Friday, May 18, 2007


Scott Reynolds Nelson, author of Steel Drivin' Man, May 22, Arts Club

Dear Friends,

Some of you know that my new day job is at the Arts Club of Washington, coordinating their new prize, the National Award for Arts Writing. The Club has chosen its first winning book, and the author is coming to town to give a reading. Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend is a beautifully written, heartbreaking book that tells the story of how American music was forged in part out of our shameful history of the exploitation and murder of Black workers. I hope you can join us for the presentation by the author, Scott Reynolds Nelson, on May 22. Details are below.


Reading (with music) by Scott Reynolds Nelson, winner of the Arts Club of Washington’s inaugural National Award for Arts Writing for Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend (Oxford University Press).

Tuesday, May 22, 7 pm
Arts Club of Washington
2017 I Street, NW
Washington, DC
Farragut West and Farragut North Metro
For more information:,, 202-331-7282 x 15.
Free and open to the public.

The National Award for Arts Writing is given annually by the Arts Club of Washington in recognition of excellence in writing about the arts for a broad audience. The substantial Award of $15,000 is the only one of its kind the country.

The ballad “John Henry” is the most recorded folk song in American history and John Henry –the mighty railroad man who could blast through rock faster than a steam drill – is a towering figure in our culture. In Steel Drivin’ Man, Scott Reynolds Nelson masterfully captures the life of the ballad, tracing the song’s evolution from work song through the blues to its place as the premiere American folk song; from the first printed score by blues legend W. C. Handy, to Carl Sandburg’s use of the ballad to become the first “folk singer,” to the upbeat version by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

The judges, Alan Cheuse, Rita Dove, and Joyce Carol Oates, wrote, “It is thrilling to follow the exegesis of the ‘John Henry’ lyrics through to the discovery of John Henry’s identity. Many disciplines are necessarily examined in the course of this detective tale: history of course, but also geology, forestry, engineering, anthropology, anatomy, sociology, law, music, literature, poetry, art and popular culture. Yet Mr. Nelson stirs the brew with the effortless touch of a master chef, deftly adding ingredients at just the right temperature (a dash here, a sprinkle there) to serve up a most enticing gumbo.”

Recounting a heartbreaking chapter in America’s post-Civil War history, Steel Drivin’ Man, as the rocker Bruce Springsteen says, “is a tribute and requiem to the real steel drivin’ men who built this country.”

Scott Reynolds Nelson is Legum Professor of History at the College of William and Mary. The author of Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction, and coauthor, with Carol Sheriff, of A People At War: Civilians and Soldiers in America’s Civil War, he served as a consultant on the forthcoming PBS documentary on John Henry. Steel Drivin’ Man has also received a 2007 Merle Curti Prize from the Organization of American Historians and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction, an award that recognizes books on race and culture.

qUbfIU Very good blog! Thanks!
tehs8R Thanks to author.
actually, that's brilliant. Thank you. I'm going to pass that on to a couple of people.
Nice Article.
Wonderful blog.
actually, that's brilliant. Thank you. I'm going to pass that on to a couple of people.
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