Utah State University's Mountain West Center Announces
2018 Evans Biography Award Winners
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich - Evans Biography Award Winner
A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights
in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870
Rodney Frey - Evans Handcart Award Winner
Carry Forth the Stories: An Ethnographer's Journey into
Native Oral Tradition
The USU Mountain West Center for Regional Studies announces the 2018 winners of the Evans Biography Awards for books published in 2017. Now in their 35th year, these prizes recognize the best of research and writing in biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs that focus on the stories of people who have shaped the character of the Interior West or what's been described as “Mormon Country” – a region historically influenced by Mormon institutions and social practices; however, neither the subjects of the books or the authors are required to be members of the faith.
Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017) captured the Evans Biography Award, and author and ethnographer Rodney Frey won the Evans Handcart Award for his book Carry Forth the Stories: An Ethnographer’s Journey into Native Oral Tradition (Washington State University Press, 2017). The awards carry cash prizes of $10,000 and $2,500 respectively, made possible through an endowment created in 1983 by the family of David Woolley Evans and Beatrice Cannon Evans.
“The high quality and diversity of submissions make it challenge for the regional and national juries to select only two winners,” said Evelyn Funda, director of the Mountain West Center. “The Evans Awards are a unique set of awards because they are judged on two factors: they highlight the importance of well-researched and compelling biographical and autobiographical writing as genres, and, secondly, they focus on the untold stories about the individuals who have shaped the geography, politics, environment, social interactions, and cultural nature of the distinct region known as the Interior West.”
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, professor of history at Harvard University, won for her expansive work on the lives and experiences of ordinary, yet powerful women who participated in polygamy, or “plural marriage,” in the early years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ten years in the making, Ulrich’s book pieces together their stories using rare diaries, albums, ledgers, meeting notes, letters, personal artifacts, minute books, and quilts left by first-generation Latter-day Saints.
Members of the award jury called the book “revelatory” in its creative use of material evidence and “audacious” in the way it challenges how social historians write. One jury member noted, “[Ulrich] shows how polygamy impacted so many aspects of early [Mormon] culture – politics, women’s roles, issues of suffrage and legal status, the destiny of Utah as a state – and how each decision, each life, was part of a whole. From wide research, she brings the personal and the abstract into a readable whole.”
Like Ulrich, the winner of this year’s Evans Handcart Award focuses on spirituality and the lesser-known voices in the Interior West. Rodney Frey, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology and is a professor of ethnography at the University of Idaho, has spent more than forty years interacting with the elders, participating in tribal activities, and partnering with tribal communities including the Crow, Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, and Warm Springs to learn and share the stories of Native Oral Tradition. He calls his award-winning Carry Forth the Stories an “ethnographic memoir” because it interweaves events of his own life story with the stories those garnered from interviews, oral histories, and elders to provide empathetic and professional insights into the power and value of story and storytelling. As with his previous scholarly works, Frey is respectful of how only specific individuals have the right to retell the stories within the rich oral tradition of these Northwest tribes. But he openly shares parts of his own personal journey, including the sudden illness of his son and years later, his own diagnosis of cancer. What ultimately brings him through these ordeals is a combination of western practices that he calls “head healing” (that is, doctors and hospitals) along with the tribal methods of “heart healing.”
“Frey’s autobiographical experiences are key as to how his work with indigenous storytelling has benefited and changed his life,” writes one juror. This book, adds another jury member, “is an attempt to open the door into a realm of thinking and communicating that is new to most readers. It’s courageous to assume that mere print can reveal this different world.”
The jurors for the Evans Biography Awards also selected a finalist for each award:
The finalist for the Evans Biography Award is Thomas G. Smith’s Stewart L. Udall: Steward of the Land (University of New Mexico Press, 2017). This full biography of Udall shows him to be a visionary leader as a three-term member of Congress and secretary of the interior in the Kennedy and Johnson cabinets. Reintroducing one of the great US environmental leaders to a new generation of Americans, the book is, according to the Evans jurors, an engaging, candid, and balanced portrait.
The finalist for the Evans Handcart Award is R. Bruce Craig’s Portrait of a Prospector: Edward Schieffelin’s Own Story (University of Oklahoma Press, 2017). This book, edited by Craig, pieces together colorful memoirs and oral histories to tell the story of Edward Schieffelin, in his own words. Schieffelin was the epitome of the American frontiersman. An Indian scout, he discovered what would become known as the legendary Tombstone, Arizona, silver lode in 1877.
The public is welcome to attend the presentation of the Evans Biography Award and the Evans Handcart Award scheduled for this fall in conjunction with the annual Arrington Lecture Conference at Utah State University. The winning authors will discuss their works and be available for a book signing and a chance to meet the public.