The 18th annual PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction will be given to both Amy Butler Greenfield for A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire (HarperCollins) and the late Marjorie Williams for The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate (PublicAffairs).

The PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction recognizes an American author’s first published book of general nonfiction, distinguished by qualities of literary and stylistic excellence. The $1,000 prize is made possible by bequest from the late PEN member and mystery writer Martha Albrand, who wished to call attention to first books of distinction.

2006 Judges

Lis Harris, Joseph Mazur, and Barbara Probst Solomon

From the Judges’ Citation

“Amy Butler Greenfield’s marvelous A Perfect Red is about a subject many of us have never thought about—the quest, beginning in the 1500s, in Spain, Italy, England, and other European countries, to corner the market on the world’s most luminous red dye.  Greenfield’s meticulous description of how the ancient Aztecs extracted the brilliant scarlet-colored carminic acid from the tiny insect one third the size of a ladybug sets the stage.  Her story of how cochineal became a prime monetary prize for the Spanish conquistadors who were the first to see the red dye in Mexican markets, to be followed by the pirate Francis Drake, sea captains, merchants, statesmen, and monarchs throughout Europe, is extraordinary. This radiantly captivating and formidable history of an exotic mystery will take its place with the best accounts of books on Europe and the New World.” 

“With humor and woe, [Marjorie Williams] takes us through closed doors of metaphorical embassies into the back rooms for intimate glimpses of the Washington elite and powerful.  There we find Barbara Bush’s stepmother in fear of her stepdaughter, Bill Clinton scolding Al Gore, and George W. Bush stealing campaign lines from his brother Jeb. Beyond the profiles, we are given essays on apology, marriage, motherhood, and mortality.  Her brilliant short memoir, Hit by Lightning, strikes with bolts of sympathy as well as recognition of our own vulnerability. She has left us this marvelous treasure.”