Beth Macy, a critically acclaimed author and former newspaper reporter who has chronicled stories of hardship and resilience of life in the Blue Ridge mountains, will receive the 2021 George Mason Award for outstanding contributions to Virginia journalism.
Macy is the 56th recipient of the award, which the Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists gives annually to “a journalist or friend of journalism of exceptional character and dedication to the craft.”
Longtime SPJ member Martha Steger nominated Macy for the George Mason Award. As a reporter for The Roanoke Times from 1989 to 2014, Macy produced “well-written, substantial stories” that called attention to injustice, Steger said.
Macy’s articles gave voice to a wide range of people in western and southern Virginia. They include furniture factory workers who had lost their jobs to foreign competition, Somali Bantu refugees adapting to life in Roanoke, military veterans struggling with PTSD and Christian missionaries treating cholera patients after an earthquake in Haiti.
“Beth is one of those journalists who digs into a story, and once she digs in, keeps on digging until she gets to the center of the issue at hand,” Brian Kelley, editor of The Roanoke Times, said in a letter supporting the nomination.
“Beth’s special gifts are empathy and an ability to connect with people of all types … and convince them to tell their stories,” the letter added.
In recent years, Macy has applied those talents to writing books that made The New York Times Best Sellers list for non-fiction and won awards from the Columbia Journalism School, the Library of Virginia and other groups.
Her books, published by Little, Brown and Co., included “Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local — and Helped Save an American Town”; “Truevine,” about two African American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks; and, most recently, “Dopesick,” which examined the opioid epidemic that has devastated communities in Appalachia and across the country.
On Oct. 13, the Hulu streaming service will release a dramatized adaptation of “Dopesick,” starring Michael Keaton, Rosario Dawson and other top-tier actors. Macy was a writer and executive producer on the eight-part series.
Macy, who has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a master’s degree in creative writing from Hollins University near Roanoke, was the first member of her family to attend college.
In her reporting and writing, she said, she draws on her life experiences. “Keep digging, has always the gist of my journalism M.O., and follow what moves you,” Macy says on her website.
Macy said she has been reporting since she was 4 years old.
“That’s when I ran away from home with my tricycle and my beagle mutt, Tessie — to the grocery store (a great story-finding place, by the way). A neighbor spotted me there, chatting up the butcher and staring longingly at the Popsicles, and returned me to my frantic mom.”
At age 10, Macy landed her first newspaper job — bicycling the streets of Urbana, Ohio, to deliver the daily paper.
“I still run all over the place being curious, only now they actually pay me to do it,” Macy said. “I’m privileged to get to follow what moves me most of the time.”
The board of directors of the SPJ Virginia Pro Chapter selected Macy for this year’s George Mason Award at its September meeting. The award, first given in 1964, is named for the principal author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the model for the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.
Previous recipients of the George Mason Award include journalists, educators, attorneys and others who have had a lasting impact on Virginia journalism.
The SPJVA board hopes to hold a public ceremony to present the award to Macy. The organization has not finalized details for the event because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The date, location and ticket information about the award ceremony will be posted on the chapter’s website, spjva.com.