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Novelist Richard Russo to receive N.H. literary award

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo is this year’s recipient of New Hampshire’s Sarah Josepha Hale literary award, given each year to a pre-eminent author who lives in or has strong ties to New England.

Russo – who resides in both Boston and Camden, Maine, and is author of Empire Falls – was to receive the award last night at the Newport Opera House, in the town where Hale was born.

Russo “deals with the small-town life that is so important to New England identity and culture,” said Wes McNair, of the Sarah Hale Award Board of Judges.

Hale, who died in 1879, is best known for her poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She also had a successful career as an author and magazine editor, and led the campaign to have Thanksgiving declared a national holiday.

The annual Sarah Josepha Hale Award was established in 1956 by the Friends of the Richards Free Library in Newport in 1956. Past recipients have been Robert Frost, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Arthur Miller.

Russo, 64, won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for literature for his novel Empire Falls. He published his first novel – Mohawk – in 1986. He is also a filmmaker.

The award drew national publicity in 2009 when it was bestowed upon Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., just months after his arrest by the Cambridge, Mass., police investigating a possible burglary at his home triggered national debate over racial profiling.

The disorderly conduct charge against Gates was dropped, and he and the arresting officer met at the White House with President Obama for an informal “beer summit.”

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