I’ve never won a major award. Also, I’ve never won an intermediate award or a minor award or even a free pitcher of margaritas at Trivia Night. I have in fact been overlooked in all categories of every award in every industry, including the ones that seemed a sure thing, like Best Repeated Abuse Of Split Infinitives or J.D. Power and Associates Best Customer Service (General Literature Blog Mass Market Segment). I’m not bitter-MUCH-because it’s really true that it’s an honor just to be nominated. It’s always seemed to me that the most satisfying part of winning any award in public is the opportunity to publicly express gratitude to the people that have stood with you on whatever journey you’ve been on that led you to that podium. We’ve all seen that at the big performer-centered award shows: tearful recipients clutching something gold and shiny, rushing through a list of names, trying to ward off the “shut up already” orchestra music.
It must be difficult to get that once-in-a-lifetime chance to say THANK YOU only to be thwarted by a commercial break. If you want an unlimited gratitude plan, you need to publish a book. Authors have it figured out because a published book presents legions of places to thank every family member, editor, librarian, barista, dog, cat, and historical dead-type people that offered support, inspiration, or grilled cheese sandwiches during the writing of the book. There’s a Dedication page. Not enough space there? Please, expand in the Acknowledgments section, and tell us more. Need to offer more thoughts to tie it all together? There is always the Epilogue option. As a reader, I devour every word in these sections, because I am fascinated and moved by the communities and the processes that produce my favorite books, and also I’m trying to put off doing my laundry.
All For You Author dedications run the gamut from silly to sad to serious. Often, dedications are memorials to honor loved ones who have passed, such as Charles Finch’s simple lines in his nautical mystery Burial At Sea to his grandmother “who loved sea stories”. When it comes right down to it, though, my winner for the ultimate dedication goes to British poet and playwright Robert Browning. Robert Browning was one-half of the Victorian poetry power couple Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and there ain’t no celebrity like Victorian poet celebrity cuz Victorian poet celebrity got formal rules of comportment and sexual repression. Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were already separately established on the literary B list when they married in 1846. It was during their marriage that Robert produced one of his most important works, Men and Women. It’s a substantial work of 51 poems and in the last poem, Browning speaks directly to the reader and dedicates the entire incredible collection to his beloved wife. Think about that the next time you buy your significant other a funny Hallmark card with a picture of cartoon cat saying “I love you so much I brought you a dead mouse”. Basically: you had the choice between epic poetry and dead rodents, and you blew it. Browning knew exactly what to do with his authorial podium – tell the whole world that his best writing was ultimately a gift for his wife. (Elizabeth was no slouch in the dedication department, either. Her masterwork, Sonnets From The Portuguese, consists of love sonnets written to her husband and gave the world the immortal lines “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”. Take that, Hallmark.)
The Chair Recognizes Where a dedication is limited to one person, maybe two, or a family, all limits are off in the Acknowledgements. An author can acknowledge everybody. No worries about time limits, or forgetting someone and having to recover in the press room. Acknowledgments are a lovely way to loop in not only the professional relationships that take a book from idea to publication but all the other key people in an author’s circle. I love reading these, but my inner nerd is most happy when reading acknowledgments in any book that is history-related because I am so DOWN with learning about anyone’s research processes. History authors got some damn fine research processes, just sayin’, and nobody is finer than Laura Hillenbrand. Her meticulous, painstaking research has produced two of the finest American history books ever written, Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Laura Hillenbrand’s research methods are an art form. YUP I SAID THAT. FIGHT ME. The acknowledgments for Seabiscuit read almost as a love letter to how intimate and personal history truly is, unpacking Hillenbrand’s tenacious approach that combines painstaking thoroughness with wildly open curiosity. Before it was history, it was someone’s life, and Hillenbrand acknowledges those lives with respect and sensitivity. GAH I just talked myself into re-reading Seabiscuit.
Just One More Thing Dedications and acknowledgments are as common as dirt. When an author wants to get atypical, then it’s Epilogue time. It’s fancy to add an epilogue. Not country club fancy. More like, expensive mascara fancy. When an author needs to put a bow on what you’ve just read, a bow that needs the emotional weight of a dedication and the space afforded by an acknowledgment, then an epilogue delivers the perfect flavor of closure. Jenny Lawson illustrates this absolutely perfectly in her book about living with mental illness, Furiously Happy. This book is intentionally hilarious, not to downplay the seriousness of her disease, but to highlight the impact anxiety and depression have on her day-to-day life and how she chooses to cope with these chronic conditions. In her epilogue, she allows the humor to fall away in a heartfelt, raw appeal to people that she knows are sharing the same struggles. Mental illness is an isolating condition, often complicated by shame and stigma. Lawson uses her time at the podium to remind her most vulnerable readers that they are valued. It’s the perfect bow.
It’s awards season. Go ahead. Pretend you’re getting that award you know you deserve, grab a spatula, and practice your epic acceptance speech in the mirror. It will be our secret.
Extra credit if you read any of Robert Browning’s poetry.