Ken Burns presented the award at the Authors Guild Gala in New York (Beowuf Sheehan)

Heather Cox Richardson receives Baldacci Award

The Authors Guild award for literary activism honors her blockbuster "Letters from an American" newsletter and book "Democracy Awakening"

Boston College History Professor Heather Cox Richardson was presented with the Baldacci Award for Literary Activism at the 32nd annual Authors Guild Foundation Gala on May 30 in New York City. 

One of four honorees for outstanding contributions to the literary world, Richardson, author of numerous acclaimed history books, and the popular daily newsletter “Letters from an American,” was presented with the award by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

Burns praised Richardson’s ability to make sense of the world, through “her clear-eyed prose, and the connections she makes with an abundance of skill and just the right word, providing reassurance through her writing — even when the news is devastating — because she has faith in her fellow Americans.”

Richardson began publishing “Letters from an American” in 2019, and since then, it has accrued more than one million subscribers, making her the most successful individual author of a paid publication on Substack, an online platform that allows writers to publish newsletters and establish a subscription-based audience.

Ken Burns and Heather Cox Richardson

In presenting the award, Ken Burns praised Heather Coc Richardson’s ability to make sense of the world through “her clear-eyed prose" and her " faith in her fellow Americans.” (Beowulf Sheehan)

Democracy Awakening, the latest of Richardson’s seven books on history and politics, provides an accessible history that connects the past to our present challenges, and champions the urgent and continuous need for democracy.  At Boston College since 2011, she teaches courses that cover the whole sweep of American history, focusing on politics, economics and ideology.  She previously taught history at MIT and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In her acceptance speech, Richardson emphasized the vital role of the Authors Guild in protecting writers’ ability to explore human nature freely. She also connected the guild’s advocacy to the importance of literacy in a democracy, quoting David Baldacci, for whom the award is named: “If you can’t read at a sufficient level, you can’t be an effective member of a democracy.” 

Baldacci, a philanthropist and author of over 50 novels for adults and young readers, co-founded with his wife, Michelle, the Wish You Well Foundation, which works to combat illiteracy by funding adult literacy programs.

The others prize winners included W. Paul Coates, the Publisher Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community, for Black Classic Press, one of the oldest independently owned Black publishers in operation in the U.S.; Suzette Baker, the Champion of Writers Award, for her efforts opposing book bans in Texas; and Jesmyn Ward, the Preston Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community as the first woman and person of color to twice win the National Book Award for Fiction.

“Through their work and advocacy, each of tonight’s honorees has demonstrated the vital importance of the written word and the crucial need to protect it,” said Authors Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger.

Deborah Wilson, executive director of the Authors Guild Foundation said, “We are proud to honor the courage and dedication of these writers and advocates. We remain committed to supporting authors and ensuring that a diverse range of voices and stories continues to thrive.”

With nearly 15,000 members, the Authors Guild, founded in 1912, is the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for published writers. It advocates on behalf of working writers to protect free speech, freedom of expression, and authors’ copyrights; fights for fair contracts and authors ability to earn a livable wage; and provides a welcoming community for writers and translators of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and journalism. Through the Authors Guild Foundation, it also offers free programming to teach working writers about the business of writing, as well as organizing public events that highlight the importance of a rich, diverse American literary culture and the authors who contribute to it.