Press Release

Contact Gladys Smiley Bell at 757-727-5185 or [email protected] for immediate release.

January 2023

BCALA Announces the 2023 Literary Awards Winners

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc. (BCALA) announces the winners of the 2023 BCALA Literary Awards. The awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African American authors published in 2022, including an award for Best Poetry and a citation for Outstanding Contribution to Publishing. The recipients will receive awards during the 2023 American Library Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL.

The winner of the 1st Novelist Award is Black Cake: a Novel by Charmaine Wilkerson (Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House).

Eleanor Bennett has died, and she has left an eight-hour recording to be heard by her two grown children, in the presence of each other. Her son Byron has a successful career while Benny, her daughter, dropped out of college long ago and does not have a clear picture of what she wants to do with her life. In Eleanor’s own words, she is going to tell them everything that they need to know about her past to help them reclaim their once close relationship, and the connection to her traditional Caribbean Black Cake, as they understand Eleanor’s true history. Charmaine Wilkerson is a Caribbean-American journalist, writer, and author.

The Fiction category winner is Take My Hand: a Novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House).

Take My Hand illustrates the truth of young Black women and girls victimized by medical misinformation and experimentation. Sisters Erica and India are prescribed birth control, leading to a series of escalating and irreversible interventions in their young lives. Delivered from the present-day perspective of their childhood nurse, Civil Townsend quests to finish what she started in an Alabama family planning clinic in 1973. Perkins-Valdez’s intricately crafted tale of tragedy and redemption weaves back and forth in time and is inspired by true events. Dolen Perkins-Valdez lives in Washington, DC, with her family.

The Honor books for Fiction are Perish: a Novel by Latoya Watkins (Tiny Reparations Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House); Yonder: a Novel by Jabari Asim (Simon and Schuster); and Stories From Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana (Scribner, an imprint Simon and Schuster).

LaToya Watkins cleverly writes an intriguing debut that spans almost five decades. It follows four members of the Turner family—Julie B., Helen Jean, Jan, and Lydia. The setting is a Texas town called Jerusalem. A family’s “goodbye” reunion for their mother and grandmother brings to light some long-kept secrets and forces each family member to deal with important questions about blame and forgiveness. This riveting book chronicles and focuses on the matriarch Helen Jean’s dark past that comes to light. LaToya Watkins lives and teaches in a suburb of Dallas.

Yonder is a gut-wrenching, fast-paced novel about slavery, love, and what an enslaved person is willing to sacrifice for freedom. The story follows several characters from the same plantation on their journey through the Underground Railroad to “Yonder.” This novel is filled with African spirituality and its power to sustain those who suffered the most. The magical realism seeped throughout helps to create such power in the depth of the story. Yonder is a work that breaks your heart and builds it back up again. Jabari Asim directs the MFA program in creative writing at Emerson College.

In eight interconnected stories, Sidik Fofana’s Stories from the Tenants Downstairs gives the reader a look into the pressures families face from day to day. The tight-knit cast of Banneker Terrace shows how to survive in Harlem as life and the lack of money get in the way. From single motherhood to struggles with money and crime, these stories show a side Sidik Fofana wants the world to see regarding how communities work in the age of low-income housing and gentrification looming overhead. Sidik Fofana received his MFA from NYU and is a public school teacher in Brooklyn.

The winner in the Nonfiction category is The Tuskegee Student Uprising: a History by Brian Jones (New York University Press).

The Tuskegee Student Uprising brings together research and interviews with former students, professors, and administrators. Brian Jones provides an in-depth account of one of the most dynamic student movements in United States history. The writing takes the reader through Tuskegee students’ process of transformation and intellectual awakening as they stepped off campus to make unique contributions to southern movements for democracy and civil rights in the 1960s. Brian Jones is the Director of the New York Public Library’s Center for Educators and Schools.

The Honor books for the Nonfiction category are His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House); Love, Activism, and the Respectable Life of Alice Dunbar-Nelson by Tara T. Green (Bloomsbury Academic).

His Name is George Floyd is a multi-generational story that explores the effects of systemic racism on George Floyd’s family, dating back three generations. This is a thoughtful examination of Floyd’s strengths and weaknesses to invite the reader to begin to understand the composite factors that led Floyd to his heartrending end. Samuels and Olorunnipa humanize Floyd through this holistic illustration of his life. Robert Samuels, a national political reporter at The Washington Post, joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in March 2023. Toluse Olorunnipa is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for The Washington Post.

Dr. Tara T. Green managed to merge the spirit of an activist and non-conformist with the quiet appearance of respectability. Alice Dunbar-Nelson was not only the ex-wife of poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar or a Creole woman who could pass for white but didn’t. She was a woman whose varied background and experiences enabled her to become a writer who left a collection of writings that made her contemporaries and those of later generations think about their outlook on life and place in the world. Dr. Green is a Black feminist community-engaged scholar, mentor, and university professor.

The winner of BCALA’s Best Poetry Award is A Peculiar People: Poems by Steven Willis (Button Publishing, Inc.).

A Peculiar People: Poems by Steven Willis is a book of poems that showcases Willis’ life experiences and the hardships endured. This collection of poetry voices the struggles he went through, as we all do, with his Black culture and his pain. Steven Willis was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and received his MFA in Acting from the University of Iowa.

The Honor book for the Best Poetry Award is Claim Ticket for Stolen People by Quintin Collins (Mad Creek Books, an imprint of The Ohio State University Press).

In the variety of poems in various poetic forms, Collins presents claim tickets for anger, resistance, and hope as he presents scenarios for stolen people, Africans who became enslaved, to claim what is rightfully theirs. The poems take us through the black existence, starting with a sonogram, continuing to birth, and through all the trials and tribulations encountered in life’s journey. Together this collection of poems leads one on a voyage from being stolen to claiming and reclaiming our ukweli (Swahili for truth.) Quintin Collins is a writer, editor, and director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.

The BCALA Literary Awards Committee presents two Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation Awards.

Isn’t Her Grace Amazing!: the Women Who Changed Gospel Music by Cheryl Wills (Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins).

Cheryl Wills gives honor to the ancestors with Isn’t Her Grace Amazing! The Women Who Changed Gospel Music. Beautifully rendered and researched, Wills’ work lifts the stories of these legendary musicians and singers as a chorus. Chapters that focus on queens, sisters, architects, crossovers, and modern artists in the gospel music world are a curriculum for new fans and an anthology for devoted listeners. Carefully curated prose and stunning photography offer readers an exhibit-like experience in a volume to linger with. Cheryl Wills is a veteran journalist with Spectrum News NYI.

Emma’s Postcard Album: Black Lives in the Early Twentieth Century by Faith Mitchell (University Press of Mississippi).

Emma’s Postcard Album is a glimpse of African American life through the vignettes told in the postcards mailed to Emma, the author’s maternal grandmother. In Emma’s Postcards, we hear the voices of people whose names are only known in family stories. Despite the academic research, there is a personal connection the reader can grasp while reading Emma’s Postcards whether it’s the recollection of a personal experience or an oft-repeated story from a family gathering. Dr. Mitchell is a medical anthropologist and an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute.

Members of the BCALA Literary Awards Jury are Gladys Smiley Bell (Chair), Hampton, VA; Tiffany A. Duck, Newport News, VA; Dana G. Evans, Virginia Beach VA; Ritchie A. Momon, Independence, MO; John Page, Washington, DC; Jamar Rahming, Wilmington, DE; and Deimosa Webber-Bey, Forest Hills, NY.


The Literary Awards Committee of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc. (BCALA) is now accepting submissions for the annual BCALA Literary Awards. The Committee will present four prizes of $1,000.00 each for adult books written by African American citizen authors: a First Novelist Award, a Fiction Award, a Nonfiction Award, and a Poetry Award. The First Novelist Award is given to recognize outstanding writing and storytelling by a debut author. Honor Book citations are also given in fiction and nonfiction without any accompanying monetary remuneration. Additionally, an Outstanding Contribution to Publishing citation is provided to an author and/or publishing company for unique books that offer a positive depiction of African Americans.

First presented at the Second National Conference of African American Librarians in 1994, the BCALA Literary Awards acknowledge outstanding works of fiction and nonfiction for adult audiences by African American authors. Recipients of these awards offer outstanding depictions of the cultural, historical, or sociopolitical aspects of the Black Diaspora and embody the highest quality of writing style and research methodology, if applicable.

Books from small, large, and specialty publishers are welcome for review consideration. Titles forwarded for review must be published in 2023. Sets or multi-volume works are eligible. New editions of previously published works are eligible only if more than 30% of the total content is new or revised material. Inspirational, self-help, and graphic novels are ineligible. Only finished, published books should be submitted; galleys (bound or unbound) and chapbooks are NOT eligible.

Please send one copy of each title submitted to each member of the Literary Awards Committee. A Committee roster with their addresses can be found at http://bcala.org/literary-award-committee/

Supply all available information regarding the submission, including promotional material, author biography, and available news articles and reviews via email or with a published book.

BCALA Literary Awards Criteria

BCALA presents four (4) $1,000.00 awards: one for adult fiction, one for nonfiction, one for a first novelist, and one for poetry. These awards acknowledge outstanding achievement in the presentation of the cultural, historical, and sociopolitical aspects of the Black Diaspora.

The Fiction Award recognizes depictions of sensitive and authentic personal experiences either within the framework of contemporary literary standards and themes or which explore innovative literary formats.

The Nonfiction Award honors cultural, historical, political, or social criticism or academic and/or professional research that significantly advances the body of knowledge currently associated with the people and the legacy of the Black Diaspora. (Categories could include the humanities, science and technology, social and behavioral sciences, and reference).

The First Novelist Award acknowledges outstanding achievement in writing and storytelling by a first-time fiction writer.

The Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation recognizes the author and/or the publishing company (for their support and publication of) special and unique books that recognize the outstanding achievements and positive depiction of contributions of the people and legacy of the Black Diaspora.

The Poetry Award strives to recognize and promote emerging and established poets that introduce and foster the joys of poetry writing.

Additionally, honor books may be selected in each category, but there is no cash award.

Purpose: To encourage the artistic expression of the African American experience via literature and scholarly research including biographical, historical, and social history treatments by African Americans.


  1. Must portray some aspect of the African American experience past, present, or future.
  2. All authors, editors, and contributors must have African-American citizenship in the United States.
  3. Must be published in the United States in the year preceding the presentation of the award.
  4. Must be an original work.

The final submission date to each juror is December 31, 2023. Decisions will be made in January 2024. The awards will be presented in San Diego, CA during ALA’s Annual Conference in June 2024. Publishers and winning authors (only) will be advised of the Literary Award Committee’s decision in advance of the annual conference.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at (757) 727-5185 or email: [email protected]


Gladys Smiley Bell

Gladys Smiley Bell, Chair
BCALA Literary Awards Committee

P.S. BCA literary award seals http://bcala.org/book-award/ are available for purchase to be displayed on winning books.

Literary Awards Seals Pricelist
Packs of 24 – $15.00
Winners Rolls of 100 – $70.00
Honors Rolls of 50 – $35.00

BCALA logo


  • Gladys Smiley Bell, Chair
    433 Dare Avenue
    Hampton, VA 23661
    [email protected]
  • Tiffany Duck
    640 Briarfield Rd
    Newport News, VA 23605
    [email protected]
  • Gerald B. Moore
    6701 Dorchester Road, Apt 220
    North Charleston, SC 29418
    [email protected]
  • Dana G. Evans
    1480 Independence Blvd.
    Virginia Beach, VA 23455
    [email protected]
  • Ritchie A. Momon
    Mid-Continent Public Library
    15616 East 24 Highway
    Independence, MO 64050
    [email protected]
  • John S. Page
    3003 Van Ness Street, NW, W522
    Washington, DC 20008
    [email protected]
  • Deimosa Webber-Bey
    104-20 Queens Blvd., 4X
    Forest Hills, N.Y. 11375
    [email protected]