BCALA Announces the 2018 Literary Awards Winners

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc. (BCALA) announces the winners of the 2018 BCALA Literary Awards during the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association in Denver, CO. The awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African American authors published in 2017, including an award for Best Poetry and a citation for Outstanding Contribution to Publishing. The recipients will receive awards during the 2018 annual meeting of the American Library Association in New Orleans, LA.

The winner of the 1st Novelist Award is A kind of freedom: a novel by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (Counterpoint Press).

Three generations of a Black family in New Orleans try to make the best choices they can in a city deeply impacted by segregation, economic inequality, and racial tensions. A Kind of Freedom is an urgent novel that explores the legacy of racial disparity in the South through a touching and redemptive family history. Born and raised in New Orleans, Sexton studied creative writing at Dartmouth and law at University of California, Berkeley. She lives in the Bay Area, CA with her family.
The Fiction category winner is Difficult women by Roxane Gay (Grove/Atlantic, Inc.).

Difficult women explore women’s lives and issues of race, class and sex in the form of varied short stories. Each story highlights women who do not assimilate into majority culture, and are therefore often portrayed as “difficult women.” Though difficult, Gay never writes any of the characters weak or lacking in personality. She lives in Lafayette, IN, and sometimes Los Angeles.

The Honor Books for Fiction are Sing, unburied, sing by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner) and The tragedy of Brady Sims: a novel by Ernest J. Gaines (Knopf Doubleday).

Sing, unburied, sing is a character driven novel about a poverty-stricken family living in Mississippi, where race discrimination runs rampant. The journey is filled with trials and tribulations, in addition to visits from ghosts of the past, making things a little more interesting. A completely heart-wrenching novel, Ward’s writing is breathtaking, lyrical, poignant and all consuming. She lives in Mississippi with her family.

The Tragedy of Brady Sims is the new and engaging work by the prolific writer, Ernest J. Gaines, opens with Brady Sims shooting his recently convicted son in front of the judge, jury and bystanders. On assignment, covering the shooting, a young reporter learns the history of a Louisiana town’s black population mainly through stories heard at the local barbershop. After more than twenty years, Gaines returns to his usual themes of crime, punishment and compassion and many readers will come to understand and/or appreciate the actions and behavior of Brady Sims. Ernest J. Gaines was born on a plantation in Pointe Coupe Parish near New Roads, Louisiana, which is the Bayonne of all his fictional works. He and his wife live in Oscar, Louisiana.

The winner in the Nonfiction category is Chester B. Himes: a biography by Lawrence P. Jackson (Norton W. W. & Company).

Chester B. Himes has to be considered the definitive groundbreaking biography of one of America’s legacy writers. Not only was Himes prolific he is undoubtedly one of the best writers of crime fiction. Jackson used interviews and had wide access to the full archives of Himes archives and used that research to present a portrait of one of a writer from his middle class origins, imprisonment, World War II artist and his success in Europe. Jackson is Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of English and History at Johns Hopkins University. He lives in Baltimore, MD.

The Honor Book for the Nonfiction category is Defining moments in Black history: reading between the lies by Dick Gregory (HarperCollins).

Gregory stimulates thought and conversation in Defining moments in Black history. He used his experiences traveling and his involvement in the Civil Rights struggle to give us concise and powerful statements about the men and women who shaped the American story about African Americans. Dick Gregory (Richard Claxton Gregory) was a stand-up comedian, speaker, and civil rights activist.

The winner for BCALA’s Best Poetry Award is Incendiary art: poems by Patricia Smith (Northwestern University Press).

Patricia Smith takes the reader on a heart-wrenching journey through the lives and struggles of Black America. Organized across four distinct sections, her poems draw on a range of historical topics, from the 1921 race riots in Tulsa, OK to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and more recently those in Ferguson, MO in 2014. Her work invokes a variety of styles including five sonnets dedicated to the murder of Emmett Till. Detailed and descriptive, her accounts invoke both anger and sadness within the reader. Beyond simply reporting on these incidents, however, Smith’s poetry interprets their impact on individuals and communities at large. Incendiary art serves as a chronicle to the pain and violence of Black life dissecting events and experiences with the eye of a journalist and the tongue of a poet. Smith is a Cave Canem faculty member, an associate professor of English at CUNY/College of Staten Island, and a faculty member in the Sierra Nevada College M.F.A. program.

The BCALA Literary Awards Committee presents the Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation to 100 amazing facts about the Negro by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Knopf Doubleday).

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. updates the original version of Joel Augustus Rogers’s 100 amazing facts about the Negro with complete proof in a timely and elegant way. He presents interesting and thought-provoking stories about many African Americans—some known, and some unknown. Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

Members of the BCALA Literary Awards Jury are: Gladys Smiley Bell (Chair), Hampton University, Hampton, VA; Tiffany A. Duck, Suffolk Public Library, Suffolk, VA; Grace M. Jackson-Brown, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO; LeRoy LaFleur, Tufts University, Boston, MA; Dominique Luster, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Ritchie A. Momon, Mid-Continent Public Library, Independence, MO; and John Page, Retired, Washington, D.C.

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