Literarian Award

For Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community

The V.P. and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to be honored at the 2018 National Book Awards for his expansive work connecting literature and science

Doron Weber (Photo credit: Harvey Wang)
Doron Weber (Photo credit: Harvey Wang)

This is the fourteenth year the National Book Foundation has presented its Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, which is given to an individual for a lifetime of achievement in expanding the audience for books and reading.

The National Book Foundation announced Doron Weber, Vice President, Programs and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, as the recipient of its 2018 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. For over two decades at Sloan, Weber has run the program for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economics, which has provided tens of millions of dollars in grant money to a wide range of organizations and individuals, and through which Weber has helped commission, produce, and distribute media that connect the public with science in accessible and illuminating ways. The Literarian Award will be presented to Weber by Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book Hidden Figures, which was supported by funding from Weber’s program at the Sloan Foundation, and also the source material for the Oscar-nominated film of the same name.

Under Weber’s leadership, this program has helped ensure the publication of numerous groundbreaking and acclaimed books such as Hedy’s Folly by National Book Award Winner Richard Rhodes, Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, Dava Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter, Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s American Prometheus, Jared Diamond’s Collapse, Stuart Firestein’s Ignorance, and Eric Kandel’s In Search of Memory.

Weber will receive the Literarian Award at the 69th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 14, 2018 in New York City. This is the fourteenth year that the Foundation has presented the Literarian Award, which is given to an individual or organization for a lifetime of achievement in expanding the audience for books and reading. Past recipients are Dr. Maya Angelou, Joan Ganz Cooney, Dave Eggers, Barbara Epstein and Robert Silvers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Terry Gross, Mitchell Kaplan, James Patterson, Barney Rosset, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., Kyle Zimmer, the literary organization Cave Canem, and Richard Robinson.

“At the National Book Foundation, we believe that the scope of literature is expansive; that it can and should open up entirely new worlds to its readers,” said Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “Doron Weber is that principle in action. Firmly committed to the marriage of science and art, Weber has spent his career working to meet readers where they are, connecting them in creative ways to new ideas and modes of thinking.”

Since joining the Sloan Foundation in 1995, Weber has been a critical force behind the production of countless works of literature, film, theater, podcasts, television, and more. He has championed the work of dozens of writers and scientists, and through his Sloan program has helped guide over 100 books to publication. With a commitment to shedding light on untold stories and honoring overlooked key figures in scientific history, Weber’s work has brought extraordinary lives and achievements into the public consciousness. Throughout his career, Weber has demonstrated a commitment to the accessibility of scientific histories and information, ensuring the availability of in-depth, significant stories that are intelligible to a broad readership.

In addition to his signature program for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economics, Weber also directs the Sloan Foundation’s efforts to promote Universal Access to Knowledge, which seeks to greatly enhance the accessibility of beneficial human knowledge through the use of digital information technology. Through this program, Weber has helped distribute tens of millions of dollars in grant funding to organizations that provide and safeguard public access to vast amounts of information, including Wikipedia, the Library of Congress, Digital Public Libraries of America, and more.

Weber’s work has been profiled in The New York TimesThe Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Boston Globe, Fortune, and Filmmaker Magazine. His program for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economics has received numerous awards, including the National Science Board’s Public Service Award “for its innovative use of traditional media—books, radio, public television—and its pioneering efforts in theater and commercial television and films to advance public understanding of science and technology.”

“We could not be prouder to recognize the unique and vital work of Doron Weber,” said David Steinberger, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. “For more than two decades at Sloan, Weber has worked passionately and tirelessly to connect readers with exceptional storytelling that is able to distill the enormity of our world into engaging, illuminating narratives.”

In addition to his work commissioning, developing, producing, and disseminating in-depth storytelling through books and other media, Weber serves as President of The Writers Room Board, National Secretary for the Israel Rhodes Scholarship, Trustee of Shakespeare & Co, and Board Visitor of the Wikimedia Foundation. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, National Association of Corporate Directors, and USA Triathlon. Weber is the co-author of three books and the author of Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir (Simon & Schuster), named one of the 50 Notable Works of Non-Fiction by The Washington Post and an Amazon Best Book of the Month. His full bio can be found below.

Nominations for the Literarian Award are made by former National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Judges, and other writers and literary professionals from around the country. Final selections are made by the National Book Foundation’s Board of Directors. Recipients of the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community receive $10,000.

ABOUT DORON WEBER

Doron Weber was born on a kibbutz in Israel, grew up in New York City, and was educated at Brown University, the Sorbonne, and Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Although his early training was in the arts and fiction-writing, he published several science books, worked at The Rockefeller University, a Nobel-filled biomedical research institute, and gradually moved into science. For over two decades, he has worked at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropy making grants in science, technology, and economics, where he currently serves as Vice President and Program Director.

Weber’s signature Sloan program, Public Understanding of Science and Technology, focuses on connecting the “two cultures” of science and the arts, which he regards as two sides of the same human impulse to understand and meaningfully describe the world around and inside us. Weber helps commission, develop, and produce an array of culture defining products—books, radio, television, film, theatre, new media—to illuminate and humanize science for the lay public. He helped start Radiolab, Tribeca Film Institute, and World Science Festival; supports Emmy-winning television on American Experience, NOVA, and National Geographic, award-winning plays at Ensemble Studio Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and London’s National Theatre, and Oscar-winning films via film schools and film festivals at Sundance, Tribeca, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Weber’s book program supports individual authors and has resulted in over 100 published books. Critically acclaimed titles include Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, Dava Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter, Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s American Prometheus, Richard Rhodes’s Hedy’s Folly, Jared Diamond’s Collapse, Stuart Firestein’s Ignorance, and Eric Kandel’s The Age of Insight. More recent books include Carl Zimmer’s She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, Oren Harman’s Evolutions, Richard Rhodes’s Energy, Adam Becker’s What is Real?, Julie Wosk’s My Fair Ladies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s Everybody Lies, Catherine Price’s Vitamania, David Baron’s American Eclipse, M. R. O’Connor’s Resurrection Science, Kevin Davis’s The Brain Defense, Robert Kanigel’s Eyes on the Street, Brooke Borel’s Infested, and Jonathan Waldman’s Rust.

While Weber has developed an organization that supports thousands of screenplays, plays, teleplays, radio plays, webisodes, games, VR, and librettos, he considers books to be an anchor and critical entry point for the entire program, believing books have an outsize influence because they often represent the first serious foray into a new field where authors can uncover or synthesize new knowledge and convey it in the richest, deepest, and most nuanced way. Books also serve as a platform to other media. Weber has helped adapt foundation-supported books (The Poisoner’s HandbookHedy’s Folly) into television documentaries (The Poisoner’s Handbook, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story); other books (Hidden Figures, The Man Who Knew Infinity) into films; and even books (The Elegant Universe) into plays (String Fever). He has championed stories about women scientists in every medium.

At Sloan, Weber also runs the program in Universal Access to Knowledge, which seeks to harness digital information technology to make the benefits of human knowledge accessible to all. His grantmaking has helped lead the Digital Public Library of America, a consortium of over 2,000 libraries, archives and museums in 50 states, and to scale Wikipedia into the largest encyclopedia in human history and the fifth largest web site in the world. A recent grant to Consumer’s Union focuses on consumer privacy in the digital age.

Weber’s work at Sloan has been profiled in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Lifehacker, Fortune, and Filmmaker Magazine. His program has received numerous awards including the National Science Board’s Public Service Award “for its innovative use of traditional media—books, radio, public television—and its pioneering efforts in theater and commercial television and films to advance public understanding of science and technology.”

Prior to Sloan, Weber worked at The Rockefeller University, the Society for the Right to Die, and The Reader’s Catalog. He has also been a screenwriter, speechwriter, teacher, tutor, taxi driver, romance novelist, busboy, and boxer. He currently serves as President of The Writers Room Board, National Secretary for the Israel Rhodes Scholarship, Trustee of Shakespeare & Co, and Board Visitor of the Wikimedia Foundation. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, National Association of Corporate Directors, and USA Triathlon.

In 2012, Weber published Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir (Simon & Schuster), named one of the 50 Notable Works of Non-Fiction by The Washington Post and an Amazon Best Book of the Month. He previously coauthored three books: Safe Blood: Purifying the Nation’s Blood Supply in the Age of AIDS, The Complete Guide to Living Wills, and Final Passages: Positive Choices for the Dying and Their Loved Ones. His articles and reviews have appeared in The New York TimesLA Times, USA TodayBarron’sThe Washington Post, and the Boston Review, among others. He is currently at work on a novel.

About Margot Lee Shetterly

 Margot Lee Shetterly (Photo credit: Aran Shetterly)

Margot Lee Shetterly (Photo credit: Aran Shetterly)

Writer, researcher, and entrepreneur Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. A 2014 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grantee, Shetterly is the founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists and engineers at the NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s. She is a native of Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the women behind the history in Hidden Figures. She lived for many years in New York and Mexico before moving to Charlottesville, Virginia, where she lives with her husband, writer Aran Shetterly. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia.

Richard Robinson

Cave Canem

James Patterson

Kyle Zimmer

Maya Angelou

Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr.

Mitchell Kaplan

Joan Ganz Cooney

Dave Eggers

Barney Rosset

Robert Silvers

Barbara Epstein

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Each year, the National Book Foundation presents its Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, which is given to an individual for a lifetime of achievement in expanding the audience for books and reading. The Award was first presented in 2005. Nominations for the Literarian Award are made by former National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Judges, and other writers and literary professionals from around the country. Final selections are made by the National Book Foundation’s Board of Directors. Recipients of the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community receive $10,000.

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