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Elizabeth Brown Pryor: Wins Lincoln Prize for her book on Lee

In a rare departure from tradition, the 2008 Lincoln Prize has been awarded to a book devoted to a leader of the Southern Confederacy, Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee through his Private Letters (Viking). The award was announced today by the Lincoln & Soldiers Institute at Gettysburg, which administers the prize. The Lincoln Prize is one of the most generous and prestigious awards in the field of American history. It is customarily given for the year’s best book on Lincoln and the Civil War.

A resident of Washington, DC, Pryor is the first biographer to have located and scrutinized thousands of Lee’s private letters. Among these were documents discovered only in 2002 in two trunks left in 1917 by Lee’s eldest daughter in the vaults of the Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust Company in Alexandria, Virginia. Pryor was the first historian allowed by the Lee family to examine these letters. Pryor says, “The new materials are extraordinarily exciting. They challenge all of our assumptions about this celebrated, but personally remote figure.”

The 2008 Lincoln Prize was jointly awarded to Elizabeth Brown Pryor and to James Oakes for his work The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of Antislavery Policy (W.W. Norton).

Those awarding the prize praised Pryor’s work for “tackling a familiar subject in an unconventional way.” The jury also cited its “stunning” writing and “brilliant” analysis, adding: “The book captures Lee’s central importance and the far-reaching impact of his decisions in a way that no other scholar has accomplished.” The works by Pryor and Oakes were hailed by Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, who endow the Lincoln Prize, as “superb literary and historical achievements.”

As author of the acclaimed biography Clara Barton, Professional Angel, Pryor has combined careers as an award-winning historian and a senior diplomat in the U. S. Foreign Service. Serving overseas as an arms control negotiator, and at posts such as Bosnia, South Africa and NATO, she has been decorated multiple times. Before leaving the Foreign Service to pursue her literary interests she was the Senior Adviser to the Commission on Security and Cooperation of the U.S. Congress.

Elizabeth Brown Pryor is represented by Deborah Grosvenor of Kneerim & Williams at Fish and Richardson.