up The New York Times’ Book Review one recent Sunday to see the cover story — a preview by acclaimed writer Claire Messud of Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s new novel — and, inside, “Wicked” creator Gregory Maguire’s take on Bard Fiction Prize recipient Samantha Hunt’s latest title.

Reed smiled, and not just because Chester’s Misty Valley Books — which he and his wife, Lynne, own and operate — suddenly had a couple more notable hardcovers to stock. He also was remembering that all four of those authors mentioned above were onetime up-and-comers who read and signed their early work at his small-town business.

“For a little bookstore,” he says, “that’s something.”

Perhaps the shop can’t take full credit for discovering all of the 100 aspiring scribes it has showcased in the past two decades at its annual “New Voices” public literary program. But as the small independent store prepares for another day of debuts Saturday, it can boast of creating an event that has helped spark dozens of success stories.

Misty Valley, a local staple since 1987, launched “New Voices” in 1995, when Dennis Lehane shared his introductory novel, “A Drink Before the War” — the precursor to such best-sellers as “Mystic River,” which Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood would go on to film.

Maguire came in 1996 with “Wicked,” not knowing the title would spawn a hit Broadway musical.

McCann arrived the same year with “Songdogs,” a novel that would lead to his National Book Award-winning “Let the Great World Spin” in 2009 and “TransAtlantic” in 2013.

Arthur Golden appeared in 1998 when his “Memoirs of a Geisha” had yet to sell more than 4 million copies in English before translation into 32 other languages.

Novelist Jennifer Egan and nonfiction writer Tom Reiss visited before each won Pulitzer Prizes, while Dr. Eben Alexander came before his 2012 “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife” topped The New York Times’ best-seller list.

The Reeds, the store’s owners since 2001, find authors through participation in the New England Independent Booksellers Association and an annual trip to the national BookExpo America trade show.

“Publishers know us now,” Lynne Reed says.

This year’s five “New Voices” authors aren’t household names — yet.

John Bragg, a New Hampshire mountaineer, found himself captivated by South America’s Patagonia region upon his first expedition there in 1974. After writing several articles for such publications as National Geographic, he decided to use the setting for his new self-published murder mystery, “The Broom of God.”

Ron Childress, a former New England boatyard worker turned Washington, D.C., communications manager and tech marketer, submitted his manuscript “And West Is West” to a PEN American Center contest — only to see it win the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and a publishing contract with Algonquin Books.

C.W. Huntington Jr., a professor at New York’s Hartwick College, was known for translating and interpreting classical Sanskrit and Tibetan texts before he wrote “Maya,” described by Wisdom Publications as “a Buddhist novel of self-discovery” and “a stunning debut on sex, loss, and redemption.”

Ed Tarkington, a Nashville writer, had published articles, essays and stories in regional publications before Algonquin Books released his “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” described by the publisher as “a small-town American Gothic story of family fealty, scandal, and murder.”

And Jennifer Tseng, the Jack Kerouac writer in residence at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, won several national poetry prizes before she began her debut novel, “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness,” about a librarian’s affair with a younger man.

The public is invited to Saturday’s event at 2 p.m. at Chester’s historic old stone First Universalist Parish at 211 North St., with $10 tickets available in advance at the store. People also can join the authors for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at Grafton Ponds that morning (the trail network has a fee) and drinks and dinner at the Fullerton Inn that night (the full-course meal is prix fixe). More information is at www.mvbooks.com.

This year’s event — the 22nd annual — is bittersweet for the Reeds, who are working to sell the business and retire. Attending a recent New England Independent Booksellers Association meeting, Bill Reed pinned a sign to his back: “Bookstore for sale, inquire other side.”

“Ideally we’d like the store to continue being a strong and vibrant part of the community,” he says. “We keep hearing from former New Voices that the weekend was a significant moment in their early careers and that the other authors they met here have become and remained close friends. It’s an institution that deserves to continue.”

Kevin O'Connor

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Liisa Kissel
10 months 12 days ago

Misty Valley’s “New Voices” is the winter highlight for book lovers in Southern Vermont. Over the years I have enjoyed hearing talented authors read in their own voice and answer questions in an intimate setting. Over dinner, with a glass of wine and a few good laughs, the authors have revealed themselves as authentic and approachable human beings. Lynne and Bill, thank you for this gift to the community.

10 months 12 days ago

Nice article about Misty Valley, but I wish they had mentioned Michael Kohlmann and Dwight Currie, the previous owners, who initiated the “New Voices” program.

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