The American Book Award

The Before Columbus Foundation announces the
Winners of the Forty-Second Annual
AMERICAN BOOK AWARDS

Ceremonies: Sunday, September 19, 2021, from 2:00–4:00 p.m.

Oakland, CA—The Before Columbus Foundation announces the Winners of the Forty-Second Annual AMERICAN BOOK AWARDS. The 2021 American Book Award winners will be formally recognized on Sunday, September 19, 2021, from 2:00–4:00 p.m., online.

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The American Book Awards were created to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community. The purpose of the awards is to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions. There are no categories, no nominees, and therefore no losers. The award winners range from well-known and established writers to under-recognized authors and first works. There are no quotas for diversity, the winners list simply reflects it as a natural process. The Before Columbus Foundation views American culture as inclusive and has always considered the term “multicultural” to be not a description of various categories, groups, or “special interests,” but rather as the definition of all of American literature. The Awards are not bestowed by an industry organization, but rather are a writers’ award given by other writers.

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The 2021 American Book Award Winners are:

Ayad Akhtar

Ayad Akhtar
Ayad Akhtar (Photo: Vincent Tullo)

Ayad Akhtar is a novelist and playwright. His work has been published and performed in over two dozen languages. He is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 

Ayad is the author of Homeland Elegies (Little, Brown & Co.), which The Washington Post called “a tour de force” and The New York Times selected as a Top 10 Book of 2020, calling it “pitch-perfect…virtuosic.” Ayad is adapting Homeland Elegies into a limited series at FX, with director Oren Moverman and staring Kumail Nanjiani. His first novel, American Dervish (Little, Brown & Co.), was published in over 20 languages. As a playwright, he has written Junk (Lincoln Center, Broadway; Kennedy Prize for American Drama, Tony nomination); Disgraced (Lincoln Center, Broadway; Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Tony nomination); The Who & The What (Lincoln Center); and The Invisible Hand (NYTW; Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award, Olivier, and Evening Standard nominations). 

Ayad Akhtar
Homeland Elegies: A Novel (Little, Brown & Co.)

Playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar’s novel Homeland Elegies reflects the heartbreaking reality of loving a country that doesn’t love you back. Where model minorities are betrayed overnight, where American dreams turn into nightmares, and where frayed relationships can also find a space to heal and grow in spite of pain, misunderstanding and resentment. 

It’s a novel about an immigrant family and father-son relationship, but it’s more than that. It focuses on the personal to illuminate a fractured America: a country torn between its alleged myths and ideals of exceptionalism and freedom, and its enduring sin of racism and xenophobia. A country resisting, reforming and retrenching all at once, enduring the rise of Trumpism & the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate, but also trying to find a way forward through the pain and grief.”

— Wajahat Ali

Maisy Card

Maisy Card
Maisy Card (Photo: Tehsuan Glover)

Maisy Card is the author of the novel These Ghosts are Family, which was the fiction category winner for the 2021 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and the LA Times Book Prizes’ Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review’s “The Daily,” Lit Hub, The New York Times, Guernica and other publications. She is currently a full-time librarian and a fiction editor for The Brooklyn Rail. Maisy was born in Portmore, Jamaica and was raised in Queens, NY. She currently lives in Newark, NJ.

Maisy Card
These Ghosts Are Family (Simon & Schuster)

Every family’s got secrets but Abel Paisley’s secret is monstrous and mesmerizing. These Ghosts are Family begins with energy and intrigue and, really, never lets up. This book is painful and shocking but it can be funny as hell, too. What a talented writer. Maisy Card has written one of the best debut novels I’ve read in many years.”

— Victor LaValle

Through Maisy Card’s immersive storytelling, These Ghosts Are Family explores the intersections of generational trauma, love, and long-held family secrets, showing what it means to build a life in the face of history. I was hooked from page one.”

— Lisa Ko

I suspect many readers will talk about the consequences of unspoken generational trauma in These Ghosts Are Family, but I’m most amazed by the deft use of characterization, place and embodiment here. This book is a master class in writing home as a collection of odd spirits and a mobile metaphor.”

— Kiese Laymon

Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody is the author of Borderland Apocrypha (Omnidawn), winner of the 2018 Omnidawn Open Book Contest selected by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, a National Book Award in Poetry finalist, a PEN America / Jean Stein Book Award finalist, a California Book Award finalist, and a LA Times Book Award in Poetry finalist. He is a 2020 Poets & Writers debut poet and a 2020 Southwest Book Award winner. A CantoMundo fellow from Fresno, California, Anthony has lineage in both the Bracero Program and the Dust Bowl. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Academy of American Poets: Poem-A-Day Series, Magma Poetry (UK), Gulf Coast, Ninth Letter, Prairie Schooner, The Boiler, ctrl+v journal, among others. Anthony co-edited How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology. He collaborates with the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio to imagine a new, borderless poetry. Anthony has received fellowships from CantoMundo, Community of Writers, and Arizona State University: Desert Nights, Rising Stars Conference. He has taught ecopoetry at Fresno State and led workshops across the country. Currently, Anthony serves as an associate poetry editor for Noemi Press and a poetry editor for Omnidawn. 

Anthony Cody
Borderland Apocrypha (Omnidawn Press)

Borderland Apocrypha, by Anthony Cody unearths long-ago buried maps, trails, images figures and faces and vibrations of the lost, the hanged and the lynched untold stories of the Mexicans in their own lands occupied and taken — through this fluid text of passionate and first-time-ever exploding typographic design poems. They leap, spiral, singe, crush, crash, condense, tangle & knot & erase and reappear into and out of themselves to scream and arrive at your table, for once to be seen and felt and return in their elegant and ragged vestments of truth. Call these poems, but they are brown bodies & voices, home at last, under the rough light of the world. A grand accomplishment, a mega-prize-winner!”

— Juan Felipe Herrera

Ben Ehrenreich

Ben Ehrenreich
Ben Ehrenreich (Photo: Peter van Agtmael (Magnum))

Ben Ehrenreich’s most recent book, Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time, was published in 2020 by Counterpoint Press. His previous book of nonfiction, the critically acclaimed The Way to the Spring: Life and Death and Palestine, based on years of reporting from the West Bank, was published in 2016 by Penguin Press and was a finalist for the Palestine Book Award. Ehrenreich’s essays and journalism have appeared in, among many other publications, The New York Times Magazine, the London Review of Books, The Nation, The New Republic, the Guardian, and Harper’s, and have been honored with a National Magazine Award for feature writing in 2011 and a PEN Center USA literary award in 2012. He is also the author of two novels: Ether, published by City Lights in 2011, and The Suitors, published by Counterpoint Press in 2006.

Ben Ehrenreich
Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time (Counterpoint)

A beautifully meditative and searingly honest account of life at the end of time. Writing to us from the desert, our past and future both, Ehrenreich draws connections between colonial expansion, racist laws, environmental predations, climate change, and unrelenting human greed.”

— Laila Lalami 

This haunting meditation on terminal capitalism and its unthinkable future clearly establishes its author as one of our greatest essayists, wholly contemporary with these strange times.”

— Mike Davis

These are the kind of conversations we need to be having–with ourselves and with others. And the desert seems like the right austere setting to be having them. These fine essays take a deep tradition in American writing and extend it into our uncertain and collapsing present.” 

— Bill McKibben

Johanna Fernández

Johanna Fernández
Johanna Fernández (Photo: Jon Gunnar)

Johanna Fernández is associate professor of History at Baruch College of the City University of New York and author of The Young Lords: A Radical History, recipient in 2021 of the New York Society Library’s New York City Book Award and three Organization of American Historians (OAH) awards: the prestigious Frederick Jackson Turner award for best first book in history, the Liberty Legacy Foundation award for best book on civil rights and the Merle Curti award for best Social History. Dr. Fernández’s 2014 Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) lawsuit against the NYPD, led to the recovery of the “lost” Handschu files, the largest repository of police surveillance records in the country, namely over one million surveillance files of New Yorkers compiled by the NYPD between 1954-1972, including those of Malcolm X. She’s also the host of the morning show A New Day at 99.5 FM in New York on Pacifica’s WBAI, M-F, 7-8am.

Johanna Fernández
The Young Lords: A Radical History (University of North Carolina Press)

Johanna Fernández has not only produced the definitive history of the Young Lords; she also has single-handedly shifted our understanding of the post-1968 political landscape. Richly documented, beautifully written, and brutally honest, this book moves the Young Lords from the margins of the New Left and Puerto Rican nationalism to the very epicenter of global struggles against racism, imperialism, and patriarchy and for national self-determination, medical justice, reproductive rights, and socialism. A work as monumental and expansive as the Young Lords’ vision of revolution.”

— Robin D. G. Kelley

In this remarkable book, historian Johanna Fernández tells us that the children of Puerto Rican migration to the U.S. colonizer’s continent developed a ‘second sight,’ experiencing poverty and discrimination while possessing knowledge of Puerto Rico as a U.S. colony and U.S. imperialism, making their organization, the Young Lords, a powerful force. Challenging Latino antiblack racism and machismo and the church, and using intense community organizing, they not only brought liberation and class consciousness to Puerto Ricans but also infused the social movements of the 1960s with solidarity, launching the famed Rainbow Coalition. This is history writing at its best, rigorously researched yet powerful and moving, often poetic. And it is not ‘just history,’ but rather profoundly a cautionary tale of the present and the future given the limitation of social revolution within the powerful settler-colonial state that is the United States.”

— Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché
Carolyn Forché (Photo: Don J. Usner)

Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1950, poet, teacher and activist Carolyn Forché has witnessed, thought about, and put into poetry some of the most devastating events of twentieth-century world history. According to Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times Book Review, Forché’s ability to wed the “political” with the “personal” places her in the company of such poets as Pablo Neruda, Philip Levine, and Denise Levertov.

An articulate defender of her own aims as well as the larger goals of poetry, Forché is perhaps best-known for coining the term “poetry of witness.” In her ground-breaking anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993), Forché described the difficulties of politically-engaged poetry: “We are accustomed to rather easy categories: we distinguish between ‘personal’ and ‘political’ poems…The distinction…gives the political realm too much and too little scope; at the same time, it renders the personal too important and not important enough. If we give up the dimension of the personal, we risk relinquishing one of the most powerful sites of resistance. The celebration of the personal, however, can indicate a myopia, an inability to see how larger structures of the economy and the state circumscribe, if not determine, the fragile realm of the individual.” Calling for a new poetry invested in the “social,” Forché’s anthology presented poets who had written under extreme conditions, including war, exile, and imprisonment. The anthology solidified her place as one of America’s most important and aware poetic voices.

Carolyn Forché
In the Lateness of the World: Poems (Penguin Press)

Forché’s stately stanzas—her writing is never hurried—are the work of a literary reporter, Gloria Emerson as filtered through the eyes of Elizabeth Bishop or Grace Paley. Free of jingoism but not of moral gravity, Forché’s work questions—when it does question—how to be or to become a thinking, caring, communicating adult. Taken together, Forché’s five books of verse—the most recent, In the Lateness of the World, was published in March (2020)—are about action: memory as action, vision and writing as action. She asks us to consider the sometimes unrecognized, though always felt, ways in which power inserts itself into our lives and to think about how we can move forward with what we know. History—with its construction and its destruction—is at the heart of In the Lateness of the World . . . In [it] one feels the poet cresting a wave—a new wave that will crash onto new lands and unexplored territories.”

— Hilton Als

In the Lateness of the World connects the threats to language’s survival with the threats to the earth and global commons. ‘They have cut off the water in the sinking metropolis,’ the poem ‘Water Crisis’ begins, emphasizing a disconnect from the rich, who can afford to draw water with cisterns on their roofs, sending it ‘singing through the pipes of the better houses.’ Quiet then comes: ‘It is like night. We are waiting to breathe again.’ The poem goes on to describe the plight of gamecocks, ‘forced to fight with knives taped to their feet,’ drawing a connection between weaponized animals, reduced to entertainment, and the atrophy of language: ‘The last cloud is empty. The first death reason enough.’ “

— Virginia Konchan

John Giorno

John Giorno
John Giorno (Photo: Maru Teppei)

Poet and visual artist John Giorno was born in 1936 in New York City. He attended Columbia University and worked as a stockbroker for a short time before meeting Andy Warhol in 1962. A romantic relationship ensued, and Giorno was featured in Warhol’s first film, Sleep (1963). The influence of pop art and Warhol’s Factory are evident in Giorno’s work, which developed out of verbal collages of appropriated texts drawn from advertising and signage.

Giorno’s close friendship with the artist Robert Rauschenberg, who was then experimenting with art and technology, inspired his next set of works. In the 1960s, Giorno began to record his poetry, distorting the recordings with synthesizers to produce installations he called “electronic sensory poetry environments.” In 1965, he founded Giorno Poetry Systems, a nonprofit production company designed to introduce new, innovative poetry to wider audiences. In 1967, Giorno called upon fellow artists and friends, including William S. Burroughs, Frank O’Hara, and Patti Smith, to record poems for his Dial-a-Poem project, which used the telephone to connect listeners to recordings of poems. The recordings made during this project were later united to considerable critical acclaim in a 1970 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. 

In 1971, following a trip to India, Giorno converted to Tibetan Buddhism. In his later years, he became well known for his confrontational readings and his contributions as a gay rights activist; he founded the AIDS Treatment Project in 1984. In 2010, he had his first solo gallery show, Black Paintings and Drawings, which focused on the development of poem painting. He lived in New York City until his death in late 2019.

John Giorno
Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, and Enlightenment (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Some people make their own luck. In the right place and at the right time because they are on their own clock. ‘Now Is the Time.’ John Giorno was just such a person. Anointed by the sweat of Dylan Thomas, to hear him tell it in his posthumous memoir Great Demon Kings, he followed a path to the ancients. The lyric poet as someone scooping out their insides and telling you how sensitive they are had mercifully been killed-off by Modernism. And it’s a good thing too, because otherwise a book of this kind, containing this kind of history would never have been written. The American running-style of literature, a style rooted in Blues, Ragtime and stride piano, conveys images of everything seemingly happening at once is here in spades. Stories turn topsy-turvy in rapid succession and collide. Anecdotes cascade one into the other, tales interweave and spool like a movie projectionist slipping in an extra reel without explanation. The rhythmic tension in this style is taut yet supple, bending and snapping-back, never breaking. As James Brown would say, ‘Moving, grooving, doing it, you know, like a sex machine.’ The left hand of James P. Johnson. It’s in Dos Passos U.S.A. and other Lost Generation writers influenced by the new thing in poetry. Satchmo’s grace notes falling like stars, flashing, flaring before a midnight sun.

John Giorno was a man who loved men and he loved the world with his poetry. Seminal in the creation of new technologies for bringing the word to the masses, Giorno’s ecstatic visions embraced theater and music as well. Visual artists, filmmakers, painters have all taken cues from his body in performance. He himself was a network which extended its antenna and wiring across three continents. Pulsing electricity, the kind that you find in artists whose lives depend on their work, animated his style. To witness Giorno in action was to realize a real poem was not in a book. Except maybe this one!”

— Justin Desmangles

Cathy Park Hong

Cathy Park Hong
Cathy Park Hong (Photo: Beowulf Sheehan)

Cathy Park Hong’s New York Times bestselling book of creative nonfiction, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, was published in Spring 2020 by One World/Random House and Profile Books (UK). Minor Feelings was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. She is also the author of poetry collections Engine Empire, published in 2012 by W.W. Norton, Dance Dance Revolution, chosen by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Translating Mo’um.  Hong is the recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her prose and poetry have been published in the New York Times, New Republic, the Guardian, Paris Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. She is the poetry editor of the New Republic and is a full professor at Rutgers-Newark University.

Cathy Park Hong
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (One World)

Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, depending on the reader’s perspective, is either a brutally honest self-assessment in your own mirror as an Asian American or if you’re not Asian American, then it’s an all-new narrative on Asian American identity that reframes the discussion into new territory, covering the old ground from the late 60s to opening up new ground for the 2020s and beyond.”

— Shawn Wong

Randall Horton

Randall Horton
Randall Horton (Photo: Diane Allford)

Randall Horton’s new memoir Dead Weight: A Memoir in Essays will be published by Northwestern University Press in Feb. 2022. He is also the author of {#289-128}: Poems, which is published by the University Press of Kentucky (2020). Horton is a Professor of English at the University of New Haven. He is also a member of the experimental performance group Heroes Are Gang Leaders which recently received the American Book Award in Oral Literature. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he now resides in New Jersey.

Randall Horton
{#289-128}: Poems (University Press of Kentucky)

The title of Randall Horton’s book — {#289-128} — is what the author was branded to wear while serving time in prison. This book is not a literati ‘been there’ selfie; not a cred advertisement. It is not even simply accurate, authentic witness. Take that with the fact that this work is masterfully accomplished and skilled writing, it becomes clear that {#289-128} is the real deal. This is the work of having to, of owning, of living a good life of what’s left; a decent life, a wiser life. This is poetry.”

— Ed Roberson

If I still talked exactly like back when I was a youngin, and you asked me about Horton’s {#289-128}, I’d tell you ‘this joint jy tough’ – parlance that means this book here has all of it: the grit, the grime, the hope. Reading this book is as close to the transformative experience of prison you’ll get without doing a bid. The note that sounds throughout is an empirical one – this malus thing ain’t justice, but it also ain’t stopping this point from singing about the cost (and weight) of freedom.”

— Reginald Dwayne Betts

I loved how he opened the collection with his descent into hell, not giving any recourse or breath for the audience to look away from the horror. He is clear in his inditement of Whiteness and then in the middle of the collection, which seems to be fundamentally about Black manhood, he examines what he calls ‘Black Male Privilege.’ This theme follows him in the last section of the book, written mostly on the subway, where the sights, sounds and smells continue to evoke memories of prison: the clanging of the tracks, the opening and closing of doors, the shadows and darkness. But in his freedom, he is suddenly aware of the limited freedom of the female body.  This is the surprise of the collection. Another surprise comes in his blatant exposé of rape, as well as love and marriage, within and behind the prison cell walls. In the final poems, Horton says, ‘I am not post or post-racial or post-human, I am color constructed and you cannot take it back.’  This ‘you’ he addresses is the colonialist, the White supremacist, it is America, it is the prison system.”

— Karla Brundage

Gerald Horne

Gerald Horne
Gerald Horne (Photo: Ky’s Art Works LLC)

Gerald Horne
The Dawning of the Apocalypse: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, and Capitalism in the Long Sixteenth Century (Monthly Review Press)

Gerald Horne, Moores Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, has published more than 3 dozen books and, as an attorney, served earlier as the Executive Director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers.

Gerald Horne’s extraordinary work brings into focus the emergence and decline of intersectional global histories across Europe, Africa, and Asia, leading to Pan-European colonization. With an acute historian-analytical voice and enthralling storytelling, Horne lays to bare the role of early empires and the defining inhumanity unleashed for material greed which culminated into the Apocalypse of Slavery, White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, and Capitalism. While questioning the dominant Eurocentric narrative, The Dawning of the Apocalypse also offers us a pathway towards a new Humanity.”

— Danny Glover

Gerald Horne has probed the founding of the United States in previous brilliant books; now he goes back in time to the origins of European colonialism in the 16th century, seeking the origins of the ideology of white supremacy. The Dawning of the Apocalypse presents an original narrative that challenges the myths of United States exceptionalism.”

— Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Admirably direct and astonishingly learned, this brilliant study upends the conceit of US historians that the origins of race, and especially Whiteness, can be located in little patches of the Anglosphere that became parts of the original United States. Telling a much bigger and more compelling story—one featuring a Black Atlantic that includes Africa and Spain, and their Islamic worlds, as well as broader swathes of the Americas—Horne dramatically rewrites not only the history of race but also that of capitalism.”

— David Roediger

Gerald Horne is one of the great historians of our time. His scholarly erudition is impeccable and his revolutionary fervor is undeniable.”

— Cornel West

Robert P. Jones

Robert P. Jones
Robert P. Jones (Photo: Noah Willman)

Robert P. Jones is the CEO and founder of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. He is also the author of The End of White Christian America, which won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Jones writes regularly on politics, culture, and religion for The Atlantic online, NBC Think, and other outlets. He is frequently featured in major national media, such as CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others.

Jones writes weekly at https://robertpjones.substack.com, a newsletter for those dedicated to the work of truth-telling, repair, and recovery from the legacy of white supremacy in American Christianity. He holds a Ph.D. in religion from Emory University, an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a B.S. in computing science and mathematics from Mississippi College. 

Robert P. Jones
White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (Simon & Schuster)

The sins of America’s past haunt and terrorize our present. They are no ghosts. They live and breathe with flesh and blood, as GOP politicians who are trying to ban masks and CRT during a global pandemic, as pastors and alleged men and women of God who teach prosperity during rising income inequality and treat Jesus as a mascot for their greed and white supremacy, as suburban moms and dads with minivans, possessed by their worst demons, hollering against diversity initiatives at school boards, as law enforcement who shoot unarmed black people, work forces, and burn crosses, and as the faithful who go to church every sunday despite it all and still sing hallelujah. Robert Jones calls out the original sin of America: white supremacy, in his honest and bracing book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. It’s more than just a memoir, but a necessary and timely examination and indictment of how religion and racism have been willing partners and accomplices to rationalize and maintain a cruel, hateful, unequal system that demands white lives matter above all else. As America faces yet another “moment” of racial reckoning in the midst of the death rattle of white supremacy which has transformed into a global death march, we need writers like Robert P. Jones who reject the hateful narratives they were handed down as an inheritance and are brave enough to be both reflective and prescriptive in helping our fractured nation chart a better course.”

— Wajahat Ali

Judy Juanita

Judy Juanita
Judy Juanita (Photo: Penny Edwards)

Judy Juanita’s short story collection The High Price of Freeways, won the Tartt Fiction Prize 2021 and will be published by Livingston Press, University of West Alabama in 2022. Her semi-autobiographical novel, Virgin Soul, chronicled a black female coming of age in the 60s who joins the Black Panther Party [Viking, 2013]. Her collection of essays, DeFacto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland [EquiDistance, 2016], examines the intersectionality of race, gender, politics, economics, and spirituality as experienced by a black activist and self-described “feminist foot soldier.” The collection was a distinguished finalist in OSU’s 2016 Non/Fiction Collection Prize.  Two EquiDistance handbooks, suitable for classrooms, each include her writings in four genres–poetry, drama, fiction and essay: Homage to the Black Arts Movement: A Handbook represents and critiques the Black Arts and Black Power movements, focusing on Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones. He was a seminal influence in those movements and in her creative life as an undergraduate at SFSU. The Black Experience in Four Genres covers four centuries of black oppression utilizing poetry, an award-winning play, a Pushcart-Prize nominated essay and a short story. Her  seventeenth play, Theodicy, a full-length play about two Black men who accidentally fall into the river-of-death, won first runner-up of 186 plays in the Eileen Heckart 2008 Senior Drama Competition at Ohio State University.

Judy Juanita
Manhattan my ass, you’re in Oakland (Equidistance Press)

Oakland can’t get no respect. The towns surrounding it don’t want to be associated with it. Judy Juanita even points to sections of Oakland that don’t wish to be associated with it. Blacks are profiled in the Rockridge section of Oakland, which Juanita calls ‘pretend Berkeley.’ Berkeley is the Whitest city in Contra Costra County regardless of its radical reputation. A city where one might be profiled even at cultural institutions. Both Juanita and I were profiled at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. In her book Manhattan my ass, you’re in Oakland, Juanita gives the history of Oakland before the expulsion of Blacks from the city by the banks, the police and Jerry Brown. With the invasion of the city by Millennials, will Oakland become Berkeley? Not If Judy Juanita has anything to do about it.

Juanita stands up for a city that is more than a place where surrounding cities dump their trash.

— Ishmael Reed

William Melvin Kelley (author) Aiki Kelley (illustrator)

William Melvin Kelley
William Melvin Kelley (Photo: Jesi Kelley)

William Melvin Kelley was a novelist, short fiction writer, and educator. Born in 1937 on Carpenter Avenue in The Bronx, New York, he attended Fieldston School and Harvard University. He taught literature and writing at the New School for Social Research, the State University of New York at Geneseo, and the University of Paris, Nanterre.

Kelley published four novels; A Different Drummer, A Drop of Patience, Dem, and Dunfords Travels Everywheres. He also published a book of short stories; Dancers On The Shore. A fifth novel, Dis//Integration, awaits posthumous publication.

Several of his short stories and non-fiction essays appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, Playboy and Harper’s Magazine. He has also been published in numerous textbooks and anthologies of African American Writers.

He was the recipient of a number of awards; the Dana Reed Literary prize, Harvard University, 1960; Bread Loaf Writers Conference grant, 1962; Whitney Foundation award, 1963; Rosenthal Foundation award, 1963; Transatlantic Review award, 1964; Black Academy of Arts and Letters award, 1970; and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement, 2008

Kelley taught creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College for over twenty years and lived in Harlem. He died from complications of kidney disease on February 1, 2017. He was 79 years old.

AIKI (Karen Kelley), a Chicago-born poet and visual artist has worked steadily at her art since 1962; she graduated from New York’s Sarah Lawrence College with a concentration in painting. While at Sarah Lawrence, Aiki had the great privilege and life-changing experience of studying Folklore and Mythology under Joseph Campbell. Aiki has lived for extensive periods in Rome, Paris and Kingston, Jamaica. Married for over 55 years to the late writer William Melvin Kelley, Aiki has two daughters, the photographer and graphic designer, Jesi Kelley (The Bear Maiden), and Cira Kelley, an educator and educational theorist. Most recently Aiki was part of collaborative exhibit ‘Fire/Water Earth/Sky’ with her daughter Jesi in New York City. Aiki has just completed a poetic narrative “Too Stubborn To Leave, Too Lazy to Quit; A Ballad” about her marriage.

William Melvin Kelley (author) Aiki Kelley (illustrator)
Dunfords Travels Everywheres (Anchor Books)

Aiki Kelley
Aiki Kelley (Photo: Jesi Kelley)

Among the most innovative and exciting novelists in the history of international literature, the opportunity to honor William Melvin Kelley with the American Book Award is a great privilege. Before Columbus Foundation is elated to welcome his work back into print, thanks to Anchor Books. It is a unique thrill to see Dunfords Travels Everywheres now illustrated in it’s new edition by Aiki Kelley, whom we also honor with this year’s Award. The majesty of William Melvin Kelley’s vital contribution to international letters remains urgent and evermore medicinal in its cosmic scope and unifying embrace. The total arc and panorama of human experience, embodied in the mythologies we share from antiquity to the present are fully illuminated in William Melvin Kelley’s artistry. An absolute virtuoso of the language, with Dunfords Travels Everywheres, William Melvin Kelley ignites the spiritual imagination, reviving and resuscitating images of our journey with wit and grace. His masterwork is truly a wonder to behold. Vivid, charismatic, mercurial, musical, Dunfords Travels Everywheres stands as one of the great contributions to the art of the novel. Laughing to keep from crying, living life not dying, this new illustrated edition sings a joyous, uplifitng song.”

— Justin Desmangles 

William Melvin Kelley’s final work, Dunfords Travels Everywheres, a Joycean, Rabelaisian romp in which he brings back some of his most memorable characters in a novel of three intertwining stories.

Ride on out with Rab and Turt, two o’New Afriqueque’s toughfast, ruefast Texnosass Arangers, as they battle Chief Pugmichillo and ricecure Mr. Charcarl Walker-Rider. Cut in on Carlyle Bedlowe, wrecker of marriage, saver of souls.

Or just along with Chig Dunford, product of Harlem and private schools, on the circular voyage of self-discovery that takes him from Europe’s Café of One Hand to Harlem’s Jack O’Gee’s Golden Grouse Bar & Restaurant.

Beginning on an August Sunday in one of Europe’s strangest cities, Dunfords Travels Everywheres but always returns back to the same point—the “Begending”—where Mr. Charcarl’s dream becomes Chig Dunford’s reality (the “Ivy League Negro” in the world outside the Ivory Tower).

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

Maryemma Graham

Eleanor Traylor
Maryemma Graham

Maryemma Graham is University Distinguished Professor in the Department of English at the University of Kansas. In her forty-year career, which includes 12 books on teaching, black literature, and literary history, she founded and transformed the Project on the History of Black Writing into a leading center for literary recovery and engaged scholarship, known for its early use of interactive technologies. Graham has raised millions of dollars, including 20 funded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, to support research, professional development programs, and interinstitutional networks that are national and global in scope. Among them are the The Langston Hughes National Poetry ProjectLanguage Matters, the international teaching initiative for the Toni Morrison Society, and the Black Book Interactive Project, home to the world’s largest and fastest growing digital archive for black fiction research. The House Where My Soul Lives: The Life of Margaret Walker will be published in spring 2022 by Oxford University Press. 

Dr. Maryemma Graham, founder of the acclaimed Project on the History of Black Writing (University of Kansas) and author of the forthcoming intellectual biography of Margaret Walker, is an extraordinary scholar and teacher.  She has co-edited The Cambridge History of African American Literature and has edited many books on African American topics.  She has directed numerous NEH-sponsored institutes, workshops and seminars.  She is indefatigable.  For four decades Dr. Graham has promoted innovative thinking and scholarship that pertains to African American literary and cultural criticism.  Without doubt, she should be rewarded for her lifetime of service.”

— Jerry Ward

WALTER & LILLIAN LOWENFELS AWARD FOR CRITICISM

Shana Redmond
Everything Man: The Form and Function of Paul Robeson (Duke University Press)

Shana L. Redmond
Shana L. Redmond (Photo: Jerrika Hinton)

Shana L. Redmond is a public writer and interdisciplinary scholar of race, culture, and power. She is the author of Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (NYU Press, 2014), along with numerous chapters, articles, and essays in publications including The Futures of Black Radicalism, Race & Class, Black Music Research Journal, and Brick: A Literary Journal as well as NPR, the BBC, Boston Review, and Mother Jones. Described as “formally challenging and beautifully conceived,” her latest book is Everything Man: The Form and Function of Paul Robeson (Duke UP, 2020), which was named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR and an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice Magazine. She is President-Elect of the American Studies Association and Professor of English and Comparative Literature and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity & Race at Columbia University.

Since March 2008 he has been the editor of and contributing writer to The Panopticon Review an online magazine of politics and culture as well as the The Panopticon Review’s Facebook page. Natambu is also the editor of and contributor to Sound Projections, an online quarterly magazine of music history and criticism, which he has written for and edited since November 2014. Natambu is also the editor of and contributor to Sound Projections, an online quarterly magazine of music history and criticism, which he has written for and edited since November 2014.

Shana Redmond’s ingenious reframing of Paul Robeson as Afrofuturist media artist is but one quality marking Everything Man as a milestone contribution to Robeson scholarship. Redmond compels readers to reconsider Robeson as a radical modernist—one whose innovative embrace of electronic media technology (film, sound recording, telegraph) transforms our understanding of him from remote Black Communist icon to protean, creative contemporary. In lucid and evocative prose Redmond narrates how Robeson democratized sonic and visual modernity while engaged in anti-capitalist justice work. Redmond illuminates the afterlife of Robeson’s voice and presence too—his appearances in postmodern art practices and the many places Robeson’s footpaths took Redmond where she discovered he was still revered by the far-flung descendants of the man’s midcentury comrades and congregants.”

— Greg Tate

Formally challenging and beautifully conceived, Everything Man is a model for scholarship and thinking as well as a powerful addition to the body of work on Paul Robeson, freedom movements, sound studies, music, and beyond. It will make a tremendous impact.”

— Christina Sharpe

ANTI-CENSORSHIP AWARD

Jacob Soboroff
Separated: Inside an American Tragedy (Harper Collins)

Jacob Soboroff
Jacob Soboroff (Photo: Jose Aguilar)

Jacob Soboroff is a correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC and the author of the New York Times bestseller Separated: Inside an American Tragedy. For his reporting on the Trump administration’s child separation policy, he received the 2019 Walter Cronkite Award for Individual Achievement by a National Journalist and the 2019 Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Nicole Cari and their two children.

The seminal book on the child-separation policy.”

— Rachel Maddow

Jacob Soboroff zooms in on President Trump and his administration’s decision to separate children from their parents as a deterrent to border crossers. In doing so, he illuminates how, in the face of congressional inaction, a cadre of presidential advisers can introduce policies with shocking, unintended consequences.”

— Laura Wides-Muñoz

Jacob Soboroff’s excellent reporting at the border helped shine a light on Trump’s cruel family separation policy. His new book, Separated, is a sobering account of what he saw and the human toll of the Trump agenda.”

— Julián Castro

Jacob Soboroff has written a book of rare dignity and tremendous courage, salvaging that which is best in our collective humanity as a nation and a people; our conscience. Separated: Inside an American Tragedy reveals the horrors of a pattern of violence against children and their families that has emerged throughout the New World since the inception of colonization. A pattern now lucidly, tragically, sorrowfully, illuminated in the contemporary United States of America by way of cruel, often sadistic immigration policies. Soboroff’s valiant efforts take their place alongside another winner on this year’s list of American Book Award winners, The Dawning of the Apocalypse: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, and Capitalism in the Long Sixteenth Century by Gerald Horne, a book I urge him to read. Between these two poles, these two books, Horne’s and Soboroff’s, oscillates the arc of our wounds is revealed and with that revelation, the possibility of healing.

— Justin Desmangles

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