Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Ellstrom Award for Literature—2007

Dear JJ aka PapPap,

I have named an award after you. The Jan Josef (Joseph) Ellstrom Award for Literature. I guess we could less formally call it Joe's Award. I remember Nana calling you Joe, but your friends from the Swedish Lodge called you JJ, didn't they.

In my adulthood I have learned that life with you was not all peaceful. So, I will not call this a peace prize; I shall save that for the prize I name for Nana. However, my remembrance of you is very good. I remember the sizzling smell of your blacksmith shop and the sweet smell of your pipe from which you let us take clandestine puffs when sitting at your feet on the front porch of the green house on 27th Street. I remember your gruff reprimands when we escaped that porch, not via the steps, but over the front banister, climbing like spiderpeople onto window ledges and down to the front sidewalk.

I remember you in your "easy chair" near the highback piano, calling for each of us to bring to you our report cards, signs of the work we had accomplished during school semesters. At the time, little Pennsylvania girl that I was, I did not sense your vision of the significance of those cards. I saw them with the eyes of a child playing bingo at the lodge, here a winning, there a losing. You saw them as a passport like the one you had earned with hard labor at eighteen in Varmland and that could take us as far from a smithy shop as yours had taken you from Ternskog.

So, I named my literature award after you, for you valued learning and education. I have come to value them, too.

I have decided to award a 2007 prize before I move on to 2008. I got thinking about the things I read in 2006 and decided that this had to be done. Plus I still can't decide about 2008 yet. I'm stymied on 2008, but not on 2007.

The 2007 Ellstrom Award for Literature goes, hands down, to Beloved by Toni Morrison.

2006 was the year that I immersed myself in the books of Toni Morrison. I still have a few to read, but I've read enough to know that I consider her the premiere living American author. So, I think it appropriate that the first Ellstrom award goes to her. Her passport has been stamped by much hard work, and shows the signs of overcoming the kind of obstacles that you, my immigrant ancestor faced and overcame.

And the story of Beloved and her family has all the marks of migration and the high price of that flight. You paid that price too, arriving by boat at Ellis Island with $11.00 and and an address of a relative in Altoona, Pennsylvania. So, I believe, you might agree with my first choice.



brd said...

Just an additional note: Beloved by Morrison did have some stiff competition. The second place award goes to Middlemarch by George Eliot and third place goes to Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

cadh 8 said...

These are more in the vein of things I would enjoy, but hardly what I would call an upbeat group.

Just a brief comment on the immagration issue mentioned here. I have responded harshly in the past to a post on immigration that was a letter to you Nana, I think. I have had my stomach somewhat turned lately by some "conservatives" out there regarding the immagration issue. I think that the blanket statement that all people here "illegally" are "criminals" in the way that those what actually engage in heinous acts are is a silly thought. This was brought home to me by a country music video to a Martina McBride song, I think. A woman in the video is getting people to write down things they would want changed in the world or that they would like to see in a better world. One person, obviously from elsewhere wrote that they would like people to realize that immigrants are here to work hard.

I would hate to think that we are getting so stuck on ourselves that we cannot be open and loving to people. Yes, we have a border issue, but the broader issue is not as black and white as I once found it so easy to think. I heard someone state that if we just let people in like this we will have no "American culture" left. Immigration IS our American culture. Anyway, just wanted to comment on this.

brd said...

Yes, I agree that the immigration issue is a very complicated one and that certainly immigration is the heritage of most of our recent (300 year) heritage.

Thanks for your thoughts, for I know you have invested some good thinking on this.