The Literarian Award, 2010

Joan Ganz Cooney

The Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community is presented to an individual for outstanding service to the American literary community, whose life and work exemplify the goals of the National Book Foundation to expand the audience for literature and to enhance the cultural value of literature in America.

The National Book Foundation will bestow the 2010 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community on Joan Ganz Cooney, one of the visionaries behind Sesame Workshop (formerly known as Children’s Television Workshop) and the most successful children’s show in the history of television, Sesame Street.

Cooney began her career as a reporter in her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona after receiving a B.A. from the University of Arizona. From 1954 to 1962 she worked as a publicist for NBC in New York and for The U.S. Steel Hour, a highly acclaimed CBS drama series. She was an award-winning public affairs producer for New York’s WNET/Thirteen before conducting the study for Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1966 entitled, “The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education,” which led to the founding of the Workshop.

Sesame Street, which began as an experiment, is the first preschool program to integrate education and entertainment as well as feature a multi-cultural cast. It has been broadcast daily since 1969 in the U.S. on the more than 300 stations of the Public Broadcasting Service and has been seen by millions of children in more than 140 countries.

Following the successful launch of Sesame Street, Cooney and her colleagues created other award-winning children’s series on network and public TV, including The Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact, Square One TV, and Ghostwriter, all bringing science, mathematics, and reading to life.

Cooney served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Sesame Workshop until 1990 and is currently Chairman of the Executive Committee of Sesame Workshop's Board. She is married to businessman Peter G. Peterson, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and lives in New York City.

The Foundation’s Board of Directors also noted that Cooney’s visionary and original work has fostered good reading habits and enthusiasm about books and reading at a very young age, which has been shown to lead to avid literary reading throughout a lifetime.

Jon Scieszka - National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Children's book author Jon Scieszka was named the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress., appointed in 2008. The two-year position was created to raise national weakness of the importance of young people's literature as it related to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people. He is the author of some of the best known and funniest books written for children including The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Time Warp Trio series, Robot Zot! and the Caldecott Honor Book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales. He is the creator of the Trucktown series, of which Smash!Crash! was an NY Times bestseller for several weeks. His new interactive middle-grade series, Spaceheadz, promotes Jon’s biggest cause—Media literacy. Jon is a former elementary school teacher, and an avid promoter of literacy—particularly for boys. His website focuses on his national campaign. Jon lives with his family in Brooklyn, NY.

Photo credit: Marty Umans