Veterans and rookies of the world of LDS fiction gathered together in Provo, Utah, on May 5, as the best works of 2011 were honored at the 5th Annual Whitney Awards. The awards—named for writer, poet and apostle Orson F. Whitney—recognized novels in seven categories, as well as the lifetime achievements of genre pioneers Jack Weyland and Douglas Thayer.
Deseret Book’s Rachel Ann Nunes was presented the first award of the evening in the category of General Fiction for her tender novel Before I Say Goodbye. A seasoned author with more than 30 books to her credit, Nunes has had her work recognized in others spheres, but said the Whitneys have a special significance, because it is a brainchild of LDStorymakers, the nonprofit writers guild she founded in 2002.
“This is great . . . I’m stunned,” Nunes said after making the trip to the podium to collect her first Whitney. “I’ve been writing for a very long time, and this is my fourth time being a finalist so I’ve come to expect to go home empty-handed.”
Fellow Deseret Book author Gale Sears also left with more than she came with, picking up the Whitney for Historical Fiction for her novel Letters in the Jade Dragon Box.
“I love what I do,” Sears told the audience, offering a heartfelt “well done” to the other winners, nominees, and all others who write in any form. “It’s truly a blessing to be able to do what we do as authors. I love to be able to do research, and I know that sounds kind of dorky, but it is so rewarding to dig into the past and unearth those gems.”
Newcomer Tess Hilmo uncovered treasures of her own with her first published novel, With a Name Like Love: a pair of Whitneys for General Youth Fiction and Best Novel by a New Author.
“This is such a blessing, shock and joy,” Hilmo said, adding that her nine-year journey to publication sometimes left her wondering if the ball would ever really start rolling for her.
“Sometimes when I write, I think about E.B. White and how he said writing is an act of faith,” Hilmo said. “We write initially with the hope that we’ll finish, then we need to have faith that the words on the page will reflect the story in our hearts; and finally that someone somewhere will connect with it somehow.”
Veteran author Stephanie Black, who won her fourth consecutive Mystery/Suspense Whitney for Rearview Mirror, has been blessed to have readers connect with her writing over and over again.
“I was really not expecting this,” Black said, after having predicted an end to her winning streak over dinner. “The competition was incredibly fierce this year, and it’s humbling to be numbered among them.”
Like Black, other familiar names accounted for the balance of the winners: Carla Kelly, taking the Romance category with Borrowed Light; Brandon Sanderson, coming out on top in Speculative Fiction with his latest Mistborn novel, The Alloy of Law; and Whitney Awards creator Robison Wells, who edged out the other nominees in the highly competitive Speculative Youth Fiction category with Variant. His brother Dan Wells also had reason to celebrate, picking up his third Whitney for Novel of the Year for his book I Don’t Want to Kill You.
Jack Weyland, despite his own successes, including Charly and 24 other best-selling books, said he was humbled to be among the evening’s honorees. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in the company of so many talented, wonderful people,” he said, adding that he felt particularly moved by the sense of joint effort and the potential that writers with faith in Jesus Christ have to affect change.
Weyland and Douglas Thayer, both greeted with a standing ovation, were awarded the Outstanding Achievement and Lifetime Achievement Awards, respectively.
“These men are not just pioneers, but also visionaries who have made a lifetime commitment to literature,” said Whitney Awards committee president Josi Kilpack, who later added that it was the first time that all award recipients were in attendance at the ceremony.
“This is the pinnacle of our year, and we are blessed to be able to honor the time and dedication that has gone into the creations of these authors,” Kilpack said.
To learn more about the Whitney Awards, visit whitneyawards.com.