1989 Literary Award

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book coverThe Book of Ruth
by Jane Hamilton
Ticknor & Fields, 1988

Jane Hamilton's novel The Book of Ruth is the sad tale of Ruth Grey and her life on a small farmstead near Honey Creek, Illinois. It is a life without fulfillment, a life poisoned by the self-realization that she cannot escape the environment or family that fate has given her. May, Ruth's mother, is cruel and domineering. Ruth's smarter brother, Matt, leaves the farmstead as soon as he graduates from high school and rarely returns. Ruth's loser husband, Ruby, does nothing but bring great tragedy into her life. Aunt Sid, who corresponds with Ruth, is the one person who sees goodness and potential in Ruth. Using these characters, Jane Hamilton recounts Ruth's dismal life in a household filled with anger and hopelessness, her constant struggle to equal her more intelligent brother Matt, her doomed marriage to Ruby and the birth of their child. Ruth's tale is one of anger, self-realized despair and violence. Although the story is a chronicle of a life of despair, the story's end brings with it a renewal of life and the possibility of a different, more fulfilling life for Ruth. "Sometimes I am going to try my wings, see if they're strong enough." Ruth concludes, "In my bones I'm so scared, but the mystery is still in my heart -- that's where I have the gumption."

The Literary Awards Committee realizes that this is a very vivid book in its understanding of human nature. While it may be an unpleasant reading experience for some, the story is told with humor, a keen writing style and great compassion for the human character.

Jane Hamilton

Jane Hamilton's background is quite different but not so distant from the farmstead featured in The Book of Ruth. Hamilton grew up in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. In high school she wrote poetry and began to take her writing craft very seriously. After high school she attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Here she continued to develop as an author. At Carleton she was the winner of the Class of 1885 Prose writing contest in 1977 and 1979. In 1983, four years after college graduation, she had her first short story, "My Own Earth," published in Harper's Magazine. In December 1983 Harper's Magazine published her short story "Aunt Marj's Happy Ending" which was later cited as a Distinguished Short Story of 1984 and recognized in The Best American Short Stories, 1984.The Book of Ruth soon followed in 1988. It was recently awarded the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Great Lakes College Association new Writers Award. Since the publication of The Book of Ruth Jane Hamilton has published an essay "Peril" in the 16 March 1988 New York Times and "Survival Games," a short story in the Milwaukee Magazine, July, 1989. Her most recent short story "When I began to understand Quantum Mechanics" appeared in the August, 1989 Harper's Magazine.

She met her husband, Bob Williard on a visit to the Ela Apple Orchard near Rochester, Wisconsin in 1979. They were married on the orchard grounds in 1982. Since then they have managed the orchard and also raise sheep and goats. They are a regular exhibitor at the Madison farmer's market.