The Literarian Award, 2014


This is the tenth year that the Foundation has presented its Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. The Award honors individuals for a lifetime of achievement in expanding the audience for literature.

Kyle Zimmer imageThe National Book Foundation has chosen Kyle Zimmer as its 2014 Literarian Medalist. Zimmer will be honored for her outstanding leadership and achievements in overcoming childhood illiteracy and promoting educational equality.

Internationally recognized as a visionary proponent of social entrepreneurship, Zimmer’s innovative business strategies have enabled the Washington, DC-based nonprofit social enterprise, First Book, to distribute quality books at little or no cost to millions of underserved children in communities throughout the United States and abroad.

First Book LogoFirst Book’s successes have resulted in demonstrable improvements in childhood literacy, as well as positive outcomes for schools and programs that receive First Book’s books and educational resources.

“Hundreds of thousands of people across the country have been touched by Kyle Zimmer’s vision that the barriers to reading should come down,” said NBF Executive Director, Harold Augenbraum. “Her work on behalf of readers has been exemplary and will have long-lasting effects.”



Born in Zanesville, Ohio, Zimmer attended the University of Iowa and graduated from George Washington University Law School. She worked as a corporate attorney for several years in Washington, DC while also volunteering as a tutor for Martha’s Table, a multi-service community organization for the District’s families in need.

Realizing that the children she was working with had no books to call their own spurred Zimmer to take action and in 1992, Zimmer founded First Book. To provide quality books to underserved children, Zimmer developed two groundbreaking models of social entrepreneurship: the First Book Marketplace, an award-winning, self-sustaining program that purchases new books from publishers and makes them available to educators and program leaders at affordable prices, and the First Book National Book Bank, which serves as the nation’s largest clearinghouse for new books donated by publishers. In addition, First Book’s market-driven Stories for All Project is serving as a catalyst to increase diversity in children’s books, so that all children can see themselves in books.

“Hundreds of thousands of people across the country have been touched by Kyle Zimmer’s vision that the barriers to reading should come down,” said the Foundation’s Executive Director, Harold Augenbraum.

With Zimmer at the helm, First Book distributes millions of new books and educational resources every year to children from low-income families through a growing network of schools, programs, churches, and institutions across the United States, as well as in as well as in Canada, Peru, Haiti, Jamaica, India and other countries.

A passionate advocate for social entrepreneurship, educational equity, and the importance of literacy to further economic competitiveness and global understanding, Zimmer has participated in some of the world’s most prestigious economic forums. In 2013, Zimmer was a presenter at the University of Oxford’s “Power Shift: Forum for Women in the World Economy” at the Saïd Business School at Oxford. Zimmer and First Book were also featured at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative. Zimmer was also a presenter and blogger at the World Economic Forum in Beijing in 2012, served as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Entrepreneurship, and was featured as a presenter at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2010.

Zimmer has won numerous awards and honors, including the Carle Honors Angel Award in 2009, the first ever American Marketing Association Nonprofit Marketer of the Year in 2008, and the Outstanding Social Entrepreneur of the Year in the United States in 2007 from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. She currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Ashoka, which works to ensure that social entrepreneurs and their innovations continue to inspire a new generation of local change-makers. She also serves on the Youth Venture Board of Directors and as a member of the board for James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead.


Presenting the Award, Mary Pope Osborne

Mary Pope Osborne
Mary Pope Osborne is an award-winning children’s author and ardent literacy advocate whose Magic Tree House series has sold more than 120 million copies and been translated into 33 languages. She has served as president of the Authors Guild, traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad speaking on issues related to children’s literature and literacy, and has personally donated hundreds of thousands of books to children. With help from Kyle Zimmer and First Book, she has arranged book donations to school districts across the country and has awarded over 2000 individual grants to teachers of Title 1 schools.

Photo credit: Elena Seibert