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Got an Appetite for Visual Storytelling? Dig into the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize Winners!

August 27, 2021

Craving a bit of visual storytelling that lasts longer than a serving of TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram? In a world hungry for image-based content, the graphic novel continues to sustain and grow ever-popular as a visual storytelling specialty.

As noted by Pennsylvania (PA) Center for the Book emeritus director Steven Herb, the “Penn State University (PSU) Libraries have been on the cutting edge of recognizing the graphic novel as an important and emerging medium through our collections, programming, and our leadership in the integration of the form with academic programs studying its scholarly attributes (English, literature, art, popular culture, LGBT studies, women’s studies, history, and science).”

These observations were part of the October 1, 2010, planning proposal for the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize and were supported by examples such as the Pattee Library exhibit, Graphic Novels: Comics as Art, History, and Literature, curated by former Coordinator of Audio-Visual Collections and Fred Waring’s America, Eileen Akin (Jan-Mar 2007), and the Graphic Novel Speaker Series inspired by the exhibit, sponsored and co-sponsored by the PA Center for the Book and various PSU Library departments between February 2007 and March 2010.

Together these two initiatives gave rise to the annual Lynd Ward Graphic Novel prize administered by the PA Center for the Book. The PA Center for the Book is an affiliate of the Center for the Book established in 1977 at the Library of Congress and is sponsored by the PSU University Libraries. It encourages Pennsylvania’s citizens and residents to study, honor, celebrate, and promote books, reading, libraries, and literacy.

Established in 2011 in acknowledgement of Lynd Ward’s contributions to the genre with his introduction of wordless, woodcut novels in American (1929-1937), the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize holds visual work to a standard of being more “than an illustrated text-driven novel” and expects it to demonstrate “artistic and literary quality, ambition, and/or innovation,” while weaving an “engaging and descriptive narrative, in word choice and/or visually,” per the Lynd Ward Prize Selection Criteria.

Administered by PA Center for the Book Assistant Director, Ellysa Stern Cahoy and with support of Advisory Board members, the Lynd Ward Prize is awarded annually to “the best graphic novel, fiction or nonfiction, published in the previous calendar year by a living U.S. or Canadian citizen or resident.”

Titles recognized by the award include King of King Court: A Memoir by Travis Dandro (Drawn & Quarterly), noted by 2020 Judges as the winner for its “deft intermingling of word and image” to effectively convey a deeply personal story of familial trauma and resilience. That same year, New Kid by Jerry Craft (Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins) was selected as the Honor Book for its “nuanced representation of an African-American boy” navigating private [middle] school and home life and its illustration of “how toxic our [visual] ways of ‘reading the other’ can be.”

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (First Second), one of two 2021 Honor Books, has also been named the Best Publication for Teens by the 2021 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.

The Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize winner of 2021 is Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison edited by Sarah Mirk (Abrams ComicArts), lauded for its diverse collection of points-of-view presented in “a solid example of graphic journalism.”

Guantanamo Voices Book Cover/ Image credit: Abrams ComicArts

A Virtual Celebration and Presentation by Mirk will be held:
Tuesday, November 16, 2021
7:00-8:00 p.m.

Virtual Access TBA on the Pennsylvania Center for the Book website

Mirk will receive a $2,500 prize along with, courtesy of the Library of America, a two-volume set of Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward (2010).

Previous Lynd Ward Prize award ceremonies, in which creators share details and images of their creative process and vision, can be viewed from the Lynd Ward Prize Playlist on the PA Center for the Book YouTube page.

Lynd Ward Prize Playlist, YouTube/ Image credit: PA Center for the Book

As the genre expands, the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize continues to acknowledge high-quality work based on its effectiveness in delivering “a sum experience that is superior to its respective components.”

Meanwhile, Penn State’s appetite for the genre continues to grow, for example, with the introduction of Penn State Press’ Graphic Mundi imprint in 2021 (which published Menopause: A Comic Treatment [Graphic Medicine], winner of two 2021 Eisner Awards) and the expansion of scholarly fields, such as Visual Literacy in Graphic Novels/Comics, supported by Comics & Animation PSU Library Guides, among others.

So when the latest Snapchat dematerializes and you’ve exed your last pop-up ad of the day, settle in with a graphic novel – perhaps a wordless tale that deepens one woodcut image per page at a time by Ward himself – if you crave a hearty story with cumulative, synergistic power.

For more information about the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, visit the PA Center for the Book website or contact Ellysa Stern Cahoy (ellysa@psu.edu), Assistant Director.

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