The "Nero" is presented annually by The Wolfe Pack for the best American Mystery. The award is presented at the Black Orchid Banquet, which is traditionally held on the first Saturday in December in New York City. Past winners of the award include Fred Harris, Martha Grimes, Dennis Lehane, and Sharyn McCrumb. Criteria include:
- written in the tradition of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories
- first published in the year preceding the award year
- originally published in the United States
Our current chair, Stephannie Culbertson, returned to the position in 2013 after a 5 year hiatus. During her previous tenure 1997 --2007 she helped make the Nero a well-recognized entity in the mystery publishing field.
Prior chairs included Jane Cleland (2007-2012). During Jane's tenure, she expanded our publisher contact base, added to our member-reader base and worked with the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine to create the Black Orchid Novella Award
And, of course, thank you to our award reading committee, those members who read all these submissions, re-evaluate the semi-finalists, etc.! What a great job they do.
Also see these pages regarding the award:
The Origins of the Nero Award
In 1979, with the help of Professor John J. McAleer, Professor Robin Winks, and many Wolfe Pack members, the first Nero Award was presents to Lawrence Block for The Burglar Who Likes to Quote Kipling. By 1983, the Wolfe Pack had launched a contest to select a winning design for a "Nero Award" bust. The winner was Betsy Hatcher Manning. In 2011, The Wolfe Pack was fortunate to have Betsy find our web site and provide the following information.
Betsy recounts her design process:
"I won the contest for the design and sculpture while at Jerry Crimmons' class at Moore College of Art, back in the mid-1980's.
I was taking my first sculpture course, and one of our assignments was to participate in the sculpture design of the Nero Wolfe Award. I was not familiar with the work, so I read The Black Mountain and fell in love with Mr. Wolfe and Archie too.
We looked at a few previous illustrations of Wolfe, none of which we felt had captured him. The illustration on the back cover of many of the paperbacks didn't feel right; Wolfe looked slovenly and tired, but that wasn't the character at all. He may have been a "7th of a ton", but he "was no slouch". Wolfe was extremely dignified, contrary to how most people think of people who are overweight.
I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and found Rodin's "Balzac" sculpture. Rodin depicted Balzac as a large man who had the carriage of a king, which was more appropriate. I also looked at people with a similar ethic background as Wolfe's. I had done one previous sculpture, but I had a lot of background in anatomy and a good sense for faces and character.
I went on to work for a toy sculptor for awhile and I have done many other things as a professional artist including graphic design, web design, exhibit design and murals. My website is: http://www.betsymanning.net."
And the judge of the contest, Jamie O'Boyle, has this to say about the contest:
"For the record: if I may indulge in a bit of Wolfean nit-picking, it may have technically been a contest but it was no contest. When I walked into the studio to judge the entries Betsy's design jumped out at me. I was looking at Mr. Wolfe, not a glimmer of doubt. The rest, as the saying goes, was chaff. I had to wander around for fifteen minutes pretending to consider the other entries just out of politeness. I still have a bronze test cast on my desk. It's not just an award. It's a genuine work of art."
I think Betsy came up with the best-looking award in the mystery field (the Edgar has more prestige, but ours is better impressive) and I'm glad she's getting the recognition she deserves. The original award was based on Mr. Wolfe's gold bookmark, but it lacked gravitas, so Larry Brooks, another founding member, and I decided to do something about it. It wasn't official, but once we showed the board Betsy's cast, the change was a no brainer (a term I'm sure Mr. Wolfe would hate.)
Larry Brooks, donated the $100 prize for Betsy's winning sculpture and had it produced.
The attached photos are of one of the two plaster casts the molds were made from and the first bronze test cast which sits on my desk. I may sell the plaster cast if I can find the right collector, but the bronze, never. The thing that strikes me is how much the bust looks like Maury Chaykin's interpretation. She caught the look more than two decades before he landed the role.
Former secretary of The Wolfe Pack