Michael Chabon, Zadie Smith Set to be Honored for St. Louis Literary Award

For more than fifty years, St. Louis University Library Associates has had the honor of conferring the annual St. Louis Literary Award on a distinguished living writer. Since its inception in 1967, the award has been given to playwrights, novelists, historians and many of the most important writers of the 20th and 21st centuries, including authors as renowned as W.H Auden, Joan Didion and Don Delillo. Though the pandemic has forced the Library Associates to reschedule and rethink how the award program is conducted, the tradition will continue. To make up for last year, 2021 will feature two separate award ceremonies; the first, scheduled for April, will honor the 2020 recipient Michael Chabon, and the second ceremony will follow in November and will honor 2021 award winner, Zadie Smith. 

Chabon was initially named the 2020 recipient of the St. Louis Literary award last fall, but his award ceremony was postponed until April of this year and converted to a virtual format in light of the pandemic. Though the ceremony is typically hosted here in St. Louis and in normal times affords the opportunity for the local St. Louis community to gather in an unusually intimate setting with the author, the switch to a virtual ceremony is not without its perks. Edward Ebur, the executive director of the award and host of the St. Louis University “Craft Talks” series, revealed earlier this month that the virtual ceremony would be hosted by St. Louis native and “Mad Men” star John Hamm, with Ebur writing that it “was important to do something a little more out of the box for this year’s virtual ceremony” to make up for the virtual format. Hamm is well suited for his role as moderator, having received his BA in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and already has experience with the format, including moderating a discussion on the musician John Tweedy’s memoir at The Pageant. 

Chabon was born in Washington D.C in 1963 and drew critical acclaim for his debut novel “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” which grew out of a master’s thesis on UC Irvine and was later adapted into a movie. His second novel, “Wonder Boys,” was equally well received and also adapted into a movie starring Michael Douglas. Chabon won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for his novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” and it is this work of Chabon’s that has been selected for the 2021 Campus Read at SLU. 

The second award ceremony of the year, which is scheduled for November and is expected to be held in person, will honor the English novelist Zadie Smith. Like Chabon, Smith’s debut launched her literary career, publishing “White Teeth” in 2000 when she was just 24 and finishing her final year at Cambridge University. It was ranked by The Guardian as one of the top 100 most important books of the 21st century. She went on to publish three more novels, “The Autograph Man,” “On Beauty,” and “NW,” which were all well received. 

Smith’s most recent publication, “Intimations,” is a collection of six essays written from New York during the lockdown. Smith began writing the essays soon after the lockdown was announced, and her probing essays meditate on the devastation caused by the pandemic and the death of George Floyd, among other themes. She has donated all proceeds from the book to charity. Announcing Smith as the 2021 recipient, executive director Ibur praised her work as dynamic and influential and said: “Ms. Smith’s novels, essay collections, and short stories reveal a master storyteller whose works are thought-provoking, often humorous, and always unpredictable.”