Big Pencil Awards Night 2017

Location: WAB – 740 University Ave.

Click here to see photos from Big Pencil Awards 2017

Writers & Books is pleased to announce the Big Pencil Awards Night 2017. Join us on Friday, May 19 as we honor those individuals who have made significant contributions to the Rochester literary community. The evening will begin with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, proceed with the presentation of awards, and conclude with fine teas, coffees, and desserts.


This year’s honorees: 

  1. A teacher of young people who has inspired the creation and appreciation of literature. – Lisa Johnson


  1. A teacher of adults who has inspired the creation and appreciation of literature. – Bob Holzwarth


  1. An individual who has made lifelong contributions to Rochester’s literary community. – Joe Flaherty


  1. An individual who has made significant contributions to Writers & Books. – Janet Buchanan Smith


  1. A couple who has made significant contributions to Writers & Books. – Tom Hampson & Zena Collier (posthumously)


  1. A writer who has had an impact on Rochester readers. – Jack Garner


  1. An organization that has made significant contributions to the Rochester literary community. – BOA Editions, Ltd.


  1. An individual who has had an impact to the Rochester literary community. – Bob Smith (posthumously)


  1. Distinguished Service to the Board of Directors. – Jennifer Kellogg


2017’s Big Pencil Award honoree bios:



Lisa Johnson is a poet, author of Reflections of My People, a long-time high school English teacher, and the former managing editor of Motion Magazine and the Frederick Douglass Voice. She has performed at various spoken word venues and has conducted workshops for W&B for over a dozen years. A community activist, playwright, and producer as well, she delivers her neo-soul lyrics across many media and has earned roles as an actress in two locally produced movies. She enjoys working with diverse artistic styles.





Bob Holzwarth is an engineer, standup comic, teacher and father of 3. He is a lifelong lover of standup comedy but a relative late comer to the act of actually performing it himself. He began performing as a diversion from the stress and rigors of corporate America. He found that stepping out to an open mic and having a few laughs on a regular basis did wonders for his disposition, and when he was the source of that laughter… it was a rush.


Since then he has pursued it to the fullest extent that a day job and parenting would allow, and along the way has finished in the finals of the Funniest Person in Rochester Contest 4 times, and has hosted and appeared on many professional standup comedy shows.


He credits the teacher of a class he took 12 years ago with opening the door to standup comedy for him. Through his own class at Writers & Books, he hopes to do the same for others.



Joe Flaherty has been the leading force behind the success of Writers & Books since its opening in a one-room storefront on South Clinton Ave in 1981. Flaherty saw the organization move to its current residence at 740 University Ave in 1985, and has brought the building through several major renovations to turn it into the thriving literary center it is today.








Janet Buchanan Smith‘s life has been filled with learning, including an excellent education gained from several colleges, but also from a fortunate life history that consisted of a memorable childhood, two remarkable husbands (at separate times, although both have surnames of Smith), and the gift of six amazing children who are the source of much of her learning. Her intended career was that of a mathematician at Kodak, but she worked chiefly as a piano teacher, both excellent choices for a mother of six geniuses-to-be.


She has traveled frequently and has been able to discover and participate in the beauty of the outdoors, which has led her to develop a talent for artistic creation, with that beauty as the subject of her paintings. Now she finds that she can spread some of her passion for learning, creating, and self-development to others, especially to children who may not have the advantages that she and her children have had. This is the reason that she is excited about the encouragement that W&B gives to children for whom a sense of self-discovery, joy, and creativity may be delayed or even unattainable.



Tom Hampson & Zena Collier left an indelible mark on the Rochester community: Tom through his long legal career at Harris Beach, his many civic interests, and his extraordinary promotion of jazz music on Rochester radio for over 50 years as well as at local jazz events; and Zena with her writing career and hosting of stimulating social events. Zena began her writing career in the 1960’s writing advertising copy, annual reports, and children’s books. Later on, Zena published two novels for adults, bringing her acclaim and success. A Cooler Climate was published in 1990, and in 1999 was made into a Showtime Original movie starring Sally Field and Judy Davis. Her last novel, Ghost Note, was published in 1992. Tom and Zena throughly enjoyed the vibrant Rochester social life, hosting many a gathering of prominent political, musical, and literary persons in their beloved home on Berkeley Street. Zena passed away in October of 2016 and Tom in November of 2016.










Jack Garner holds a B.A. degree from St. Bonaventure and an M.S. from Syracuse University. He joined the Rochester Times-Union in 1970, as a rewrite man on the city desk, where he compiled stories on the Attica Prison rebellion for which two D&C reporters won the Pulitzer Prize.


He began reviewing films for the Democrat & Chronicle in 1977, starting with the original Star Wars. In 1987, Garner was appointed chief film critic of Gannett, and his writing appeared in Gannett newspapers worldwide. Jack taught at MCC and RIT at various times, and served on the boards of Writers & Books and BOA Editions. He’s one of only four people to receive the Eastman House’s prestigious George Eastman Medal of Honor.


From My Seat on the Aisle is his memoir and anthology, published by RIT Press. Jack has been married since 1970 to Bonnie Garner. They have three grown children, and five grandchildren.




BOA Editions, Ltd. a not-for-profit publisher of poetry and other literary works, fosters readership and appreciation of contemporary literature. By identifying, cultivating, and publishing both new and established poets and selecting authors of unique literary talent, BOA brings high-quality literature to the public. Support for this effort comes from the sale of its publications, grant funding, and private donations.


Peter Conners has worked at BOA since 2003 and served as Publisher since 2010. Throughout his tenure at BOA, he has had the privilege of working on numerous books by exceptional poets and authors at all stages of their careers, and has also been involved in all aspects of daily operations.




Bob Smith (Robert Gerard Smith, April 25, 1953 – March 17, 2017) was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester. He graduated from Aquinas High School and was awarded a full scholarship to Cornell University. Bob started his career in broadcast news before his 20th birthday, doing news at WHEN 620 AM in Syracuse. He earned his Ph.D. in American political and legal history from Cornell and taught undergraduate American political and diplomatic history courses to Cornell undergraduate students while doing his graduate studies. He landed his first full-time radio job at Buffalo station, WBEN, after graduating from Cornell University in 1978. He joined WXXI in March of 1988 to launch the new 1370 Connection midday talk show. Every day, he created two hours of civic engagement and civil discourse, on topics that ranged from politics to the economy, from education to the environment, from music and dance to arts and culture. Bob interviewed countless newsmakers and opinion leaders, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rudolph Giuliani, Mario Cuomo, Diane Rehm, Susan Stamberg, Dave Brubeck, and B.B. King. Bob retired in 2013 after suffering a stroke. Bob is remembered by friends and colleagues as a legend in the Rochester broadcasting community and a champion of First Amendment rights.




Jennifer Kellogg is the Executive Director of the Greek America Foundation and a co-owner of Hart’s Local Grocers. She holds a PhD in Modern Languages and Literatures from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Belgium and is a lifelong lover of poetry and a proud Rochesterian.











If you would like to make a request for any special accommodation, please email us at at least 7 days prior to the event.