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USU Announces Evans Biography and Handcart Award Winners


Thursday, Apr. 21, 2011


Matthew J. Grow, Evans Biography Award winner
Matthew J. Grow, author of "'Liberty to the Downtrodden:' Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer," winner of the Evans Biography Award and its $10,000 prize.
Ronald G. Watt, Evans Handcart Award winner
Ronald G. Watt received the Evans Handcart Award for "The Mormon Passage of George D. Watt: First British Convert, Scribe for Zion," published in 2009 by Utah State University Press. The award comes with a $1,000 prize.

Biographies of two key figures in Mormon history are the winners of this year’s Evans Biography and Handcart Awards. Utah State University’s Mountain West Center for Regional Studies coordinates activities and presents the awards every two years.

 

‘Liberty to the Downtrodden:’ Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer by Matthew J. Grow is the Evans Biography Award winner. The book was published by Yale University Press in 2009 and deals with the life of the most prominent non-Mormon defender of Mormonism in the nineteenth century.

 

The Evans Handcart Award goes to Ronald G. Watt for his The Mormon Passage of George D. Watt: First British Convert, Scribe for Zion. Published in 2009 by Utah State University Press, the book tells the story of a man who joined the Mormon church, became a member of its most elite circles and eventually left the church.

 

Seven distinguished reviewers selected the books from a field of 22 nominees, all published in 2009 and 2010.

 

Thomas L. Kane (1822-1883) was the most prominent non-Mormon defender of the LDS church and its adherents, fighting vocally for their religious liberty and averting a potentially catastrophic conflict between federal troops and Mormon settlers in 1857-58. However, this was only one of his causes. ‘Liberty to the Downtrodden’ makes use of newly available archives to tell the story of this crusader against slavery and for women’s rights.

 

The Evans judges were impressed with the work.

 

“This mature, even elegant, biography is an important book about an important man — a superb biography — long needed and very insightful,” the judges said, adding that it puts Kane in context and is thoroughly researched.

 

“The judges felt that it is a real contribution,” said Elaine Thatcher, program coordinator at the Mountain West Center. “They commented that it was well-written and dealt with a significant individual whose efforts made a difference in several areas. The new research places Kane in his world, showing more dimensions of his personality and activities than most Utahns know.”

 

Grow recently left a position in the history department at the University of Southern Indiana to accept a position at the LDS Historical Department.

 

The Handcart Award-winning book tells the story of George D. Watt, the first British convert to the LDS church in 1837. The book traces the ups and downs of his life, his missions, his polygamous marriages, his creation of the Deseret Alphabet, publication of the Journal of Discourses and, ultimately, his loss of faith in Mormonism and association with the Godbeites, a breakoff group from the Mormon church.

 

The Evans judges called the book “a solid, highly readable biography written by a descendant willing to make hard and honest judgments, yet sympathetic to his ancestor,” and “an impressive achievement.”

 

Watt, the recipient of the Handcart prize, recently retired from the LDS Historical Department.

 

“We are delighted to honor these two books, both of which will be important resources on aspects of Mormon history well into the future,” Thatcher said.

 

The Evans Awards were endowed by the family of David Woolley Evans and Beatrice Cannon Evans, both born in 1894. The $10,000 Evans Biography Award, established in 1983, recognizes outstanding research and writing of a biography of a person who lived in or had significant influence on the Mormon West or who was part of Mormonism’s pre-Utah history. The $1,000 Handcart Award, established in 1996, is given each year to a biography of merit that contributes to an understanding of the Mormon-settled West.

 

The Mountain West Center for Regional Studies was established in the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Utah State University in 1986 to advance the understanding of the Mountain West region through interdisciplinary studies and to link university expertise with regional needs and interests.

 

An awards ceremony will be held September 16 on the USU campus, along with book signings in various locations and classroom appearances by the authors. More information will be available on these events at a later date.

 

For information, call the Mountain West Center, (435) 797-0299 or visit its website.



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