The English-Speaking Union of the United States: Education. Scholarship. Understanding.

Events & Activities

Ambassador Book Awards

Ambassador Book Awards are given each year to authors whose new works have made an exceptional contribution to interpreting the life and culture of the United States.  A committee of writers, editors, and former publishers selects the winning books, copies of which are sent to ESUs around the world by participating ESU Branches throughout the United States.  At the annual Ambassador Book Awards ceremony, the winning authors are invited to discuss their works at ESU Headquarters in New York.

Categories for selection of the books are: Fiction, Biography & Autobiography, Poetry and American Studies.  A panel selects one book in each category as an Ambassador Book. Authors of Ambassador Books are honored at a reception and receive prizes. Past recipients include Arnold Rampersand, Tom Wolfe, Grace Paley, Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Updike, Michael Beschloss and David McCulloch.  When the program celebrated its 25th Anniversary the panels on each side of the Atlantic chose the best biography written in each of the 25 years.  Copies of these volumes form The Nerney Collection which is housed in both the US and British headquarters.
2011 Ambassador Book Awards winners;

  • Rebecca Skloot for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Crown)
  • Alan Brinkley for The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century (Alfred A. Knopf)
  • Christian Wiman for Every Riven Thing (Farrar Straus Giroux)
  • Deborah Eisenberg for Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg (Picador).
ESU Library

The Ruth M. Shellens Memorial Library, housed at The English-Speaking Union National Headquarters in New York City boasts a collection of some 4,000 volumes focusing on the culture and history of the United Kingdom. The majority of the books were published in England, and have been contributed to the Library by the ESU in London through the Books-Across-the-Sea Program.  Many reference books have been added in order to supplement the collection. The books circulate only to ESU members, but the collection is open to the general public for research. The library is named for Ruth M. Shellens, a member of the New York Branch who enjoyed the library during her lifetime.

The programs that make up Books-Across-the-Sea help to fulfill the English-Speaking Union's goals through the written word.


A Special Note:

For over ten years George Plimpton served on the Ambassador Book Award Committee, as a member and, for 6 years, as its chairman.  He made an enormous contribution to the program and to The English-Speaking Union of the United States.