Booker Worthen Literary Prize

aka: Worthen Prize

The Booker Worthen Literary Prize is awarded each year to the best work, fiction or non-fiction, by an author living in Arkansas. With a stipend of $2,000, it is one of the state’s most lucrative and prestigious literary prizes.

The Booker Worthen Literary Prize was established in 1999 in the memory of William Booker Worthen, who was a member of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) Board of Trustees for twenty-two years, as well as part of the Worthen Bank empire. The award is funded in part by interest from an endowment for the award donated by the Worthen family.

The Worthen Prize was awarded in a joint program with the Porter Fund Literary Prize until 2021. This generally occurred in October, but, in 2008, the year that CALS took over responsibility of what is now the Six Bridges Book Festival, the reception was moved to coincide with the festival, although it was not an official part of the festival. In 2012, however, the award ceremony returned to October. The winning book is selected by the Worthen Prize Committee. Originally, to qualify, authors had live in the CALS service area, which included over thirty counties in central Arkansas with which the library system had a lending agreement (called the “Gateway Program”). However, in 2020, after CALS withdrew from the Gateway Program, the award was expanded to cover the entire state of Arkansas.

There is a three-year period of eligibility based on a book’s copyright year. Five authors—Mara Leveritt, Kevin Brockmeier, Grif Stockley, S. Charles Bolton, and Kenneth C. Barnes—have won the award twice.

Year Book Author
1999 Arkansas, 1800–1860: Remote and Restless S. Charles Bolton
2000 The Boys on the Tracks Mara Leveritt
2001 The Rumble of a Distant Drum: The Quapaws and Old World Newcomers, 1673–1804. Morris S. Arnold
2002 Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919 Grif Stockley
2003 Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three Mara Leveritt
2004 The Truth about Celia Kevin Brockmeier
2005 Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier Carolyn Earle Billingsley
2006 Promises Kept Sidney S. McMath
2007 A Brief History of the Dead Kevin Brockmeier
2008 Turn away Thy Son: Little Rock, the Crisis that Shocked the Nation Elizabeth Jacoway
2009 The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey Trenton Lee Stewart
2010 Ruled by Race: Black/White Relations in Arkansas from Slavery to the Present Grif Stockley
2011 The Broken Vase Phillip H. McMath and Emily Matson Lewis
2012 The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937 David Welky
2013 Civil War Arkansas, 1863: The Battle for a State Mark K. Christ
2014 Fiat Flux: The Writings of Wilson R. Bachelor, Nineteenth-Century Country Doctor and Philosopher William D. Lindsey
2015 Racial Cleansing in Arkansas, 1883–1924: Politics, Land, Labor, and Criminality Guy Lancaster
2016 We Wanna Boogie: The Rockabilly Roots of Sonny Burgess and the Pacers Marvin Schwartz
2017 Anti-Catholicism in Arkansas: How Politicians, the Press, the Klan, and Religious Leaders Imagined an Enemy Kenneth C. Barnes
2018 Dardanelle and the Bottoms: Environment, Agriculture, and Economy in an Arkansas River Community, 1819–1970 Mildred Diane Gleason
2019 Just and Righteous Causes: Rabbi Ira Sanders and the Fight for Racial and Social Justice in Arkansas, 1926–1963 James L. Moses
2020 Fugitivism: Escaping Slavery in the Lower Mississippi Valley, 1820–1860
S. Charles Bolton
2021 Das Arkansas Echo: A Year in the Life of Germans in the Nineteenth-Century South
Kathleen Condray
2022 The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas: How Protestant White Nationalism Came to Rule a State Kenneth C. Barnes
2023 Shared Secrets: The Queer World of Newbery Medalist Charles J. Finger
Elizabeth Findley Shores

For additional information:
“3 Authors Turn a New Page with Library Group Honors.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 12, 2003, p. 4D.

“Arnold’s Book, Poetry Collection, Win Honors.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 30, 2001, p. 5H.

“Laurels for State Literary Lights Make Dinner One for the Books.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 31, 1999, p. 10D.

Staff of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies


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