Pinckley Prizes honor literary mysteries — and women

In 2011, NolaVie took wobbly wing as one of the first hyperlocal, citizen-journalist digital magazines in New Orleans. Lift-off required lots of hands, and Diana Pinckley lent hers with her usual generosity, intelligence, energy and humor. She wrote press releases, advised on marketing strategies, brainstormed long and short-term missions.

It was vintage Pinckley. And this zeal for her city, her friends and the causes she believed in was matched only by her passion for something else just as intrinsic to the place where she lived: mysteries.

Pinckley was an avid reader and reviewer of mystery novels. She led many a panel at book gatherings far and wide, and her column about crime fiction, “Get a Clue!”, ran in the Times-Picayune for 23 years.

Sadly, Pinckley passed away in 2012, shortly after NolaVie was launched, and too soon to see the blossoming of the project she had helped to nurture. As with so many New Orleanians we have loved and cherished, however, I still feel her presence around town. The Little Free Library on the grounds of the Latter Library on St. Charles is dedicated to her memory; my 5-year-old grandson excitedly told me the other day that you can “buy” a book from its diminutive shelves, and I know Pinckley was listening. (No one ever called her Diana.) Her dedication to civic causes live on in such organizations she supported as Edible Schoolyard, the Crescent City Farmers Market, and the Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education.

The most tangible – and appropriate – legacy for Pinckley are the Pinckley Prizes, awarded annually since 2012 to women writers. One goes each year to an author who has created a significant body of work, the other to a first-time novelist. The prizes are administered by the Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans, which Pinckley also helped to found.

The 2019 winners are Megan Abbott for distinguished body of work, and Sarah St. Vincent for debut novel. Abbott, author of 10 books, won critical acclaim for her 2016 novel You Will Know Me, about the world of competitive gymnastics. Her most recent novel is Give Me Your Hand, which depicts the rivalry between two female graduate students in the world of high-stakes science. She is a staff writer on HBO’s new David Simon show, The Deuce, and lives in New York.

St. Vincent is also a New Yorker and a human rights attorney. Her first novel, Ways to Hide in Winter, reflects her concern with domestic violence in a tale about a fugitice and the woman who gets to know him over a winter in a state park. Both women will win cash awards and attend the public award ceremony in New Orleans on Thursday.

These two accomplished authors bring to an even dozen the number of women authors honored to date by the Pinckley Prizes. I know Pinckley herself would be honored and a bit self-deprecating about the awards. But she would love the attention bestowed on women, and revel in the idea that the mystery genre deserves literary accolades. Her one regret would certainly be that she didn’t get to read all of these great mysteries.

The Pinckley Prizes will be presented on Thursday, October 10, at 6 p.m. at the Louisiana Humanities Center, 938 Lafayette St., in New Orleans. This event is open to the public. For more information, visit pinckleyprizes.org.

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