Kurtz sisters say Presbyterian Writers Guild awards are ‘extra special’ Reply

Jane and me with awards

Caroline and Jane Kurtz

When a worldwide pandemic upended plans for an in-person General Assembly, the Presbyterian Writers Guild had to postpone its biennial awards luncheon until 2022. But the two award-winners, Jane and Caroline Kurtz, were able to receive their awards this year, thanks to the U.S. postal service.

The sisters, who grew up in Ethiopia and are spending the COVID-19 lockdown together in Portland, Oregon, took a picture of themselves proudly holding their award plaques.

Jane Kurtz is winner of winner of the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s David Steele Distinguished Writer Award for her cumulative body of work. She has published more than 35 children’s books, many of them about Ethiopian folklore and culture.

Caroline Kurtz, is winner of the Guild’s Best First Book Award for the best first book by a Presbyterian author written during 2018-2019. Her book is a memoir titled A Road Called Down on Both Sides: Growing Up in Ethiopia and America. The First Book Award is jointly sponsored by PWG and the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

The Kurtz sisters are daughters of former Presbyterian mission workers Harold and Polly Kurtz, who served in Ethiopia from 1955 to 1977. This is the first time the Writers Guild’s two biennial awards have been given to siblings.

Caroline and Jane Kurtz’s awards will be presented formally and in person at a luncheon in their honor at the 2022 General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio. But the two did not want to wait two years to express their gratitude for the awards. Here are excerpts from the statements they sent to the Presbyterian Writers Guild:

From Jane Kurtz:

“My books have won a lot of awards over the years, but this one is extra special to me because I don’t know that I would ever have become an author if it weren’t for my Presbyterian heritage. When my mom and dad made the decision to serve the Presbyterian Church in Ethiopia, I was only two years old, but their response to the call meant I grew up surrounded by stories, experiences that have made great story material, and rich language diversity. Some of my published books have an Ethiopia connection. I also published a novel for young readers, Anna Was Here (Greenwillow/HarperCollins), where the protagonist is a preacher’s kid. (To be fair, many of the details for that book are a result of also marrying a Presbyterian minister.) Recently, my books have focused on what ordinary humans can do to try to serve God’s gorgeous Earth, a passion that was planted in me during my childhood spent outside in Maji, Ethiopia. I’m still writing and also (with Caroline) volunteering my time to create Ready Set Go Books to give Ethiopians creative books to read. Thank you for celebrating this amazing artistic and global life I’ve been lucky enough to have.”

From Caroline Kurtz:

“What an extra honor it is to be recognized in the same year as my sister! I kept my writing dream secret for many years, and Jane was a generous mentor, encouraging me to dare.

I grew up with my parents and siblings in remote Ethiopia, outside the town of Maji. It was a lush, mountainous area, and we children enjoyed nine years of isolated but idyllic childhood there. Jane and I learned to read and write in Maji and became bookworms, as our mother taught us at home in early childhood.

I went back to Ethiopia to teach young Ethiopian girls English in my 40s, with my husband and three children. The deeper reason I went back was to continue my education in how to live in conditions of great diversity, how to find the oneness of our humanity under our Creator.

I have now started a nonprofit, the Maji Development Coalition, to bring development and electricity to Maji (solar is the lowest-cost option for this district, lying beyond the end of the national electric grid). Now that the pandemic has stopped my quarterly trips to Ethiopia, I am watching with delight as local leaders step up to make crucial decisions for their own future.

I am working on a sequel to my memoir, this one set in Kenya and South Sudan, where I worked for four years during the Sudanese civil war.

The Presbyterian Writers Guild award will help me promote my books to audiences newly aware of the need to do what I have dedicated my life to learning: to work in warm collaboration with people who are different from myself. It also adds credibility to my status as the leader of a nonprofit attempting to right some of the global inequities that countries like Ethiopia struggle against. This is in addition to the delight I feel at having been recognized by the church that has been home to three generations of my family. I do not expect to find fame or fortune in my writing life, but the rewards of the writing come first in the act itself, and then in finding warm readers like you, who resonate with the stories I tell.”

 

 

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.”

Nominees sought for 2020 distinguished writer award Reply

By Emily Enders Odom

The Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG) is accepting nominations for its 2020 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award. Deadline for nominations is December 16.

The award is given biennially in even-numbered years to recognize the cumulative work and influence–regardless of genre or subject matter–of a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) writer. The award will be presented at the PWG luncheon on Thursday, June 25, 2020, during the 224th General Assembly (2020) in Baltimore.

Previous winners include the late Eugene H. Peterson, translator of The MessageThe Christian Century editor/publisher John M. Buchanan; former Presbyterian News Service director Marj Carpenter; former Presbyterians Today editor Eva Stimson; children’s author Kathleen Bostrom; Sabbath in the Suburbs author MaryAnn McKibben Dana; novelists Doris Betts and Katherine Paterson; the late poet Ann Weems; Kansas City Star columnist Bill Tammeus; African-American religious historian Gayraud Wilmore; Jim Atwood, author and nationally recognized voice on the subject of gun violence prevention; essayists Kathleen Norris and Frederick Buechner; and journalists Gustav Niebuhr and the late Vic Jameson.

The award is named for R. David Steele, a Presbyterian pastor best known for his whimsical books of poetry and thought-provoking column, “Tuesday Morning,” in The Presbyterian Outlook.

Nominations for the award should include the writer’s PC(USA) affiliation, list of published work, and a 100-word essay describing why the nominee is deserving of the award. Contact information for both the nominator and the nominee must be included with each submission.

Send nominations to Emily Odom, PWG president and chair of the DSDW Award Selection Committee–which includes PWG board members Jill Duffield and Matt Matthews–by email or by mail to 2336 Strathmoor Blvd., Louisville, KY 40205.

All nominations must be emailed or postmarked by December 16.

Writers Guild to engage with seminary students in March 20 panel discussion at Columbia Theological Seminary Reply

March 20, 2019, is the date of an exciting joint endeavor by the Presbyterian Writers Guild and seminary students interested in writing as a ministry. Five members of the PWG board will participate in a panel discussion about writing for publication at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. The panel is part of a seminary-sponsored community forum from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and is open to the public.

Panelists will be Emily Enders Odom, president of PWG and director of alumni/ae relations for Union Theological Seminary in New York; Jill Duffield, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook; Jerry Van Marter, former director of Presbyterian News Service; Eva Stimson, former editor of Presbyterians Today; and Bill Lancaster, a retired minister and former communicator for Foothills Presbytery.

One of the organizers of the event, Michael Gable, is a senior at Columbia who is interested in helping other students explore the role of writing and journalism in their ministry. The panel will be accessible via Zoom, and questions for the panelists may be submitted during the event via the Twitter hashtag #CTSForum.

All members of the Writers Guild are invited to attend, online or in person. Please save the date and look for details about logging in via Zoom coming soon.