Books-Across-the-Sea, founded in in 1947 with T.S. Elliot as its first chairman, seeks to perpetuate the mission of the English-Speaking Union by disseminating books as interpreters of culture around the world. The Ambassador Book Awards are presented annually to authors whose works illuminate the American experience and make an exceptional contribution to the interpretation of life and culture in the United States in the categories of American studies, biography, poetry and fiction, as selected by a distinguished independent panel of authors, editors and educators. Through the Books as Envoys program, these works are sent as "literary ambassadors" to ESUs around the world for distribution in libraries and educational centers in more than thirty countries and cities as far flung as New Zealand, Hungary, Malaysia, Moldova, Madagascar, the Philippines, Poland, Brazil, Georgia, Mauritius and Mongolia.
Previous Ambassador Book Award winners include W.E.B. DuBois, Archibald MacLeish, Jane Smiley, Richard Price, Arnold Rampersad, Grace Paley, John Updike, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Pinsky, Tom Wolfe, David McCullough and Toni Morrison.