Oct. 18, 2022
Carolyn Eastman wins Literary Award from Library of Virginia for ‘The Strange Genius of Mr. O’
VCU history professor’s book tells the story of the rise and fall of James Ogilvie, whose oratory performances made him a household name in America’s founding era.
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Carolyn Eastman, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences, has received the Library of Virginia’s 2022 Literary Award for Nonfiction for her book, “The Strange Genius of Mr. O: The World of the United States' First Forgotten Celebrity.”
“I’m so grateful for this honor, and also for the chance to stand alongside so many wonderful writers,” Eastman said. “With these awards, the Library of Virginia has celebrated the humanities, to remind all of us how powerful it is, how powerfully human, to read poetry and narratives that introduce us to new ideas and feelings. I hope that one of the things we learned during COVID is how much we need those narratives.”
The book, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2021, tells the story of the rise and fall of James Ogilvie, whose oratory performances made him a household name in America’s founding era. It revealed a largely forgotten story about the intersection of political culture and celebrity at a moment when the United States was in the midst of invention.
The award was announced Saturday at the 25th annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards Celebration.
“The Strange Genius of Mr. O” also received the 2022 James Bradford Best Biography Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR).
Eastman is an historian of early America with special interest in 18th and 19th-century histories of political culture, the media and gender.
Her first book, “A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution,” explores how ordinary women and men came to understand themselves as “Americans” after the American Revolution. It received the James Broussard Best First Book prize from SHEAR and was a finalist for the Best Book Prize from the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians.
Eastman is currently on leave from VCU to develop a new book, “A Plague in New York City: How the City Confronted – and Survived – the Yellow Fever Epidemics of the Founding Era.” The project is supported by two National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships.
Also at the event Saturday, Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove received the 2022 Poetry Award for “Playlist for the Apocalypse”; Jocelyn Nicole Johnson received the 2022 Fiction Award for her book “My Monticello”; Mari K. Elder received the People’s Choice Award for nonfiction for “The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II”; and Sadeqa Johnson received the People’s Choice Award in fiction for “Yellow Wife: A Novel.”
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