Caroline Kurtz wins Best First Book Award Reply

Sisters win top two awards from Presbyterian Writers Guild

By Jerry L. Van Marter

Kurtz bookCaroline Kurtz, a missionary kid who from age 5 grew up in Ethiopia with her parents and siblings, has been named winner of the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s biennial Best First Book Award for the best first book by a Presbyterian author written during 2018-2019. The Best First Book Award is co-sponsored by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and comes with a $500 cash prize.

Ironically, Caroline Kurtz’s sister, Jane, is this year’s winner of the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s David Steele Distinguished Writer Award for her cumulative body of work–mostly children’s books about Ethiopian folklore and culture. This is the first time the Writers Guild’s two biennial awards have been given to siblings.

Kurtz’s book, A Road Called Down on Both Sides: Growing Up in Ethiopia and America, delightfully chronicles her upbringing in Ethiopia by her parents, Harold and Polly Kurtz, who served in that country from 1955 to 1977. The family returned to Portland, Oregon, where Harold Kurtz founded the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship. He died of brain cancer in 2009.

Caroline Kurtz, the oldest of four siblings, left Ethiopia to attend college in Illinois and says she “felt like I’d been exiled to a foreign country.” After finishing school, she immediately returned to Ethiopia, where she continues to live, spearheading development in that country’s Maji District.

A Road Called Down on Both Sides is described by Ethiopian official Woubeshet Ayenew as “introspective and light-hearted. … I was elated to find that her colorful journey and deliberation afforded her the best possible conclusion–Ethiopia and America are indeed different, but they may be the yin and yang that we all seek.”

Doe bookIn an unusual move due to the closeness of the competition, the Presbyterian Writers Guild board of directors has awarded an Honorable Mention to Susan Baller-Shepard, an Illinois pastor, for her book of poetry entitled Doe. Best First Book committee member Skip Dunford of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, said, “We found Susan’s poems to be deeply moving.”

Caroline and Jane Kurtz’s awards will be presented at a luncheon in their honor at the 2022 General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio.

Jane Kurtz to receive 2020 distinguished writer award Reply

Jane KurtzJane Kurtz, a prolific author, artist, and literacy advocate and a child of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers, has been named the recipient of the 2020 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award by the Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG).

Kurtz, a ruling elder in the PC(USA), has published more than 35 children’s books, from picture books and easy-readers to middle-grade novels. Her most recent picture book won the 2019 Oregon Spirit Book Award for nonfiction from the Oregon Council of Teachers of English. What Do They Do with All That Poo? is full of fun and serious facts about what zoos do with the poo generated every day by their animal residents.

“Jane has modeled a life dedicated to sharing her passion for creativity, writing, and teaching,” wrote Caroline Kurtz, founder and executive director of the Maji Development Coalition, in nominating her sister for the honor. “Jane and I are daughters of Presbyterian missionaries in Ethiopia for 23 years, Harold and Polly Kurtz. I am not totally objective, but I believe Jane’s lifetime of literary accomplishment deserves to be celebrated!”

Named for the late David Steele, Presbyterian poet and essayist best known for his “Tuesday Morning” column in the Presbyterian Outlook, the distinguished writer award is given biennially to a Presbyterian writer who blessed the church with his or her writing over the course of a career.

As an artist and author, Kurtz has spoken in schools all over the U.S. and the world, encouraging children to write what is in their hearts. She co-founded Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit in Ethiopia dedicated to literacy and the developing of children’s libraries.

“Having had the great honor and joy of working with David Steele in the 1990s, I am convinced that Jane’s newest book would tickle Dave’s funny bone,” said Emily Enders Odom, president of the PWG and chair of its award selection committee. “Her most recent book would also resonate with John Calvin, whose fixation with the accumulated animal droppings on Noah’s Ark was documented by William J. Bouwsma in his unique portrait of the 16th century reformer.”

“My life as a writer began with passionate reading,” said Kurtz upon being informed of her selection for the biennial award. “No one has more doubt and needs more faith than an artist, so my spiritual path and my writing path are closely entwined. I’m deeply honored to have this award from a community that welcomed my quirky self and gave me a robust life of the mind and imagination.”