It only seems fitting that during National Library Week, the winner of the first Soon to be Famous Illinois Author award is a librarian.
Joanne Zienty, a resident of Wheaton and the library media specialist at the Forest School Library in Des Plaines, was awarded the honor for her book "The Things We Save" at an award ceremony April 16 at the RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library System) headquarters in Burr Ridge.
Born and raised on Chicago's South Side, Zienty's first success as a writer came in fifth grade when she completed a 70-page novel, an "homage" to Walter Farley's "Black Stallion" series. Her first play, a Thanksgiving melodrama, was produced at her elementary school. She has been writing ever since.
Her other passion is working as a librarian, combining her favorite pastimes: reading, encouraging others to read, teaching information literacy and playing with technology.
"As a writer, participating in the Soon to Be Famous Author project has been an incredibly validating experience," Zienty said.
Zienty, who was nominated by her school, was one of three finalists for the prize. Rick Polad of Carol Stream was nominated by the Phillips Library at Aurora University for his book "Change of Address," and Mary Hutchings Reed of Chicago was nominated for her work "Warming Up" by the Mount Prospect Public Library.
The Soon to be Famous Illinois Author project is the brainchild of library marketing professionals who were inspired after listening to a presentation by brand expert and New York University professor David Vinjamuri, who spoke at the American Library Association's 2013 annual conference about the importance of libraries in the era of e-books and self-publishing.
He challenged libraries to wield their collective influence to lift a self-published author to success to create a measurable indicator of the power of libraries and librarians to affect books and reading. Currently, 32 percent of best-sellers on Amazon are self-published.
More than 20 librarians across the state served as judges of the 103 self-published adult fiction titles that were nominated. After a series of eliminations, the top three authors were selected and were present at the RAILS headquarters for the announcement. Vinjamuri flew in from New York to introduce the authors and present the award.
The Soon to be Famous Illinois Author project is being coordinated in collaboration with the Illinois Library Association and Reaching across Illinois Library System, and is supported by the American Library Association Digital Content Working Group, the Public Library Association and Illinois Heartland Library System.