US National Book Awards’ Literarian Award: The Late Carolyn Reidy

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Recognized not only as an industry leader but also as an advocate for ‘authors and readers everywhere,’ Carolyn Reidy will be the first to receive the Literarian Award posthumously.

Photo of Carolyn Reidy. Image credit Simon & Schuster, provided by National Book Foundation

Carolyn Reidy. Image: Simon & Schuster, provided by National Book Foundation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Steinberger: ‘The Board Was Unanimous’
With its digital award ceremony set for November 18, the National Book Foundation announced Tuesday (September 8) that Carolyn Reidy will be named the posthumous winner of the 2020 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

Reidy, who had led Simon & Schuster as a pioneering woman president and CEO among the Big Five publishers, died on May 12 at age 71 reportedly of a heart attack, as Publishing Perspectives readers will recall. In July, Simon & Schuster established the Carolyn Kroll Reidy Memorial Scholarship to run for five years and produce 20 scholarships in publishing.

Reidy’s husband Stephen is to accept the award in November. He’ll be donating the US$10,000 cash prize that comes with the Literarian Prize to Worldreader, which was his wife’s favorite charity. Worldreader, as you’ll recall, distributes a digital library and educational programming in East, West, and North Africa, as well as in Latin America and the Middle East.

In commenting on the announcement, National Book Foundation board chair David Steinberger is quoted, saying, “On top of her responsibilities at Simon & Schuster, Carolyn Reidy served on our board and as the chair of the foundation’s program committee.

David Steinberger

“In her almost two decades of generous service, she instilled energy, creativity, and insight into all of the National Book Foundation’s programming. Though the National Book Foundation has not presented the Literarian Award posthumously before, the foundation’s board was unanimous that we should recognize Carolyn and her legacy of service to literature.”

The foundation executive director Lisa Lucas says, “Carolyn Reidy was a singular force in the world of books, and we’re forever grateful for her passion and advocacy not just for the foundation, but also for authors and readers everywhere.

Lisa Lucas

“It was an honor to work alongside her and see firsthand how she always brought her keen vision, business acumen, and relentless compassion to everything she did; it is with great pride that we recognize her innumerable contributions in service to literature and her undeniable impact on the literary community at large.”

One of Reidy’s authors, Isabel Allende, was given the National Book Awards’ Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1918, and during Reidy’s leadership at Simon & Schuster, the awards also honored S&S authors including Anthony Doerr, Walter Isaacson, Stephen King, David McCullough, Annie Proulx, Jason Reynolds, Neal Shusterman, and Jesmyn Ward.

Prior to her work with Simon & Schuster, Reidy was president and publisher of Avon Books, after having worked at William Morrow and Random House, where she was publisher of Vintage Books and associate publisher of the Random House imprint.

In 2017, Reidy was named Person of the Year by Publishers Weekly. In 2007, Reidy was named one of The 50 Women to Watch by the Wall Street Journal, and she was also is a recipient of the Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications. She graduated from Middlebury College, and obtained a master’s degree. and PhD in English from Indiana University, from which in 2011 she received the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

The Literarian Award

Not to be confused in an election year with the word libertarian, the Literarian Award is given annually by the foundation to “an individual or organization for a lifetime of achievement in expanding the audience for books and reading.”

Image: National Book Foundation, Beowulf Sheehan

The 2020 Literarian is the 16th iteration of that honor among the National Book Awards.

Past recipients include Maya Angelou, Joan Ganz Cooney, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Terry Gross, Kyle Zimmer, the literary organization Cave Canem, Richard Robinson, Doron Weber, and, in 2019, Oren Teicher. Nominations for the Literarian Award are made by former National Book Award winners, finalists, and judges, and other writers and literary professionals from around the country.

Final selections are made by the National Book Foundation’s board of directors.

As a reminder, this year’s National Book Awards will be preceded by several digital events including:

  • The first event, called “5 Under 35” for its recognition of emerging fiction writers, on October 20
  • The National Book Awards finalists’ reading event on November 10, with as many as 25 finalists participating
  • In partnership with the Miami Book Fair, the “Teen Press Conference,” November 16
  • The awards ceremony itself on November 18

More from Publishing Perspectives on Simon & Schuster and Carolyn Reidy is here. More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Awards is here, and on awards programs in general is here. And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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