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Taking a (Fleeting) Moment to Recognize “Literarians”

For literarians like these, it’s all smiles © Gabriel Swinney

In the book world, authors get most of the attention; agents get to emanate glamour and mystery; and booksellers and librarians carry impenetrable auras of impeccable taste.

So, it’s nice to see an award that honors “literarians,” individuals who somehow work to expand the audience for books and reading—largely behind the scenes and usually unrecognized. Mostly, this includes publishers, the yeomans of the book world who schlep heavy boxes of product to and from literary events; pour over and then make presentable words written by others; and later advocate for those same words, once they’re published, against a cold, uncaring world. Sometimes, it’s nice to see the literarians honored too!

Carolyn Reidy, the late President and CEO of Simon & Schuster, is the recipient of the National Book Foundation’s 2020 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

In addition to her role as CEO and President, Reidy gave unreservedly of her time both mentoring those rising through the ranks, and more formally guiding industry and charitable organizations, serving for many years on the Boards of the Association of American Publishers and Literacy Partners as well as the National Book Foundation.

This year’s National Book Awards ceremony on November 18 will be entirely virtual.

Stephen Reidy [Carolyn’s husband-ed.], will accept the Award on her behalf along with the $10,000 prize, which Mr. Reidy will donate to Carolyn Reidy’s favorite charity, Worldreader, a non-profit that believes readers build a better world. Worldreader combines 21st-century technology, culturally relevant digital books, and supportive programming to improve learning outcomes, workforce readiness, and gender equity in vulnerable communities around the world. Since 2010, Worldreader has reached 15 million children and young adults across the Global South.

Now, like we said, it’s nice that there’s an award that honors the literary movers and shakers who move and shake behind the scenes. But if you’re entertaining thoughts of grandeur, feeling like wow, maybe you too could win a national award for your literary citizenship, take note: nowhere on the website for the National Book Foundation does it list past winners of the Literarian Award, even though this is its 15th year in existence! Not, at least, that this blogger could find. (If you find such a list, let us know!) So even if you win, the glory is ephemeral, at best.

Alas, literary advocates are more like stage managers in the movies, honored with their own Academy Awards ceremony the night before the actual Oscars that everyone watches. I guess we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing, (mostly) for the love of it!