I returned home from D.C. last night exhausted but triumphant. My marvelous author John Fea did not win the George Washington Book Prize, but going to the awards ceremony at Mount Vernon was a tremendous shot in the arm nonetheless.
First off, it was a fabulous event -- a black tie dinner held at Mount Vernon. As I was milling on the grounds beforehand with the other guests, chatting while we gazed out at the Potomac, I reflected on how much and how little has changed since George and Martha Washington held their own parties on this lawn. Everyone decked out to the nines, enjoying each other and talking about books and history -- in that way, not much has changed.
(The dress styles were certainly different. And I was glad about that, because a highlight of the evening was a personal tour of the third floor rooms that had been off-limits in the general tour. I even got to kick off my heels, hike up my skirt, and climb up inside the cupola. I don't think I could have done that in an eighteenth-century dress, at least not without killing myself on the ladder.)
Before dinner we also got to meet Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito (pictured at right with John), who is a history buff and said he is looking forward to reading John's book.
The organizers put us all out of our suspense early in the evening, before dinner, praising the three books that were nominated and announcing this year's winner. Harvard University professor Maya Jasanoff won for Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. She spoke briefly about the book between dinner and dessert, and was erudite and funny and charming. Her book, which has also won the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award this year for general non-fiction, traces the diaspora of thousands of loyalists who remained in the colonies during the Revolutionary War (often having their property damaged or confiscated) but ultimately decided to relocate after the British soldiers left. They did not all flee to Canada, but to many places around the globe, including India, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, and of course Britain. To research the book, Jasanoff traveled every place the exiles went, and from this offers a truly global history of the fallout of the American Revolution.
I bought a copy of the book and will bring it with me on vacation this summer. It's high praise when I predict a history book is going to win out over Sookie Stackhouse as beach reading.
Of course I am disappointed that John didn't win, but it's unprecedented for a small press to have a book even nominated for this award, so it's a huge victory already. At the end of the evening as we raised our glasses to authors -- and offered huzzahs to the Founder for whom the prize is named -- I was filled with gratitude for the interesting work I am privileged to do, and the caliber of people I get to work with.
(And as an editor, I do know that I should say, "with whom I get to work," but let's get real, people.)
Photos courtesy of Joy Fea.