For immediate release | April 28, 2022

Martha Hickson receives the 2022 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity

CHICAGO – Martha Hickson, media specialist at North Hunterdon High School in Annandale, New Jersey, has been selected as the recipient of the 2022 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity. Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, will present Hickson with the award—a cash prize and an object from Handler’s private collection—during the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference & Exhibition on Sunday, June 26, 2022 in Washington DC.

There has been no shortage of high-profile censorship challenges infesting school libraries across the United States since students returned from pandemic confinement in the Fall of 2021, but it was a fight that Hickson had already been fighting, tooth and nail. In fact, she has persevered through several book challenges since she began as a high school librarian in 2005. In 2021, however, the battle reached a new peak.

When a community group attended the Board of Education (BOE) meeting and demanded that two award-winning books with LGBTQ+ themes—Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison (and later three additional LGBTQ+ titles)—be pulled from the library shelves, their allegations not only attacked the books but Hickson herself, labeling her by name as a pornographer and pedophile for providing children with access to the titles in question. In the following weeks, she endured personal attacks from the community, hate mail, threats, nuisance vandalism, and even questions about her judgment and integrity from her administration. In fact, the open adversity became so pervasive and extreme that her blood pressure and anxiety rose to the dangerous point where her physician removed her from her workplace.

Despite this adversity, however, Hickson persisted and persevered in her unwavering defense of her students’ right to intellectual freedom and right to read, including galvanizing a group of community allies to attend the BOE meetings, gathering testimonies from LGBTQ+ students, recruiting local author David Levithan to write a statement of support, and even consulting and offering advice on censorship battles to the library community at large. At the January BOE meeting, the resolution to ban the five books in question was effectively voted down, and all challenged books remain proudly on the North Hunterdon High School library shelf.

The Lemony Snicket award was created to acknowledge the work of librarians who have gone above and beyond the normal requirements of librarianship to stand up in the face of adversity with dignity and honor, and to recognize the significant sacrifices and contributions that librarians make to improve the quality of life and their communities. "It is with uncensored delight that I salute the work of Martha Hickson, whose feisty and fearless defense of self-expression has made all books, all authors, and all readers more safe, and more interesting" said, Lemony Snicket.

“The jury is very proud to honor Ms. Hickson for her energy and bravery in the face of such persistent and ongoing hostility,” said Lemony Snicket jury chair Becca Worthington. “In the midst of adversity, she has remained a firm advocate for first amendment rights and a proud defender of her students' right to read, and the jury is thrilled to celebrate her triumphant spirit.”

In response to receiving the award, Hickson said, “For school librarians across the country, this year of book challenges and personal attacks has truly been a series of unfortunate events worthy of the title The Lambasted Library. I am both humbled and grateful to accept the Lemony Snicket Prize on behalf of librarians everywhere who steadfastly defend the right to read.”

The Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity was established in 2014 by the American Library Association in partnership with Daniel Handler. The prize, which is co-administered by ALA’s Governance Office and the Office for Intellectual Freedom, annually recognizes and honors a librarian who has faced adversity with integrity and dignity intact. The prize is $10,000, a certificate and an odd, symbolic object.

Hickson will be joining the list of prize winners. Other esteemed past winners include 2021 winner Janet Eldred in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania for her dignity and grace after a diagnosis of early-stage dementia; 2020 winner Heather Ogilve in Panama City, Florida, for her work in the aftermath of the devastating natural disaster of Hurricane Michael; 2019 co-winners Yvonne Cech and Diana Haneski, the respective Library Media Specialists at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, both of whom barricaded and protected students during shootings at their respective schools; 2017 winner Steven Woolfolk, who was honored for his defense of First Amendment rights in Kansas City, Missouri; 2016 winner Melanie Townsend Diggs, who was honored for her activism during civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland; 2015 winner Scott Bonner, who was honored for his work during the riots in Ferguson, Missouri; and 2014 winner Laurence Copel, who was honored for bookmobiling through the hurricane-hit streets in the Lower Ninth Ward Street Library of New Orleans.

The 2022 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity five-member jury included: Jury Chair Becca Worthington, ImaginOn children’s librarian, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, North Carolina; Charity Cree, programs manager, Mid-Columbia Libraries, Kennewick, Washington; Jos N. Holman, library director, Tippecanoe County Public Library, Lafayette, Indiana; Julia Warga, director for research and instruction, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio; and Sandy Wee, library service manager, San Mateo County Libraries, San Mateo, California.

The deadline for submission of applications for the 2023 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity will be March 1. Guidelines and applications are available on the ALA website.

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Cheryl Malden

Program Officer

American Library Association