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Midland Awards | Galileo's Middle Finger, Brain Ghosts & Stonewall

The Society of Midland Authors will present its annual awards May 10 in Chicago, honoring its choices for the best books by Midwest authors published in 2015:


WINNER: Alice Dreger, Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar's Search for Justice, Penguin Press. (Author lives in the Chicago area.)

From the New York Times:

"Soon enough," Alice Dreger writes at the beginning of her romp of a book, "I will get to the death threats, the sex charges, the alleged genocides, the epidemics, the alien abductees, the anti-lesbian drug, the unethical ethicists, the fight with Martina Navratilova and, of course, Galileo's middle finger. But first I have to tell you a little bit about how I got into this mess."

As is so often the case, what got ­Dreger into trouble was sex. A historian of science and medicine, she criticized a group of transgender activists who had attacked a sex researcher for his findings on why some people want to change gender. Having hounded the researcher mercilessly, the activists attacked Dreger too. The bad news is that this was hard on ­Dreger. (More on that momentarily. For now, I'll just note they called her son a "womb turd.") The good news is that from this mess emerged not only a sharp, disruptive scholar but this smart, delightful book.

Galileo's Middle Finger is many things: a rant, a manifesto, a treasury of evocative new terms (sissyphobia, autogynephilia, phall-o-meter) and an account of the author's transformation "from an activist going after establishment scientists into an aide-de-camp to scientists who found themselves the target of activists like me" - and back again.

Here's Dreger at the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Post-Secondary Education last month:



* Clark Elliott, The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get it Back, Viking. (Author lives in the Chicago area.)

From Chicago Tonight last July:

"In 1999, a car accident left DePaul University professor Clark Elliott concussed. As a leading scientist in the field of artificial intelligence he was intrigued by the impact on his brain and kept meticulous notes documenting the effects of his traumatic brain injury. Those notes became the basis for his new book, The Ghost In My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back. Elliott joins us to discuss his long journey to recover brain function and his sense of self."


* Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Shaefer lives in Michigan; Edin lives in the Baltimore area.)

From the PBS NewsHour in December:

"In their new book, "$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, academics Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer reveal that there are nearly 1.5 million American households with practically no cash income.

"That figure has been on the rise, nearly doubling since 1996 - the same year that a major welfare reform bill was passed. Under the new rules, cash benefits known as welfare were paired with strict work or training requirements.

"The policy goal was to decrease people's dependence on government help and that work would then be supplemented if necessary. The reforms successfully encouraged many people to join the workforce. But those unable to find work found themselves falling without a safety net."


* Jeremy Smith, Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients, Harper Wave. (Author was born and raised in Evanston and now lives in Missoula, Montana.)

From the New York Times last April:

"In a new book, Epic Measures: One Doctor, Seven Billion Patients, the journalist Jeremy N. Smith profiles the Global Burden of Disease report and the impatient genius behind it. The doctor is Christopher Murray. In 1973, Murray's parents, a cardiologist and a microbiologist, shipped a generator, cardiograph machine, microscope and two weeks' worth of medical supplies from Minnesota to England, bought two Land Rovers, and ferried and drove to Niger, crossing the Sahara roadless and alone with their three children. There they ran a hospital for a year by themselves. Later, the family would go back to Africa every summer to run medical clinics.

"Epic Measures is a biography of Murray and his attempt to diagnose the world. For a book about compiling data, it's remarkably entertaining. But it also reveals the importance of data in its least glamorous form. The researchers in the Global Burden study got their information by combing through birth and death records and hospital files and doing household surveys. They found such arcane bits of data as per-capita lunch meat consumption in Bulgaria, figures for four different kinds of liver cancer in Tanzania, and information on eating disorders, nonvenomous animal bites and acne. Put together, this data allows policymakers to make better use of their scarce health resources by spending them on what's most important."

Here's Smith at Dartmouth in November:


The judges for Adult Nonfiction were Connie Fletcher and Kim Hiltwein.



WINNER: Ray E. Boomhower, John Bartlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog, Indiana University Press. (Author lives in Indianapolis.)


* Michele Weldon, Escape Points: A Memoir, Chicago Review Press. (Author lives in River Forest, Illinois.)

* Joseph Tabbi, Nobody Grew but the Business: On the Life and Work of William Gaddis, Northwestern University Press. (Author lives in Chicago.)

The judges for Biography & Memoir were Davis Schneiderman, Robert Remer and John Hallwas.


JAMES FRIEND MEMORIAL AWARD FOR LITERARY AND DRAMATIC CRITICISM WINNER: Kelli Christiansen, founder and editor of the Chicago Book Review.



WINNER: Joe Meno, Marvel and a Wonder, Akashic Books. (Author lives in Chicago.)

From the New York Times: "Throughout the novel, Meno shows us how a single decision can change the course of events absolutely."



* Bonnie Jo Campbell, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, W.W. Norton. (Author lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.)

* Rebecca Makkai, Music for Wartime, Viking. (Author lives in Chicago.)

The judges for Adult Fiction were Mark Eleveld, Tony Romano and Michele Weldon.



WINNER: Iliana Rocha, Karankawa, University of Pittsburgh Press. (Author lives in Portage, Michigan.)


* Dennis Hinrichsen, Skin Music, Southern Indiana Review Press. (Author lives in Lansing, Michigan.)

* Lisa Fay Coutley, Errata, Southern Illinois University Press. (Author lives in Ephraim, Utah, and is a former Michigan resident.)


The judges for Poetry were Jim McGarrah, Grace Bauer and Joshua Corey.



WINNER: Ann Bausum, Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights, Viking Books for Young Readers. (Author lives in Janesville, Wisconsin.)


* Suzanne Slade, The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, Charlesbridge. (Author lives in Libertyville, Illinois.)

* Fern Schumer Chapman, Like Finding My Twin, Gussie Rose Press. (Author lives in Lake Bluff, Illinois.)


The judges for Children's Nonfiction were Margaret McMullan and Ilene Cooper.



WINNER: Evan Kuhlman, Great Ball of Light, Atheneum Books for Young Readers. (Author lives in Ohio.)


* Stephen T. Johnson, Alphabet School, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books. (Author lives in Lawrence, Kansas.)

* Kate DiCamillo, Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume Two, Candlewick. (Author lives in Minneapolis.)

* Melinda Braun, Stranded, Simon Pulse. (Author grew up in Wisconsin and lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.)


The judges for Children's Fiction were Nancy Crocker and Judith Fradin.




This year's winners will receive a $500 award and a recognition plaque. The coordinator of this year's contest was Marlene Targ Brill. Since 2002, the Society has also hosted the presentation of the James Friend Memorial Award for Literary and Dramatic Criticism at its banquet.

The annual awards dinner will take place Tuesday, May 10, at the Cliff Dwellers Club, 200 S. Michigan, 22nd floor, which features a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and Millennium Park. A reception with cash bar begins at 6 p.m. followed by the dinner and awards ceremony at 7 p.m.

The master of ceremonies will be Rex Huppke, columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

Tickets are $75 each. Reservations can by made by PayPal or check at


Comments welcome.


Posted on April 13, 2016

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