Epic Biography, Intimate Family Tale Win Annual Evans Biography Awards
Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014
An exhaustive, scholarly biography of Mormon pioneer Jacob Hamblin and a deeply personal account of agrarian heritage and the meaning of home are the winners of this year’s Evans Biography and Evans Handcart Awards.
Announced recently by Patricia Lambert, director of Utah State University’s Mountain West Center for Regional Studies based in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the prestigious Evans Awards carry cash prizes of $10,000 for the Evans Biography Award and $2,500 for the Evans Handcart Award.
Winning authors for works published in 2013 are Todd M. Compton for his biographic work A Frontier Life: Jacob Hamblin Explorer and Indian Missionary and Evelyn I. Funda for her autobiographic meditation Weeds: A Farm Daughter’s Lament.
“This year’s winners continue a long tradition of excellence in biographical writing about the people of ‘Mormon Country,’ said Lambert. “It’s always a difficult decision for our jury, because the stories of individuals and families described in these works are wide-ranging and compelling; in the end it comes down to which volumes represent the finest writing in this genre of American literature.”
Submissions for the Evans Biography Award must focus on individuals who spent a significant part of his or her life in the Interior West, also known as “Mormon Country” — the region historically influenced by Mormon institutions and social practices. Neither the biography’s subject nor author need belong to the Mormon faith. Award winners are chosen from biographic works published in the previous year.
Compton, a graduate of Brigham Young University, holds a doctorate in classics from UCLA. Specializing in Mormon history and the classics, Compton’s previous works include In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith and Fire and Sword: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri (coauthored with Leland H. Gentry).
With A Frontier Life Compton brings serious scholarship to the well-known Mormon pioneer Jacob Hamblin. While previous Hamblin biographies have explored aspects of the life of this Mormon convert, “frontiersman, colonizer, missionary to the Indians and explorer of the American West,” it is the meticulous use of primary sources that uniquely distinguishes Compton’s portrayal.
“The author has sculpted a work that leaves us with a persuasive, full-blooded and full-bodied sense of Jacob Hamblin, who has been less known heretofore than his historical roles warrant,” notes one Evans Award juror. “This is a volume destined to have a long shelf life.”
According to the book’s preamble, Jacob Hamblin, who converted to Mormonism in 1842 — only a decade after the founding of the church — was “one of the most enigmatic figures in Mormon history.” Hamblin played key roles in the settling of southern Utah and northern Arizona. He was a missionary, interpreter for John Wesley Powell and pivotal figure in settler-Indian relations, advocating peaceful resolutions at a time when violent conflicts were prevalent.
Published by the University of Utah Press, A Frontier Life fleshes out the character of the man — his trials and triumphs. Though perhaps best known in relation to the infamous 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, Compton’s work makes clear that Jacob Hamblin served not as participant but rather as a reporter of these events to church “prophet, seer and revelator” Brigham Young and military investigators.
A Frontier Life is “a magnificent new biography which will immediately become not only the standard biography of Jacob Hamblin, but also one of the greatest biographies in the fields of Mormon and Utah history. Exhaustively researched and documented, and judiciously interpreted…” (Gary Topping, editor, If I Get Out Alive: World War II Letters and Diaries of William H. McDougall Jr.).
Emerging author Funda was awarded this year’s Evans Handcart Award for her volume Weeds: A Farm Daughter’s Lament. In this western family saga, the Utah State University associate professor of American literature recounts her family history and the inexorable forces and fortunes that tie them to their Idaho farmland. Wild grasses and flowers are the metaphors that link the family to the land and to each other through time.
Published by the University of Nebraska Press, the tale spans three-generations and vividly explores the passion and heartache involved in turning a patch of southern Idaho sagebrush into a cherished family farm. In her thoughtful and thought-provoking work, Funda explores her personal history within the larger context of what is lost as the American dream moves from agrarian ideal to urban urgency.
In the book’s preface, Funda explains the decisive and wrenching events (the sale of the family’s last parcel of farm land and the deaths of both her parents that soon follow) that brought about a reexamination of her immigrant heritage and ties to an agrarian past that fused land and heart into something beautiful, transformational and touchingly inescapable.
“Funda writes about farming, family, love and loss with the ear of a poet and the eye of a scholar,” according to Kim Barnes, author of In the Kingdom of Men. “Weeds is a soulful, intelligent reexamination of what it means to be an orphaned daughter of the American Dream.”
Part cultural history, part memoir and part elegy, Weeds: A Farm Daughter’s Lament serves to remind us that “in losing our attachment to the land we also lose some of our humanity and something at the very heart of our identity as a nation.”
Initiated in 1983, the Evans Awards were endowed by the family of David Woolley Evans and Beatrice Cannon Evans. Both David and Beatrice Evans were born in 1894. David was an editor, writer and eventual owner of one of the largest advertising and public relations firms in the western United States. Beatrice was an historian and family genealogist. Both awards named in their honor celebrate the couple’s legacy of writing and biography.
A national jury of scholars each year selects the Evans Biography Award winner while a regional jury selects the Evans Handcart winner. This year, 24 titles were submitted to the Evans Awards.
The public is invited to attend the Evans Biography and Handcart Award ceremony on Friday, Oct. 3, at 1:30 p.m. in the Haight Alumni Center at Utah State University’s Logan campus. A book signing will follow the ceremony.
USU’s Mountain West Center for Regional Studies
Writer: Kristin Middaugh, CHaSS communications director, (435) 797-1195, firstname.lastname@example.org
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