BCALA Literary Awards

BCALA Announces the 2022 Literary Awards Winners

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc. (BCALA) announces the winners of the 2022 BCALA Literary Awards. The awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African American authors published in 2021, including an award for Best Poetry and a citation for Outstanding Contribution to Publishing. The recipients will receive awards during the 2022 American Library Association Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

The winner of the 1st Novelist Award is The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois: a Novel by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (HarperCollins).

The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois is a phenomenal coming-of-age story that will linger with readers, painting the intergenerational portrait of Avery Pearl Garfield. Honorée Fanonne Jeffers pens a character who idealizes her older sisters and idolizes her elders, with a history framed by the experiences of land and ancestors in the Deep South. Spanning Avery’s childhood in a Northern city through the experience as an undergraduate HBCU legacy student, she ultimately engages in revelatory research in graduate school. Jeffers teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Oklahoma. This is her first novel.

The Fiction category winner is Razorblade Tears: a Novel by S. A. Cosby (Flatiron Books).

S.A. Cosby does a magnificent job with his new novel Razorblade Tears. This novel tells us about two men, Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins, who are out to avenge the deaths of their sons. Razorblade Tears gives the reader a fascinating story of racism and homophobia through the eyes of the two fathers, whose sons were married to each other and killed together. The two fathers feel it is only right they find out who killed them and why. Cosby is an award-winning writer from southeastern VA.

The Honor books for Fiction are The Trees: a Novel by Percival Everett (Graywolf Press); Yellow Wife: a Novel  by Sadeqa Johnson (Simon and Schuster); and The Sweetness of Water: a Novel  by Nathan Harris (Little, Brown, and Company).

Two detectives and the town’s root doctor try to solve the terrifying, uncanny, and brutal murders in Money, Mississippi. The Trees is a racial allegory that brings back to life the hateful past by the unghosting of Emmett Till in a way that only a brilliant imagination makes possible. Percival Everett is a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California. Yellow Wife is a historical fiction novel from the point of view of Pheby Delores Brown, a mulatto slave girl born on a plantation in VA. Pheby was promised freedom on her 18th birthday by her white father and slave owner but that changed when he died suddenly. Pheby was sold to a place known as the “Devil’s Half Acre” where she learned the cruelties of slave punishment at that time. Johnson weaves southern history and real historical events into a beautiful but heart-wrenching story of resilience and the will to survive. Johnson currently lives near Richmond, VA. The Sweetness of Water is a compelling novel that begins at the end of the Emancipation where two newly freed brothers leave their plantation to go north to find their mother who was sold when they were young boys. This novel also introduces George Walker and his wife who are searching for their son, Caleb, after the Civil War. All in all, The Sweetness of Water gives the reader a look at the days after the Civil War and how it affected each of the characters. Harris lives in Austin, TX. This is his first novel.

The winner in the Nonfiction category is Just as I Am: a Memoir by Cicely Tyson with Michelle Burford (HarperCollins). This book is dedicated to the memory of the beloved librarian and past president of BCALA, , Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin.

Just as I Am, legendary actress Cicely Tyson takes the reader on a journey from a shy church girl to the wife of jazz great Miles Davis to her extraordinary acting career. Her contributions have earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the following praise by President Barack Obama in 2016: “In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, but she has also shaped the course of history.”

The Honor books for the Nonfiction category are A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib (Random House); The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Penguin Press); and Ebony: Covering Black America by Lavaille Lavette (Rizzoli).

A Little Devil in America is a masterwork of historical memoir, expressed through vivid stories of Black performance and individualism. These vignettes form five movements in the book – itself a narrative performance, spotlighting entertainers such as Josephine Baker, William Henry Lane, and Beyoncé. Deconstructing his own daily performances, ranging from attending concerts to playing spades, the author shrewdly connects these global and national figures to his autobiography as a writer, poet, intellectual and human being. Hanif Abdurraqib is also, an essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, OH.

Gates gives us another brilliant book that illuminates and captures the essence and rhythms; the central role of the Black church in the movement for social justice; the support network it has been for a community often in need of safe spaces; an interdisciplinary journey into the heart of the Black worship experience of the Black Christian church. He reveals The Black Church’s role as the spiritual bedrock, the thought center, and heartbeat of the Black community that has nurtured musicians, artists, educators, politicians, and of course notable preachers and speakers. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

The Ebony Magazine is a pillar in the African American community that lasted for decades, addressing African American issues, personalities, and interests. It celebrated issues on events from the Black perspective, Black standards of beauty, and elevated heroes in Black America. Ebony: Covering Black America is “a celebration of the treasure trove of the magazine’s rich history and glamorous covers.” Lavaille Lavette is a best-selling author, marketing, and educational expert.

The winner of BCALA’s Best Poetry Award is Black Girl, Call Home: Poems by Jasmine Mans (Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House).

Black Girl, Call Home a collection of poetry was like a love letter to black girls everywhere. Mans’ poetry was so timely and relatable as she covered topics such as hair, mental health, racism, and motherhood. The collection is powerful and inspiring and nostalgic right from the vision of the front cover. Jasmine Mans is the resident poet at the Newark Public Library.

The Honor book for Best Poetry Award is i am the rage: poems by Martina McGowan (Sourcebooks).

I am the rage is a very powerful, intense, and visceral collection of poetry. There are vivid illustrations sprinkled throughout the book which are very inspirational. Reading the poems will bring out feelings of empathy, compassion, and understanding. It is often said that the truth hurts and McGowan has an incredible ability to evoke all of the truth in one 90-page poetry collection. Martina McGowan, MD is a writer, a potter, an artist, and a leader at work and within her community.

The BCALA Literary Awards Committee presents the Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation Award to Four Hundred Souls: a Community History of African America, 1619 – 2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (One World, an imprint of Random House).
The editors chose an unconventional method of portraying the history of African America from 1619 to 2019 — ten parts by way of chronology and themes. Each author, journalist, activist, poet, and living legend covers his/her topic over a five-year period. Each of the ten parts ends with a relevant poem. A lack of continuity does not detract from the flow of this historical narrative as the reader enjoys the different voices, viewpoints, and perspectives of what may be called an African American “community” or group history providing a look at the past and some ways of looking and thinking about the future. Ibram X. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University and the founding Director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. Keisha N. Blain is an award-winning historian, professor, and writer.

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, Kew Gardens, NY.

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