WNBA is giving out an award Dec. 3, 2006 to a one-time Boston doctor — but don’t think basketball, think books.
It’s the Women’s National Book Association, founded in 1917 by 15 women booksellers who had been denied membership in the all-male Bookseller’s League. That year, women couldn’t vote, but they were writing. Edith Wharton published the novel “Summer.” Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliott won the Pulitzer Prize for their biography about their mother, Julia Ward Howe.
Today, the association has grown to “promote reading and to support the role of women in the community of the book.” That includes granting an award to a woman who earns at least part of her income from books or related arts and whose work goes beyond the “responsibilities of her profession.”
The 2006 winner is Dr. Perri Klass, who worked at Boston Medical Center before moving in September to New York University, where she is a professor of pediatrics and journalism. Klass is a pediatrician and a prolific writer of fiction, essays, and books. She joins an august group: Past awards have gone to Rachel Carson, Pearl Buck, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Co-written with her mother, Sheila Solomon Klass, Perri Klass’s recent book is a double memoir, two women writing from different views about shared lifetimes. The mouthful of a title is “Every Mother Is a Daughter: The Neverending Quest for Success, Inner Peace, and a Really Clean Kitchen (Recipes and Knitting Patterns Included).”
“We’re talking to each other, and we’re talking to you,” the readers, Klass said in an interview. It’s a blend of history, emotion, and convergent and clashing memories.
What helps put Klass’s effort beyond the call of duty is her work with Reach Out and Read, a national organization that distributes children’s books through the offices of pediatricians and family doctors. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s fun, Klass says, explaining how children’s eyes light up when they get a book, and how the book can make it easier to do the basic medical work of assessing children’s development, speech, and their interactions with parents. There is, Klass says, a “practical, concrete pleasure” in seeing a new book go home with a child.
Born in 1989 at what was then Boston City Hospital, Reach Out and Read is now in 3,100 sites. In its 2006 fiscal year, the organization gave away 4.3 million books to 2.6 million children. The organization uses federal funding, private donations, and in some cases state funds. In 2000, Massachusetts was the first state to invest in the program.
Congratulations are due to Klass. But this award is also a nod of gratitude for the great power of books.
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.