The Arts Club of Washington is proud to announce that Scott Reynolds Nelson, author of Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend, has won the inaugural National Award for Arts Writing. The Award of $15,000, the only one of its kind the country, is given annually in recognition of excellence in writing about the arts for a broad audience.
The distinguished judges for the 2006 Award were novelist and NPR book critic Alan Cheuse, former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, and novelist Joyce Carol Oates. The judges’ decision was announced at an April 19 reception and the winning author will give a public reading, with live music, at the Club on Tuesday, May 22 at 7:00 pm. Admission to the public reading is free.
The National Award in Arts Writing is given annually by the Arts Club of Washington in recognition of excellence in writing about the arts for a broad audience. The substantial Award of $15,000 was established by long-time Arts Club member Jeannie S. Marfield in honor of Florence Berryman and Helen Wharton.
Describing Nelson as “a master storyteller,” the judges call the book, “engaging and utterly charming.” “Too much writing about the arts is academic or filled with jargon,” says Sarah Browning, coordinator of the prize. “But we believe the arts are for everyone. We want to recognize writing that creates a strong connection with arts and artists.” The Award celebrates prose that is “lucid, luminous, clear, and inspiring.”
Committee members selected three finalists from an extensive list of books published in 2006. The other two finalists were Julie Phillips for James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography), and Ross King for Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism (winner of the 2006 Governor General’s Literary Award of Canada). The winning book has also received a 2007 Merle Curti Prize from the Organization of American Historians. Nelson is an Associate Professor of History at The College of William & Mary. Steel Drivin' Man is notable for its ability to bring a classic figure of American folk music vividly to life.
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