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Presbyterian Writers Guild celebrates three award-winning authors

Sisters Jane and Caroline Kurtz and the Rev. Bill Chadwick are honored via Zoom

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — On Monday the Presbyterian Writers Guild celebrated the work of three authors during an awards presentation all too familiar over the past 2½ years: via Zoom, rather than the in-person General Assembly venue that members much prefer.

“We wish we were seeing each other in person in the hallowed halls of the General Assembly,” said PWG president the Rev. Emily Enders Odom, “where much laughter and a lot of chocolate is shared.”

Guild members and friends were treated to talks by three honorees: Jane Kurtz, winner of the David Steele Distinguished Writer Award for 2020; her sister, Caroline Kurtz, the 2020 Presbyterian Publishing Corporation Best First  Book Award winner for her book, “A Road Called Down on Both Sides: Growing Up in Ethiopia and America”;  and the Rev. Bill Chadwick, who won the PPC’s Best First Book Award for 2022 for “Still Laughing, Still Learning (Still Looking for a Good Title).”

The Kurtz sisters are two of the  children of the Rev. Harold and Polly Kurtz, who were longtime PC(USA) mission co-workers in Ethiopia. “Our mom taught us how to read. It was such a pleasure to learn from someone who loves to read,” Jane said. “Dad was a storyteller.” It wasn’t until she returned to the U.S. to attend college “that I realized I could share beautiful Ethiopia through my writing.”

The Kurtz sisters are the creative team behind Ready Set Go Books, which translates books into local dialects and puts them in the hands of children.

The daughters of longtime Presbyterian missionaries, Caroline and Jane Kurtz, were honored by the Presbyterian Writers Guild Monday for their 2020 awards. (Contributed photo)

“It’s such a pleasure to see what words and pictures can do, and such a pleasure to collaborate with so many people,” Jane said. To date about 125 titles have been translated into 11 languages. More than 300,000 books have been printed and distributed in Ethiopia.

“People really want books to be in their own mother tongue,” Jane said.

Caroline Kurtz took her story back to kindergarten at the international American school in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. She and her sister are so-called “third-culture kids,” she said, an amalgam of the cultures of their parents and the culture they’re immersed in.

After she married and had children, “We did to our children what our parents had done to us,” Caroline said. “We made them third-culture kids.”

As she returns to Ethiopia from time to time, “it gives me the chance to enter the culture in a deeper way,” she said, making “friendships with an awareness of the cultural richness.”

Both sisters said they were grateful for their awards.

“I’ve been a Presbyterian all my life. To have been fed and encouraged and challenged and sent by the Presbyterian Church and now recognized and awarded and supported in this work, that means so much to me,” Caroline said. “We have longed to share our lives with people who haven’t had the chance to experience it as we have.”

Bill Chadwick’s “Still Laughing, Still Learning (Still Looking for a Good Title)” is the winner of the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s First Book Award.

Chadwick, a retired pastor living in Minnetonka, Minnesota, called his book a culmination of years of ministry, including both stories and sermons.

“I was hoping to share my great wisdom with a wider audience, have something permanent for my children and maybe grandchildren and be a New York Times best-selling author,” he said with a smile. “I got the second one, anyhow.”

“My dad was a farmer and a wonderful storyteller. I’m proud to follow in his tradition,” Chadwick said. “It’s a wonderful honor and I’m so grateful.”

Kevin Kouba, the music director at Briargate Presbyterian Church in Louisville, provided piano music during the celebration. The Rev. Dr. Bridgett Green, Vice President for Publishing at the PPC, discussed recently published and upcoming titles for both grownups and children.

Yet another highlight was an a capella version of those gathered online singing the PWG hymn, written years ago by legendary Presbyterian journalist Vic Jameson and set to the tune of “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.”

Among Jameson’s lyrics:

“Glorious words we all have written,

members of the Writers Guild;

with our skills we all are smitten,

and with virtue we are filled.

We are bound to be immortal;

great renown is our intent.

We will rest in heaven’s portal —

if we just can get in print. …

We will make the world much brighter

with our poems and with our prose.

And the byline of each writer

will be one Creation knows.

We will find that we are listed

in the heavenly hall of fame.

And each one will have requested:

Please, God, don’t misspell my name!”

“That was remarkable,” Kouba said.

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