LOUISVILLE (PNS) — Jane Kurtz, prolific author, artist, literacy advocate and a child of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers, has been named the recipient of the 2020 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award by the Presbyterian Writers Guild.
Kurtz, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ruling elder, has published over 35 children’s books, from picture books and easy-readers to middle grade novels. Her most recent picture book won the 2019 Oregon Spirit Book Award for non-fiction from the Oregon Council of Teachers of English. “What Do They Do with All That Poo?” is full of fun and serious facts about what zoos do with the poo generated every day by their animal residents.
“Jane has modeled a life dedicated to sharing her passion for creativity, writing and teaching,” wrote Caroline Kurtz, founder and executive director of the Maji Development Coalition, in nominating her sister for the honor. “Jane and I are daughters of Presbyterian missionaries in Ethiopia for 23 years, Harold and Polly Kurtz. I am not totally objective, but I believe Jane’s lifetime of literary accomplishment deserves to be celebrated!”
Kurtz will receive the award at the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s General Assembly luncheon June 25 in Baltimore, at which she will also serve as the featured speaker.
Named for the late David Steele — Presbyterian poet and essayist best known for his “Tuesday Morning” column in The Presbyterian Outlook — the distinguished writer award is given biennially to a Presbyterian writer who blessed the church with his or her writing over the course of a career.
As an artist and author, Kurtz has spoken in schools all over the U.S. and the world, encouraging children to write what is in their hearts. Over 20 years ago, she co-founded Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit in Ethiopia dedicated to literacy and the founding of children’s libraries. Most recently she co-founded and is one of three creative directors of Ready Set Go Books, creating practice reading books for Ethiopian children. The Ministry of Education in Ethiopia is printing thousands of copies of 45 Ready Set Go Books titles for a USAID literacy campaign in 2020. Kurtz also serves on the faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, which established the first M.F.A. program in the country to focus exclusively on writing for young readers.
“Having had the great honor and joy of working with David Steele in the 1990s, I am convinced that Jane’s newest book, ‘What Do They Do with All That Poo,’ would tickle Dave’s funny bone,” said the Rev. Emily Enders Odom, president of the PWG and chair of its award selection committee. “Her most recent book would also resonate with John Calvin, whose fixation with the accumulated animal droppings on Noah’s Ark was documented by William J. Bouwsma in his unique portrait of the 16th century reformer.”
In addition to Odom, the PWG’s award selection committee included the Rev. Jill Duffield, Charlottesville, Va., and the Rev. Matt Matthews, Champaign, Ill.
“My life as a writer began with passionate reading — in remote Ethiopia where my parents worked for the Presbyterian Church and where I saw Ethiopian kids getting their first shot at education — while I was first diving deeply into books, words, and stories,” said Kurtz upon being informed of her selection for the biennial award. “No one has more doubt and needs more faith than an artist, so my spiritual path and my writing path are closely entwined. I’m deeply honored to have this award from a community that welcomed my quirky self and gave me a robust life of the mind and imagination.”
Previous winners of the David Steele Distinguished Writer Award include Katherine Paterson, Fredrick Buechner, Ann Weems, Eugene H. Peterson, Gustav Niebuhr, Marj Carpenter, Gayraud Wilmore, Eva Stimson, Kathleen Norris, Bill Tammeus, Jack Rogers, John Buchanan, James Atwood, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Kathy Bostrom, Doris Betts and Vic Jameson.
by Emily Enders Odom, Presbyterian Writers Guild, for Presbyterian News Service