Observer columnist Laura Miller has won the coveted H.L. Mencken Writing Award, given by the Baltimore Sun.
The award, which includes a $5,000 cash prize, is presented annually to the newspaper writer whose opinion column "best captures the power of Mencken's public commentary and the precision of his craft."
Miller won the award for three Observer columns: "Can't die for trying," about a murderer on Death Row who was unsuccessfully trying to expedite his own execution; "Why not the best?" which argued that the effort to salvage Paul Quinn College could relegate African-American students to a second-rate education; and "Parkland's pink pinafore problem," about a well-meaning volunteer who ran headlong into the county hospital's antiquated dress code--and the employee who administers it.
Mencken, a columnist for Baltimore's The Evening Sun from 1910 to 1938, was noted for his audacious writing style and biting satirical attacks on American institutions ranging from church to politics.
Among past winners of the award are Mike Royko of the Chicago Sun-Times and Steve Lopez of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The prize became embroiled in a controversy in 1985, after Mencken's diaries, containing anti-Semitic and racist remarks, were published, prompting that year's winner to return his award.
This year's contest attracted 67 entries. It was judged by Rebecca Pepper Sinkler, recently retired editor of The New York Times Book Review; Carl Sessions Stepp, a University of Maryland journalism professor and senior editor of American Journalism Review; and Vincent Fitzpatrick, curator of the Mencken Collection in Baltimore.
Observer writer Denise McVea has won the National Association of Black Journalists first-place award for feature writing. McVea was honored for "Muhammed's message," a July 21, 1994, story about the Dallas appearance of former Nation of Islam leader Khallid Muhammed.
In the most recent Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards, the Observer was a finalist in the General Excellence category. Four writers also were writing-award finalists for five stories: assistant editor Julie Lyons, for "The devil in Dr. Porter" and "Dark song of the soul"; McVea, for "Capital punishment"; staff writer Ann Zimmerman, for "Bryan's House Divided"; and former staff writer Rebecca Sherman, for "The tragedy of Marcus Denby." Sherman's story about Denby also received a certificate of merit from the American Bar Association.
Last but not least, Observer contributor Mark Donald was a finalist in the Crossroads Market-National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Prize for his October 6, 1994, cover story, "Road trip from hell.