A boyhood sports hero of mine once said that awards and public recognition might be a nice byproduct of real accomplishments, but were never the aim of his efforts. That thought stuck with me, and I have returned to it over the years as this magazine has won — and not won — awards.
A second consideration regarding honors and attention has occurred to me in recent weeks. Sometimes awards, while certainly welcome affirmation for good work, are equally valued for what they say about that good work. Here’s what I mean.
The magazine recently learned it had won a gold medal for web writing from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), our primary professional organization. The entry, submitted by associate editor Sarah Cahalan ’14 who serves as the website’s chief editor, was a trio of first-person essays by young alumni.
“A Farewell to Feve” is a fun, wistful and sharply written goodbye to a popular student hotspot, Club Fever, by Natalia Cuevas ’14, who now lives in Brooklyn. “An American in Ireland,” by Chicago native Jack Rooney ’16, is a splendidly written reflection on his family’s Irish roots and a pilgrimage to their ancestral homeland. And finally, Sarah’s own “Home for the Holidays” describes her feelings about returning to her native Indiana and Notre Dame after working and living far away from home.
The recognition was especially pleasing because the magazine has long received awards for the quality of its writing in print, and most people think of Notre Dame Magazine as a print quarterly. But, like most periodicals these days, the magazine has a strong web presence that complements the print edition. It’s nice to have that vehicle recognized.
It’s doubly gratifying because the recipients are young alumni – young writers being acknowledged for the quality of their work, the kind of writers (and readers) this magazine is hoping to nurture so the magazine stays vital and vibrant long into the future.
The magazine has also won a CASE award for its colorful spring cover on technology — by Nolan Pelletier, a wonderfully creative artist now living in Toronto. You’ll probably remember another cover he did for us a year ago.
Nolan Pelletier's spring 2018 (left) and summer 2017 (right) covers
In addition to the CASE acknowledgements, we were pleased to learn that a piece by Michael McGregor, “The Story Catcher,” was cited among the “other notable essays” in this year’s volume, Best American Essays. His story spoke appreciatively, admiringly and honestly about the late Brian Doyle ’78, novelist and essayist. Notre Dame Magazine is represented annually in this yearly collection of the nation’s best writing, competing with the finest commercial publications.
About the same time, we gave permission to Utne Reader to reprint an essay by the distinguished writer Scott Russell Sanders, “An Economy of False Profits,” about the degradation of the environment and its threat on human health. This is significant because it adds a Notre Dame voice to the national dialogue on meaningful, contemporary issues.
The same is true of the final set of honors we’ve recently heard about.
Abby Pesta ’91 was an intern at this magazine. Since then she has followed stories and told them on the pages of books, newspapers and national magazines, in fiction and nonfiction. Back in the fall of 2017, she came to us with a story. The Rev. Sharon Risher’s mother had been shot and killed at the Charleston church shooting in 2015, and the daughter had been trying to make sense of it for two years. “To Forgive a Killer” was Risher’s personal narrative.
The trouble was, the narrative was very long — 5,800 words. And the only real connection to Notre Dame was Pesta — except, yes, the themes of forgiveness and the role of religion in our lives, and familial love, and the modern horrors of mass shootings. All four editors read it, and it was unanimous. “It’s a Notre Dame Magazine kind of story,” we agreed. Those stories come along sometimes — stories that don’t seem unique to this publication and yet seem just right for us, deserving, compelling stories you don’t find everywhere.
Would readers follow along with Pesta and Risher for 5,800 words? Probably not all of them. But those who did read from beginning to end would be rewarded. Some stories need to be told, need to be presented to a thinking, caring readership.
Pesta and Risher were rewarded too. “To Forgive a Killer” earned a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of New York as well as first place in essays and criticism at the 2018 Folio Show in New York City, one of the most prestigious award competitions in publishing.
This magazine gets its share of awards. But it’s not our goal. And we know that award-giving is a fickle, uneven business. So we keep it in perspective and typically don’t say much about it. But these acts of recognition came to us over the period of a few weeks. So it seemed noteworthy, and it seemed right to say that awards are very nice, but it’s also what they say about the work that is being done.
To expand the reach of our website. To encourage young writers. To add Notre Dame’s voice to the national conversation on important topics. To carry Notre Dame into wider arenas. And to give our readers the quality and thoughtful stories they want — and whose support makes all this possible. So congratulations to you, too, for helping us make a magazine we can all be proud of.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.