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Midland Awards: The Pill, The Eastland & Amnesia

The Society of Midland Authors, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this spring, will present its annual awards May 1 in Chicago, honoring its choices for the best books by Midwest authors published in 2014.


WINNER: Jonathan Eig, The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution, W.W. Norton. (Author lives in Chicago.)

Here's Eig on BookTV (embedding disabled).

And here is on The Interview Show:


From W.W. Norton & Company:

"We know it simply as 'the pill,' yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig's masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid.

"Spanning the years from Sanger's heady Greenwich Village days in the early twentieth century to trial tests in Puerto Rico in the 1950s to the cusp of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, this is a grand story of radical feminist politics, scientific ingenuity, establishment opposition, and, ultimately, a sea change in social attitudes. Brilliantly researched and briskly written, The Birth of the Pill is gripping social, cultural, and scientific history."


FINALIST: Michael McCarthy, Ashes Under Water: The SS Eastland and the Shipwreck That Shook America, Lyons Press. (Author lives in South Haven, Mich., and has lived in Chicago.)

From Lyons Press:

"When the immigrant engineer who was being scapegoated for the accident was left out to dry by the ship's owners, penniless and down-on-his-luck Clarence Darrow decided to take his case. The defense he mounted, which he was too ashamed to even mention in his memoirs, would be even more shocking."


The judges for Adult Nonfiction were Ray E. Boomhower, Gregory Harms and Davis Schneiderman.



WINNER: David Stuart MacLean, The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Author lives in Chicago and grew up in central Ohio.)



From the New York Times review:

"An avid drinker before his breakdown, he recoils the first time he tries Scotch again, thinking it smells 'like Band-Aids.'"


FINALIST: Ken S. Mueller, Senator Benton and the People: Master Race Democracy on the Early American Frontiers, Northern Illinois University Press. (Author lives in Lafayette, Ind., and attended St. Louis University.)

From Northern Illinois University Press:

"His political character, while viewed as flawed by contemporary standards, is balanced by his unconditional devotion to his particular vision. Mueller evaluates Benton's career in light of his attitudes toward slavery, Indian removal, and the Mexican borderlands, among other topics, and reveals Benton's importance to a new generation of readers."


The judges for Biography & Memoir were John Hallwas, Re'Lynn Hansen and Bob Remer.



WINNER: Robert Hellenga, The Confessions of Frances Godwin, Bloomsbury. (Author grew up in Three Oaks, Mich., spent childhood summers in Milwaukee and now lives in Galesburg, Ill. He has also lived in Chicago and Italy.)

From the Washington Post review:

"As in Hellenga's earlier work, secondary characters have professions and interests that allow the author to leaven the story with short, lucid passages about astronomy, physics, piano tuning, the wholesale produce business, opera and long-haul trucking. Meals are lovingly prepared and described so clearly that you can use a Hellenga novel as a cookbook."

FINALISTS: Kathleen Rooney, O, Democracy!, Fifth Star Press. (Author grew up in Woodridge, Ill., and lives in Chicago.)

"It's late spring of 2008, and one of Illinois' two Democratic senators is poised to become the next president of the United States."

Lin Enger, The High Divide, Algonquin. (Author lives in Moorhead, Minn.)

From the Minneapolis StarTribune review:

"Enger's patiently told and moving narrative alternates between the various Pope family members on their respective quests. His writing style is precise, restrained and enlivened by his protagonists interacting with strong secondary characters, including townsfolk, American Indians of the plains, rough cowboys and one inspired by William T. Hornaday, who conducted one of the last buffalo hunts on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C."


The judges for Adult Fiction were Mark Eleveld, Bayo Ojikutu and Tony Romano.



WINNER: Grace Bauer, Nowhere All At Once, Stephen F. Austin State University Press. (Author lives in Lincoln, Neb.)

From the World Literature Today review:

"Having moved from state to state, she now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, but doesn't like the lack of changes in the small city and wishes to escape reality. Her dream world matters most, and through her writing she is able 'to recover from this world.'"

The judges for Poetry were Anne-Marie Cusac, Alice Friman and Martha Modena Vertreace-Doody.



WINNER: Ann Bausum, Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog, National Geographic Children's Books. (Author lives in Janesville, Wis.)

Bausum on C-Span.

FINALISTS: Don Mitchell, The Freedom Summer Murders, Scholastic Press. (Author was raised in Iowa, Illinois and Ohio, and now lives in Arlington, Va.)

Ilene Cooper, A Woman in the House (and Senate): How Women Came to the United States Congress, Broke Down Barriers, and Changed the Country, Abrams Books for Young Readers. (Author lives in Highland Park, Ill.)


The judges for Children's Nonfiction were Patricia Kummer, Andrew Medlar and Christine Taylor-Butler.



WINNER: Margi Preus, West of the Moon, Amulet Books. (Author lives in Duluth, Minn.)

From the Minneapolis StarTribune review:

"She may not go straight to heaven, but chances are good she's going to find her way to Minnesota someday."

FINALISTS: Margaret Willey, Beetle Boy, Lerner Books. (Author lives in Grand Haven, Mich.)

Crystal Chan, Bird, Atheneum Books for Young Readers. (Author lives in Chicago.)

John David Anderson, Minion, Walden Pond Press. (Author lives in Indianapolis.)


The judges for Children's Fiction were Lisa Bigelow, Laurie Lawlor and Gary Schmidt.



WINNER: The Goodman Theatre's Cindy Bandle Young Critics program.



The Society, founded in 1915 by a group of authors including Hamlin Garland, Harriet Monroe and Vachel Lindsay, has given out annual awards since 1957. The juried competition is open to authors who live in, were born in, or have strong ties to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin.

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 Friday, May 1, 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 Robert K. Elder, the author of six books, including Last Words of the Executed and The Film That Changed My Life, and director of digital product development and strategy at Crain Communications Inc.

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


MAY 2 CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION: On the day after the awards banquet, the Society of Midland Authors will celebrate its centennial a day of literary speakers and panel discussions - from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 2, at University Center, 525 S. State St. Members of the Society will be selling their books throughout the day. Admission is free. The public is welcome. The schedule:

10 a.m.: Introductory ceremonies.

10:15 a.m.: Carla Knorowski, CEO of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, presents the new book Gettysburg Replies: The World Responds to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, together with essayists who contributed to the book.

11 a.m.: Rick Kogan, longtime Chicago Tribune journalist.

11:30 a.m.: Haki Madhubuti, poet and publisher of Third World Press.

1 p.m.: Harry Mark Petrakis, author of Pericles on 31st Street.

1:15 p.m.: Ed Burke, author, alderman of Chicago's 14th Ward and chairman of the Committee on Finance.

2 p.m.: A conversation between Steve Bogira (Chicago Reader reporter and author of Courtroom 302) and Jonathan Eig (The Birth of the Pill, Get Capone).

2:30 p.m.: Martin Marty, noted University of Chicago scholar on the history of religion.

3 p.m.: A conversation between children's authors Blue Balliett (Chasing Vermeer) and Ilene Cooper (Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy).

3:30 p.m.: Uptown Poetry Slam founder Marc Kelly Smith.

4 p.m.: A panel discussion with novelists Christine Sneed (Little Known Facts), Carol Anshaw (Aquamarine) and Rosellen Brown (Before and After).


Comments welcome.


Posted on April 10, 2015

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