By EDWARD OHNEMUS
Civilization, The Magazine of the Library of Congress won a National Magazine Award for general excellence on April 23.
"It's a huge honor. We were flattered to death just to be a finalist," said Editor Stephen Smith.
Said Dr. Billington in a letter to Mr. Smith, "My colleagues at the Library join me in wishing you continuing progress as Civilization and the Library collaborate to establish both a growing readership and a growing national constituency for the Library."
The event marks only the second time a magazine has won the National Magazine Award during its first year of publication.
Civilization, which is published under a licensing agreement with the Library, is nonpartisan but encourages strong opinions in its treatment of history and cultural issues.
The magazine hit the racks in November/December 1994 with a cover story on Thomas Jefferson. The latest issue (May/June 1996) features a cover story on Olympic athletes by writer Mark McDonald.
Mr. Smith is a 25-year journalism veteran who, before coming to Civilization, served as executive editor at Newsweek and as Washington news editor at Knight-Ridder.
The award, sponsored by the American Society of Magazine Editors in New York, is administered by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with assistance from the Magazine Publishers of America.
Civilization won the general excellence award for magazines with a circulation between 100,000 and 400,000. Other finalists in the 100,000-to-400,000-circulation category included: Harper's Magazine, Men's Journal, Vibe and Wired. According to Publisher Raymond J. Sachs, the average number of copies of the magazine sold during its first full year, 1995, was 220,849.
The award was presented at a luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. When Mr. Smith received the award on behalf of the magazine, he thanked Mark Edmiston and Charles Rodin, both managing directors for LOC Associates, "who worked four years to get the magazine off the ground,"and H. Fred Krimendahl II, head of Petrus Partners, for "supporting and believing in us." Mr. Krimendahl is a member of the Library's James Madison Council.
Mr. Smith said a lot of credit goes to Mr. Sachs and Art Director David Herbick. "My staff is second to none. It's a talented, dedicated group with a fantastic range of interests," Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Smith also praised the Library's Project Director for the magazine, Peter Braestrup. "Peter has been a great supporter, a wonderful editor and a first-class adviser to us. When we've needed someone to talk to, Peter's been there. I can't imagine Civilization working without him," Mr. Smith said.
Three other magazines also won "general excellence" awards in different circulation categories: The Sciences for under-100,000 circulation, Outside for circulation between 400,000 and 1 million and Business Week for circulation over 1 million.
The presenters of the award mentioned Civilization's encouragement of "strong opinions" and its "interest in confronting difficult subjects." They praised two cover stories in particular: "Understanding Afrocentrism: Why Blacks Dream of a World Without Whites," by Gerald Early in the July/August 1995 issue, and "The Lessons of Syphilis in the Age of AIDS" by Robin Marantz Henig in the November/December 1995 issue.
Sara Sklaroff, who has been at the magazine since its start-up, said, "We're thrilled . . . I was surprised that we won when we were up against magazines like Harper's."
Mr. Smith summed up, "Every new magazine is struggling to get on the map. This award is a signal that we're here to stay. We try in every issue to connect the past with the present. The challenge is using the Library as a jumping-off point. We try to connect the collections at the Library to what we see around us. . . to see how the collections give meaning to the present."
Edward Ohnemus is assistant editor of The Gazette, the Library staff newsletter.