Lunch With - Tulsa County Library's 2009 Distinguished Author Award chairs
Mary Wheeler Brown and Gina Lodes
|Mary Wheeler Brown||Gina Lodes|
Time: 11:45 a.m.
Date: September 9
When we set the date, I just knew that this month’s Lunch With was going to be exceptional. How could it not? One of my dining companions, Mary Wheeler Brown, had been my fresh-from-college 10th-grade social studies teacher in Oklahoma City. And the other, Gina Lodes, is a longtime volunteer acquaintance whom I seem to run into frequently at benefits, along with her husband, Mike. Consequently, there are hugs and explanations of how who knows whom — and a few minutes during which Lodes politely bears some reminiscences of my old high school.
Both women agreed to talk about one of the holiday season’s snazziest fund-raisers, the Tulsa City-County Library System’s Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Over the last half-dozen years I’ve covered this event for TulsaPeople, squired by my spouse, it’s become one of our favorites — the dream event for inveterate readers.
Eudora Welty, David McCullough, Shelby Foote, John Grisham, Joyce Carol Oates, Ray Bradbury, John Updike, Toni Morrison and Neil Simon are just a small portion of those who have come to accept what has grown to a $40,000 prize and an engraved crystal book, to speak to a rapt dinner crowd and then speak to the general public the following day.
Lodes, dinner chair, and Brown, author selection committee chair, are especially excited about this year’s choice, Geraldine Brooks. The Australian-born author has produced a series of page-turning books, fiction and nonfiction, that have become standard book club fodder — “Nine Parts of Desire,” “Year of Wonders,” “People of the Book” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “March.”
Lodes and her husband became enchanted with the event seven years ago after being invited by friends.
“We were hooked after the first one,” says Lodes, who has already made her way through all of Brooks’ books even as she and her committee finalize details for the catered 400-guest event held on the Central Library’s candlelit second floor. (Her day job is supervising the internal audit department for Saint Francis Hospital. A busy woman.)
Brown has been a member of the dinner committee since 1990 and author selection committee since 1999. The latter is an involved process that requires choosing an author two years ahead of the event.
“The first thing we do is dream big: What author in the world would we like to have come to Tulsa for a weekend?” Brown says. “We throw together some names … not all are American. We get a list of 25, discuss them and the library staff puts together a bio of each. We narrow the list and start reading from each of the authors.
“The greatest challenge is to get someone who fits into our list of previous winners because it’s just a who’s who. The committee goes for a high-caliber body of work, no one-hit wonders, but Harper Lee — you may have had a problem rejecting her … it’s a fun challenge.”
The Distinguished Author Award events are Dec. 4 and 5. For more information, visit www.helmerichaward.org.