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Athenaeum awards first Carol Otis Hurst Book Prize

(left to right) Chris Lindquist, director of the Westfield Athenaeum, presents Amy Meltzer with the first annual Carol Otis Hurst Book Prize. Amy was there to accept the award on behalf of her father, Milton Meltzer, for his 2007 book, "Tough Times." Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor



WESTFIELD Amy Meltzer grew up to the sounds of her father Milton pounding on the keys of his typewriter as he eagerly worked on his latest piece of literature in their Manhattan apartment.

At the age of 93 he is still pounding the keys of his typewriter as vigorously as ever, she noted.

"He's always done everything very fast, often finishing a book before the publisher had sent him his contract," Amy said.

On May 7, Milton was awarded the first annual Carol Otis Hurst Book Prize in a ceremony at the Westfield Athenaeum. Amy was in attendance to accept the award on her father's behalf.

Ralph Melnick, assistant director of the Athenaeum, established the Carol Otis Hurst Book Prize last year to pay tribute to the late author who was a lifelong resident of Westfield and a critically acclaimed children's author. Like Hurst's work, all entries for the prize had to be written about life in New England.

"I hope his is the first of many such occasions," Chris Lindquist, director of the Athenaeum, said at the ceremony. "Most knew Carol Otis Hurst for her warm laughter and easy smile. I did have the pleasure of meeting her at a book presentation and was amazed at how she connected with people, young and old . She inspired many generations of storytellers."

Lindquist said that there were over a dozen entries for the $500 prize. He noted that Meltzer submitted two works for consideration, "Tough Times," a book about the struggles of a man growing up during the Great Depression, and his biography about Henry Thoreau.

Meltzer was awarded the prize for "Tough Times" by a unanimous vote from the selection committee.

"Many of my father's deepest values and convictions were based on his experiences during the Depression," Amy said, noting the impact his life experiences had on his work.

During the prize ceremony Amy read several passages from his book, "Milton Meltzer: Writing Matters," which chronicled his life experiences and the impact on his writing. "Yes, writers could help people," he wrote of his own affirmation. He also wrote that his biographies were extensive works of research to understand a person's "complex motives" and to answer the question: "What is he or she really like?"

Meltzer was born in Worcester in 1915, educated at Columbia University and dedicated his life to writing biographies and historical fiction. Meltzer is best known for his critically acclaimed work, "A Pictorial History of Black Americans," which he co-wrote with Langston Hughes and C. Eric Hughes. The book was originally titled, "A Pictorial History of the Negro in America."

He has written over 100 books in his lifetime.

"This [award] is a wonderful birthday present for him," Amy said, also noting that his birthday is May 8, one day after the ceremony.

"I'm very proud of my father and proud to be here on his behalf," she said.

Jill Hurst, daughter of Carol Otis Hurst, said she believed Meltzer's work was "a perfect fit" for the award because of her mother's and his efforts to document life in New England.

The deadline for second annual Carol Otis Hurst Book Prize is Dec. 31. All entries must be written in 2008 and illustrate life in New England.