The Collegian
Monday, October 02, 2023

Holton's "Abigail Adams" nominated for literary award

University of Richmond professor Woody Holton has been nominated for the Virginia Literary Award for his book, "Abigail Adams."

Holton, an associate professor of history and American studies at Richmond, is one of three finalists for the Library of Virginia's Literary Award in the nonfiction category. Holton has already received the 2010 Bancroft Prize from Columbia University for "Abigail Adams."

"It feels wonderful and strange [to be nominated for another award]," Holton said, "because I devoted a lot more time to my previous books. It's like that paper where you thought you did really well and you get a C, and on the one you write in fifteen minutes you get an A."

Holton said that "Abigail Adams" was the first book in which he used input from his students, asking them to analyze some of the same documents he did and give their feedback. He noted that this helped him in gaining a variety of perspectives on Abigail Adams, some of which he included in the book. He added, however, that the Guggenheim Fellowship that he won in 2008 gave him much needed time away from the responsibilities of teaching to concentrate and finish his work.

Holton came upon the topic of Abigail Adams due to his 2007 book "Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution," for which he was a National Book Award finalist and won the People's Choice Award from the Library of Virginia. In writing about federal government bonds, Holton wanted to find someone involved with the topic that would make the book more palatable for readers. He discovered that Adams herself dealt with these bonds, and from there decided to delve further into her life.

For him, winning this particular award for "Abigail Adams" would be significant because it would mean being nominated by a jury of historians.

"Their recognition would be nice," he said, "[like a] vote of confidence from the experts."

Holton said that he is grateful to his boss, Hugh West, who allowed him to teach classes solely concentrating on Abigail Adams, as well as Betty Tobias, the library loan officer at Richmond who helped him access dozens of reels of microfilm so he could read Adams's letters. He called the book "a team effort."

A panel of judges will review Holton's work, and the winner for each writing category of the contest will be announced Oct. 16 at a gala in the Library of Virginia, in Richmond.

Holton received a B.A. from the University of Virginia, and a Ph.D. from Duke University. He teaches Revolutionary War history and American studies at Richmond.

Contact reporter Abby Kloppenburg at

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