Book Award

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]
February 11, 2018 Press Room – The Colorado Convention Center

≈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.

Official Press Release

Letter to Publishers and Authors:

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 $500.00 each for adult books written by African American authors: a First Novelist Award, a Fiction Award, a Nonfiction Award, and a Poetry Award. The First Novelist Award is given to recognize an outstanding work by a first time African American fiction writer. Honor Book citations are also awarded 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 2018. 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 adult graphic novels are ineligible. Only finished, published books should be submitted; galleys (bound or unbound) and chapbooks are unacceptable.

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

Supply all available information regarding the submission, including promotional material, author biography and available news articles and reviews.  

BCALA Literary Awards Criteria

BCALA presents four (4) $500.00 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 experience 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 which 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.

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 be African American(s) born in the United States.
  3. Must be published in the United States in the year preceding presentation of the award.
  4. Must be an original work.

The final submission date to each juror is December 31, 2018. Decisions will be made during the American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, WA in February 2019. The awards will be presented in Washington, DC during ALA’s Annual Conference in June 2019. Publishers and winning authors 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, Chair

BCALA Literary Awards Committee

P.S.:  BCALA Literary Award Seals are available for purchase and may be displayed on the 2018 winners as well as all previous winners.