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Lyricist and Composer Stephen Sondheim Receives Literary Award

by Carrie Bebermeyer on 10/09/2018
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On Thursday Oct. 4, Stephen Sondheim accepted the 2018 Saint Louis Literary Award, given by the Saint Louis University Library Associates, at Sheldon Concert Hall. 

Stephen Sondheim and Mike Isaacson

Stephen Sondheim is the first musical lyricist to win the Saint Louis Literary Award since its inception. Sondheim, left, answers questions posed by Mike Isaacson, artistic director and executive producer at The Muny, and a SLU alumnus. Photo by Kegan Phillips.

A sold-out crowd packed the concert hall and an overflow audience gathered to watch a simulcast in the Anheuser-Busch Auditorium at the Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business as the renown lyricist and composer was honored.

The evening began with performances of Sondheim songs by area university and high school students, including SLU senior Blake Howard who sang “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George.

After remarks by SLU President Fred Pestello, Ph.D., the Von Kaenel Memorial Walter J. Ong, S.J. award for Excellence in Student Research was presented to SLU adjunct professor and English graduate student Christina Hildebrandt by professor of English Toby R. Benis, Ph.D.

Christina Hildebrandt and Toby R. Benis

SLU adjunct professor and English graduate student Christina Hildebrandt receives the Von Kaenel Memorial Walter J. Ong, S.J. award for Excellence in Student Research from English professor Toby R. Benis, Ph.D. Photo by Kegan Phillips.

After the Literary Award was presented to Sondheim, Mike Isaacson, artistic director and executive producer at The Muny, and a SLU alumnus, led a discussion with the composer, asking questions gathered from the audience.

Sondheim shared anecdotes, memories and advice. He spoke about his teachers and mentors, calling teaching a sacred profession.

Caitlin Witty

Caitlin Witty, from the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University sings "Take Me to the World" from Evening Primrose. Photo by Kegan Phillips.

Isaacson posed an audience question to Sondheim: “What do you say to that young writer, actor, singer, dancer, stage designer who is considering a life in the theatre?”

Sondheim replied, “Clearly the only answer is banal one. Pursue your dream and try not to get discouraged by all of the things that come in your way.”

As the evening came to a close, Isaacson offered his own reflection back to Sondheim, noting a moment when he realized “What would my life have been without this man’s work? And, I know that if you’re in this room you feel the same way, too.

"What I hope you leave here with is really understanding that for all of us, your work has been a gift to our lives.”

The event was recorded live for later broadcast and presentation by HEC-TV.

About the Saint Louis Literary Award

The Saint Louis Literary Award is presented annually by the Saint Louis University Library Associates and has become one of the top literary prizes in the country.  The award honors a writer who deepens our insight into the human condition and expands the scope of our compassion. Some of the most important writers of the 20th and 21st centuries have come to Saint Louis University to accept the honor, including Margaret Atwood, Salmon Rushdie, Eudora Welty, John Updike, Saul Bellow, August Wilson, and Tom Wolfe.

About the Saint Louis University Library Associates

One of the oldest literary and cultural organizations in St. Louis, the Saint Louis University Library Associates seeks to build a closer relationship between the University and the community and to promote an appreciation for the value of literature. The Library Associates work to enhance the visibility of the Saint Louis University Libraries and to support the development of their world-class collections and services.

Learn more about the SLU Library Associates