BCALA Announces the 2019 Literary Awards Winners

Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc.

BCALA Literary Awards

Press Release Contact: Gladys Smiley Bell, 757-727-5185

For Immediate Release or [email protected]

January 26, 2019 Press Room – The Washington State Convention Center

BCALA Announces the 2019 Literary Awards Winners

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc. (BCALA) announces the winners of the 2019 BCALA Literary Awards during the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association in Seattle, WA. The awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African American authors published in 2018, including an award for Best Poetry and a citation for Outstanding Contribution to Publishing. The recipients will receive awards during the 2019 annual meeting of the American Library Association in Washington, DC.

The winner of the 1st Novelist Award is They come in all colors: a novel by Malcolm Hansen (Atria Books).

In his debut novel, Hansen tells the story of a young biracial boy, Huey Fairchild, who is 8 when the Civil Rights movement comes to his small town in Georgia. The story is primarily and intentionally told in flashbacks from Huey’s perspective and we see the violence towards Black Civil Rights activists and his own family. Huey eventually moves to New York City where he continues to struggle with his own racial identity. Malcolm Hansen currently lives and works in NYC.

The Fiction category winner is An American marriage: a novel by Tayari Jones ( Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill).

Roy and Celestial married for over a year when their lives are forever altered. Falsely accused of a crime, Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison. The incarceration puts a strain on their relationship, especially when Celestial’s career takes off while he struggles with feelings of loss and abandonment. When he is unexpectedly released the couple must confront the choices they’ve made as well as the expectations of others. Tayari Jones is on the MFA faculty at Rutgers-Newark.

The Honor Books for Fiction are Praise song for the butterflies: a novel by Bernice L. McFadden (Akashic Books) and Vain conversation: a novel by Anthony Grooms (University of South Carolina Press).

Praise Song for the Butterflies tells the story of a young girl, Abeo Kata, living in Ukemby, a fictional country in West Africa.  She has everything she could possibly want; loving and caring parents, and a carefree childhood that any child would envy. Her father falls victim to a stroke of bad luck and sacrifices Abeo by forcing her into ritual servitude in the hopes that this will put an end to his bad luck. Held captive for many years, Abeo is finally rescued and begins her journey of healing. Bernice McFadden is a Visiting Professor at Tulane University.

The Vain Conversation is told through the eyes of Lonnie Henson who, as a child, witnessed a horrific lynching of two black couples he knew by the hateful hands of men and women he recognized. This thought-provoking novel runs through decades of Lonnie’s life and the impact the lynching he witnessed had on him throughout the years. The terrible scene plays in the back of his mind and he realizes he must confront his demons to find peace.  Anthony Grooms is a Professor of Creative Writing at Kennesaw State University.

The winner in the Nonfiction category is The new Negro: the life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart (Oxford University Press).

The New Negro is a definitive biography of a multi-faceted writer. Jeffrey C. Stewart writes about the influences that Alain Locke had on the lives of many that included Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston andCountee Cullen. He obtained a doctorate in philosophy at Harvard and was the first African American Rhodes Scholar. He highlights the highs and lows of Locke’s life that included his teaching career at Howard University, his personal life, and world travels. Stewart is the Professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The Honor Books for the Nonfiction category are Black fortunes: the story of the first six African Americans who escaped slavery and became millionaires by Shomari Wills (HarperCollins Publishers), The heritage: Black athletes, a divided America, and the politics of patriotism by Howard Bryant (Beacon Press), Looking for Lorraine: the radiant and radical life of Lorraine Hansberry (Beacon Press) by Imani Perry and Becoming by Michelle Obama (Crown Publishing Group).

Black Fortunes showcases the rags to riches stories of sixdifferent figures from African American history. Shomari Wills employs his skills as a journalist to interweave compelling narratives for each individual based on the available documentation and his gift for storytelling. It recounts the challenges these individuals faced, highlighting the multitude of trials they overcame. His in-depth research contributes to our modern day understanding of the economics of Black America and to our knowledge of a seminal period in Black history. Willslives in Brooklyn, NY.

Howard Bryant conceptualizes The Heritage as a responsibility to speak for the Black athlete’s community. The impetus of activism reinvigorated by Colin Kaepernick gives credence to this timely publication as it chronicles the complicated relationship of sports, race, social justice, and protest in America. Accompanied by detailed notes and a bibliography, The Heritage brings credence to those Black athletes using their platform for change. Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. He lives in Northampton, MA.

Looking for Lorraine is a meticulous portrayal delving beyond Lorraine Hansberry’s role as the playwright of  Raisin in the Sun and focuses on her short life as an artist, social critic, intellectual and activist. Through the lens of her ideologies and political activism, it does more than chronicle her life. Perry brilliantly illuminates her personal life, relationships, and commitment to civil rights and equity. She is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University.

Michelle Obama discusses her struggles with keeping her husband, President Barack Obama’s high-powered career from subsuming her identity and the placid family life she prefers in Becoming. Obama racked up pressures as she endures the Secret Service security bubble, has every public utterance, and outfits attacked by her opponents.  She looks back on an unlikely rise to the top while navigating issues of race, gender, and motherhood in this warm-hearted memoir.  Michelle Robinson Obama served as First Lady of the United States from 2009-2017.

The winner for BCALA’s Best Poetry Award is Door of no return by Neal Hall (Neal Hall). The Honor Books for Best Poetry are Indecency: poetry by Justin Phillip Reed (Coffee House Press), and If God invented baseball: poems by E. Ethelbert Miller (City Point Press).

The Door of No Return opens Ghana’s past by evoking the slave post Elmina. In the story of slavery, many started their transatlantic journeys to the Caribbean and the United States from this post. The author returned to the land of his forefathers a few years ago and The Door of No Return is his shared story, through captivating poems, with many themes from “James Baldwin, “My Heart My Soul, “Can’t Changeto the “Door of No Return.” Neal Hall earned a M.D. from Michigan State University and subspecialty training at Harvard University’s Medical School.

The Honor Books for Best Poetry are Indecency: poetry by Justin Phillip Reed (Coffee House Press), and If God Invented Baseball: poems by E. Ethelbert Miller (City Point Press).

In the complex poetic work Indecency, Justin Phillip Reed explores the societal perceptions of race and sexuality. Poems such as “Pushing up onto Its Elbows,” “Gateway” and “The Fratricide” deal with black queerness and the plight of black women in this country. Reed is an American poet living in St. Louis.

In If God Invented Baseball, E. Ethelbert Miller celebrates baseball and comments on history in a carefully packed collection of poetry that highlights the nuances of America’s favorite pastime in a powerful way. Poems such as the Second Child and “The Trade elegantly weave life’s experiences and the game together. Miller is an African American poet, teacher and literary activist, based in Washington, DC.

The BCALA Literary Awards Committee presents the Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation to Farming While Black Leah Penniman (Chelsea Green Publishing).

Farming While Black is part instructional textbook, encyclopedia, and social manifesto on the role of agricultural practice in the black community. Beautifully illustrated and well organized, it provides a detailed how-to-manual for those interested in starting their own community farming enterprise, complete with historical and cultural notes about sustainable agricultural practices and traditions with references to their roots in Africa and across the Diaspora. Leah Penniman is the co-founder of Soul Fire Farm in Western NY.

Members of the BCALA Literary Awards Jury are: Gladys Smiley Bell (Chair), Hampton University, Hampton, VA; Tiffany A. Duck, Suffolk Public Library, Suffolk, VA; Tiffeni Fontno, Boston College, Boston, MA; LeRoy LaFleur, Tufts University, Boston, MA; Dana Evans, Hampton University, Hampton, VA; Ritchie A. Momon, Mid-Continent Public Library, Independence, MO; and John Page, Retired, Washington, D.C.