Our Story

America was intended to be a place where freedom from discrimination was the means by which equality was achieved. Today, American culture is the most diverse ever on the face of this earth. Recognizing literary excellence demands a panoramic perspective. A narrow view strictly to the mainstream ignores all the tributaries that feed it. American literature is not one tradition but all traditions. From those who have been here for thousands of years to the most recent immigrants, we are all contributing to American culture. We are all being translated into a new language. Everyone should know by now that Columbus did not “discover” America. Rather, we are all still discovering America-and we must continue to do so.

The Before Columbus Foundation was founded in 1976 as a nonprofit educational and service organization dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of contemporary American multicultural literature. The goals of BCF are to provide recognition and a wider audience for the wealth of cultural and ethnic diversity that constitutes American writing. BCF has always employed the term “multicultural” not as a description of an aspect of American literature, but as a definition of all American literature. BCF believes that the ingredients of America’s so-called “melting pot” are not only distinct, but integral to the unique constitution of American Culture-the whole comprises the parts.

In 1978, the Board of Directors of BCF (authors, editors, and publishers representing the multicultural diversity of American Literature) decided that one of its programs should be a book award that would, for the first time, respect and honor excellence in American literature without restriction or bias with regard to race, sex, creed, cultural origin, size of press or ad budget, or even genre. There would be no requirements, restrictions, limitations, or second places. There would be no categories (i.e., no “best” novel or only one “best” of anything). The winners would not be selected by any set quota for diversity (nor would “mainstream white anglo male” authors be excluded), because diversity happens naturally. Finally, there would be no losers, only winners. The only criteria would be outstanding contribution to American literature in the opinion of the judges.

All winners are accorded equal standing. Their publishers are also to be honored for both their commitment to quality and their willingness to take the risks that accompany publishing outstanding books and authors that may not prove “cost-effective” in the short run. There are special Award designations (such as Lifetime Achievement) for contributions to American literature beyond a recently published book. The American Book Awards Program is not associated with any industry group or trade organization. The American Book Awards offer no cash prize nor do they require any financial commitments from the authors or their publishers. The Award winners are nominated and selected by a panel of writers, editors, and publishers who also represent the diversity of American literary culture.

Before Columbus Foundation at the Oakland Book Festival 2017
Before Columbus Foundation at the San Francisco Public Library 2017, poster design by Mercy Hawkins
Before Columbus Foundation at the San Francisco Public Library 2017, Frank B. Wilderson III, Justin Desmangles, Lewis R. Gordon, photo by Duane Deterville

Before Columbus Foundation at the Oakland Book Festival 2016
Before Columbus Foundation at the Oakland Book Festival 2016
Before Columbus Foundation at the Oakland Book Festival 2016, John Keene, Emily Raboteau, Victor LaValle, Justin Desmangles, photo by Johnnie Burrell
Before Columbus Foundation at the Oakland Book Festival 2016, John Keene, Victor LaValle, Emily Raboteau, Justin Desmangles, photo by Johnnie Burrell
Before Columbus Foundation at the Oakland Book Festival 2016
Before Columbus Foundation at the Oakland Book Festival 2016, Justin Desmangles, Frank Chin, photo by Mercy Hawkins
Before Columbus Foundation at the San Francisco Public Library 2016
Poster design by Mercy Hawkins
Before Columbus Foundation at the San Francisco Public Library 2016, Anne Waldman, photo by Mirabelle Wassef
Before Columbus Foundation at the San Francisco Public Library 2016, Will Alexander, photo by Mirabelle Wassef
Before Columbus Foundation at the San Francisco Public Library 2016, David Boyce, Kevin Carnes, photo by Mirabelle Wassef
Before Columbus Foundation at the San Francisco Public Library 2016
Before Columbus Foundation at the San Francisco Public Library 2016, Justin Desmangles, Jesse Allen-Taylor, Halifu Osumare, Marvin X, Ishmael Reed, photo by Johnnie Burrell
Before Columbus Foundation at the Oakland Book Festival 2015
Before Columbus Foundation at Yoshi’s San Francisco 2012, original art and design by Eric Drooker
Before Columbus Foundation at Yoshi’s San Francisco 2012, Noel Jewkes, Roscoe Mitchell, photo by Justin Desmangles
1990 BCF Presents Friday August 3, 1990
1988 BCF Presents October 25, 1988
1984 BCF Presents March 10, 1984
1984 BCF Presents June 14, 1984
1984 BCF Presents April 28, 1984

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