Friday, 25 November 2016

Does Life Change When You Win A $100,000 Book Prize

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Susan Pedersen Reflects On Family and 2015 Cundill Prize 
By K.J Mullins Newz4U

Winning the 2015 Cundill Prize in Historical Literature has not changed author Susan Pedersen but it did help her have more time to reconnect with her youngest son. Last autumn when Pedersen won the prize she was taking some time off from her teaching position at Columbia University to work on her current project. She used some of the prize money to fly her youngest child to the UK for some much needed one on one time.

Pedersen said that winning the prize was special but in terms of academic success did not have a large impact at Columbia University. She noted that the book appearing in the Oxford University Press in summer 2015 was more celebrated at the American school.
Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell (l), Susan Pedersen
and Chancellor Michael Meighen - Cundill Win!


Pedersen is a dedicated academic and a devoted working mother. Loyal to a life of exploring and retelling the history of Britain there are times that her two worlds are in conflict. Long periods of research while teaching takes time, making each minute with her family important quality time. She remembers speaking at a lecture in aboard when her daughter was just three months old. Still nursing she transported back several large containers of milk on the airplane. “The flight attendants all were working mothers and so helpful” making sure to pack the bottles in dry ice for the long trip home.

During the summers Pedersen was often away from home doing research. Her children always came with her and her husband on these trips. “I always told the two of them to entertain themselves,” Pedersen laughs. Because of that time her daughter and son spent together they have a tight bond with each other which Pedersen is quite happy about.

Pedersen admits that at times the blending of her two worlds is a challenge, a fact that she shares during some of her lectures. Many young working women have been inspired by her example of mixing family and a successful career.

Pedersen in university housing for NYU in Greenwich Village with her family. (Her husband is a professor at NYU). We spoke about the high cost of rents in both New York City and Toronto for small apartments. For this historian having a large office with room for books at her school is a life saver! That's not to say books aren't an important part of the family home which she confided is filled with book shelves.


Her book The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire showed the power and fatal flaws of the League of Nations. The book took a decade of research. Her next book is still years away but her excitement of the subject is infectious. She is venturing into the world of Edwardian era of politics from the eyes of three women. At a time when women, like children were to be seen but not heard, feminism played an important role. Pedersen had a mischievous smile in place as she discussed her subjects in Toronto hours before the announcement of the 2016 Cundill Prize for Historical Literature (McGill University) was announced. Still early in the game of research Pedersen has found some delicious scandals. “This book will be very different than The Guardians,” she promised. One of the biggest changes will be the overall style of writing which she believes will speak to a large audience. Not that The Guardian was not an amazing read that appealed to a wide audience.

One of the most lasting powers from literary prizes like the Cundill Prize is increasing the reach of books that often have a very limited audience. Historical literature is generally read by historians, with dry academic writing. The Guardian broke that rule by being lively and a page turner, appealing both to the academic and the general public, it has been on many best seller book lists.

AT THE RECENTLY HELD CUNDILL AWARD DINNER IN TORONTO, VIDEOGRAPHER GEORGE SOCKA TALKED TO SUSAN PEDERSEN ABOUT THE PRIZE. SHORT VIDEO A COMPANION PIECE TO KJ MULLIN'S ARTICLE. https://youtu.be/JgoUhpX5GXA

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