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2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Emily Arnold McCully

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Emily Arnold McCully is a 2015 finalist for the Nonfiction Award for her biography of Ida M. Tarbell, one of the first investigative journalists.

How did you feel when you learned you were a finalist for Award for Excellence in Nonfiction?

I was stunned and thrilled when I got the news. Never had I dreamed that my book would be nominated. I am honored and very grateful!

What’s your favorite part of the writing process– research, outlining, first draft, revisions?

My favorite part of the process is research – hands down! I feel I’m doing research all the time, whether I am writing a book or not. Reading history is one of my greatest pleasures. Making discoveries and drawing connections that lead to a narrative is bliss!

What was the hardest part in writing this book?

The hardest part of writing IDA M TARBELL was finding the photographs and getting the permissions. Well, that’s only partly true; it was hard to do, but came after the book was finished. The hardest part of actually writing it was forcing myself to leave out information not directly related to the arc of her life, but fascinating to me.

What inspired you to write a new biography (the first in 30 years) of this pioneer woman and how did you begin your research?

I have wanted to write about Tarbell for years. My parents talked about her when I was a child. She was a true heroine, a woman who made it in a man’s world by by doing better work than anyone else. Tarbell and her colleagues wanted to restore the promise of democracy by exposing lawless behavior wherever they found it. They made America better, fairer place!

What piece of advice to do you think Tarbell would give girls in today’s world?

I’m afraid that Tarbell was something of a scolder of women. She disapproved of vanity and complained that women paid too much attention to their clothing and hair. I shudder to imagine what she would make of the freedoms that girls enjoy today. But I suspect she would be very happy that so many fields that were closed to women in her lifetime are open to them today!

Maybe the most serious advice she would give to girls is to pay attention to privacy. I think that government spying on its citizens and those citizens willingly giving up their personal information so that commercial entities can profit from it would both appall her. She knew that without privacy, we can’t have true freedom, true independence, or true creativity!

~ Jennifer Rummel, currently reading Noggin by John Corey Whaley