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Carolyn Reidy to receive a lifetime achievement honor at the 2020 National Book Awards

Carolyn Reidy, the late CEO of Simon & Schuster, will be honored with the Literarian Award at the 2020 National Book Awards.
Carolyn Reidy, the late president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster, will be honored with the Literarian Awards at the 2020 National Book Award in November.
(Simon & Schuster)

Carolyn Reidy, the late president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster, will receive the Literarian Award, the National Book Foundation announced today.

The National Book Foundation announced today that Carolyn Reidy, the late president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster, will be the recipient of its Literarian Award at the 2020 National Book Awards. This will be the first time the award has been presented posthumously.

The lifetime achievement distinction, which honors American literary figures for outstanding service in expanding the audience for books and reading, will be announced in a video tribute featuring authors and colleagues from Reidy’s four decades in publishing. The award will be accepted by her husband, Stephen, and the $10,000 prize will be donated to her favorite charity, Worldreader.

“Carolyn would have been enormously humbled by this award,” said Stephen Reidy. “In all her publishing career and her work at the National Book Foundation, she put authors and their works in the forefront and worked to keep all her focus on them. So for the National Book Foundation to depart from that focus and award Carolyn its Literarian Award this year is to put her in the forefront in a way that would have surprised and honored her.”

Reidy died Tuesday of a heart attack at age 71. She joined Simon & Schuster in 1992 as president of the trade division.

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“Carolyn Reidy was a singular force in the world of books,” said Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, which presents the awards, in a statement. “And we are forever grateful for her passion and advocacy not just for the foundation but for authors and readers everywhere,” Lucas said in a press statement. “It was an honor to work alongside her and see firsthand how she always brought her keen vision, business acumen and relentless compassion to everything she did.”

Maya Angelou delivers her acceptance speech for the Literarian Award at the National Book Awards ceremony in 2013.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times)

David Steinberger, chair of the foundation’s board of directors, also released a statement that read in part: “Books and readers around the world have benefitted deeply from having Carolyn Reidy at the helm of the publishing industry.” Mentioning her leadership of the foundation’s program committee, he added, “In her almost two decades of generous service she instilled energy, creativity and insight into all of the National Book Foundation’s programming.”

Two Black women are taking top positions at Simon & Schuster and Knopf. They talk to Rebecca Carroll about language, action, the power of books and the pace of change.

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Reidy, who died May 12 at age 71, became the first woman to head Simon & Schuster when she was promoted to president and CEO of the publishing house in 2008. She got her start in the industry in 1974 at Random House and later served as publisher of its Vintage Books imprint. Eventually she moved to Avon Books as president and publisher. In 1992, she joined Simon & Schuster as president of its trade division before becoming president of the Adult Publishing Group in 2001.

Reidy guided Simon & Schuster through a recession, digital disruption and industry-wide financial difficulties. The publisher, whose parent company, ViacomCBS, announced it was up for sale in early March, appointed Jonathan Karp as Reidy’s successor. Dana Canedy, a publishing outsider and the first Black woman to hold the position, was selected to take his place as publisher of the flagship imprint.

During Reidy’s time at Simon & Schuster, the company published books by National Book Award honorees including Stephen King, Jesmyn Ward, Isabel Allende, Anthony Doerr, Walter Isaacson, David McCullough and Annie Proulx.

Past recipients of the Literarian award include Maya Angelou, Joan Ganz Cooney, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Terry Gross, Oren J. Teicher and Kyle Zimmer. Nominations are made by former National Book Award winners, finalists and judges as well as writers and literary professionals from across the country. Finalists are selected by the National Book Foundation’s board of directors.

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The 2019 National Book Awards honor Susan Choi for her novel “Trust Exercise” and Sarah M. Broom for her memoir “The Yellow House.”

The 71st National Book Awards ceremony will be held on Nov. 18, 2020.


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