Who We Are

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen (Photo: BeBe Jacobs)

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and numerous other awards. His most recent publication is the sequel to The Sympathizer, The Committed. His other books are a short story collection, The Refugees; Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award in General Nonfiction); and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He has also published Chicken of the Sea, a children’s book written in collaboration with his six-year-old son, Ellison. He is a University Professor, the Aerol Arnold Chair of English, and a Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, he is also the editor of The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives. 

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.

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo (Photo: Shawn Miller)

Joy Harjo, member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, is the author of nine books of poetry, including her recent, An American Sunrise. Just released is When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry 2020. She has been honored with the Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her memoir Crazy Brave won the PEN USA Literary Award. Her next memoir, Poet Warrior, A Call for Love and Justice will be published in the fall of 2021. A new album of music, This Morning I Pray for My Enemies, will be released by Sunyata Records Spring 2021. In 2019 she was appointed the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate and was reappointed to a second term. Forthcoming is a She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma where she is a Tulsa Artist Fellow.

Marlon James

Marlon Jones

Marlon James was born in Jamaica in 1970. His most recent novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, was a finalist for the National Book Award and is the first novel in James’s Dark Star trilogy. His previous novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, was the winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, The American Book Award, and The Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize for fiction. He is also the author of the novels John Crow’s Devil and The Book of Night Women.

Simon J. Ortiz

Simon Ortiz (Photo: Pablo Valarezo)

“Oglala Lakota President to Mr. Trump: You do not have permission of the Great Sioux Leaders to enter our territory at this time. “The people are angry. It is in our DNA to fight for these lands. It is not just a threat to my people, but a threat to the land and it is a threat to mankind in general and to human life.” — Oglala Lakota President Julian Bear Runner.”

Indigenous Tribal sovereign law was violated by president Trump blatantly, obviously, and very purposely and intentionally when he spoke and celebrated Mount Rushmore’s statuary of 4 USA presidents defacing the sacred Black Hills of Lakota peoples’ Indigenous homeland. There is no doubt about this fact. He also broke the normal and practical advice of taking care of ourselves as human beings–social distancing and wearing facemasks–during the pandemic caused by COVID 19 that the coronavirus is known by. This is common sense advice. What can we say but that Trump is a law breaker? As a lawbreaker of our civil common sense, can he be a legal candidate for president of the US which he is presently? That’s a question that is legitimate to ask since he is the current national president. Let’s ask that. Yes, let’s ask that.

Ishmael Reed

Ishmael Reed (Photo: Jason Henry)

Ishmael Reed is the author of novels, plays, poetry, and non-fiction. He has received prizes in every category. His new poetry collection, Why the Black Hole Sings the Blues: Poems 2007-2019, (Dalkey Archive Press) will be released in October, 2020, and includes his poem, “Just Rollin’ Along,” about the 1934 encounter between Bonnie and Clyde and Oakland Blues artists L.C. Good Rockin’ Robinson, which was chosen for The Best American Poetry. 2019. He is narrator of his first audio book, Malcolm and Me, a 2020 Audible release. His ninth and newest play, The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, which premiered at the Nuyorican Poets Café in May 2019, will be published by Archways Books in October, 2020. His novel Mumbo Jumbo has been cited by Harold Bloom as one of 500 great books of the Western Canon. He has received the Otto and AUDELCO awards for theater. In 1998, he received the John D. MacArthur “Genius” award. He is one of a handful of authors to be nominated for two National Book Awards within the same year. He is also a songwriter whose songs have been recorded by Gregory Porter, Cassandra Wilson, Macy Gray, Taj Mahal, and Bobby Womack. In addition, as a musician whose piano playing was cited by Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, he accompanied a 2019 fashion show, featuring the work of fashion designer Grace Wales Bonner. Reed is currently working on The Terrible Fours, the third novel in his “Terribles” trilogy. His online literary magazine, Konch, can be found at www.ishmaelreedpub.com; his author’s website at www.ishmaelreed.org.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera

Son of migrant workers, after graduating from San Diego High School, Juan Felipe Herrera received degrees from UCLA, Stanford and the University of Iowa’s Writers Poetry Workshop. Professor Emeritus of Fresno State ( Latinx Studies) and UC-Riverside (Department of Creative Writing), he has won many awards including the Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Book Critic’s Circle Award, the UCLA Chancellor’s Medal, The LA Times Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award, Pura Belpré Honors, the International Book Award and many others for his literary production of over thirty books in various genres including children’s books, young adult novels in verse, poetry, fiction and playwriting. His interests in Latinx culture has led him, as a photographer, to document the lives of endangered First Peoples of Mexico (1970, 1993))— the Lacandon Mayas of Chiapas, Totonacas of Veracruz and the Huichol of Nayarit. Governor Jerry Brown, selected him to serve as the California Poet Laureate from 2012-2015. From 2015-2017 he was the Poet Laureate of the United States, appointed by Dr. James Billington. In 2022, the Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary School will open in Fresno. His forthcoming poetry book, Everyday We Get More Illegal (City Lights Publishers), will debut in the Fall of 2020. Currently, he lives in Fresno with his wife, poet and artist, Margarita Robles.

Nancy Carnavale

Nancy Carnavale

Nancy Carnavale is Associate Professor of History at Montclair State University. A social and cultural historian of the late nineteenth and twentieth century United States, she specializes in the history of migration, race, and ethnicity in the modern U.S., as well as women’s/gender history. She is the author of A New Language, A New World: Italian Immigrants in the United States, 1890-1945 (University of Illinois Press, 2009), winner of an American Book Award, and her articles and book chapters appear in a number of journals and edited collections. Her work has been supported by the Social Science Research Council/International Migration Program funded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships.She has served as historical consultant for TV, film, and theater productions, oral history projects, and museum exhibitions. She is coeditor of the Critical Studies in Italian America book series from Fordham University Press.

Laila Lalami

Laila Lalami (Photo :April Rocha)

Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain, and the United States. She is the author of four novels, including The Moor’s Account, which won the American Book Award, the Arab-American Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her most recent novel, The Other Americans, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller, a best-of-2019 selection from NPR, Time, and Kirkus, and a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times. She has received fellowships from the British Council, the Fulbright Program, and the Guggenheim Foundation and is currently a full professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. She lives in Los Angeles. Her new book, a work of nonfiction called Conditional Citizens, will be published by Pantheon in Fall 2020.

Wajahat Ali

Wajahat Ali

I am honored to be a member of the Before Columbus Foundation, an organization that for over 40 years has celebrated, defended, and elevated all the stories from communities, often ignored and stereotyped, that contribute to this ongoing rough draft that we call America. The work is ongoing because the struggle remains constant, but along the way we take time to find joy and hope by honoring these writers and artists at the annual American Book Awards. We include all of those in our generous tribe committed to stretching this country and challenging it to become the best version of itself.

Wajahat Ali is a New York Times Contributing op-ed writer, an award-winning playwright, a recovering attorney, and a former consultant for the US State Department. Ali has given keynote speeches around the world from TED to The Aspen Ideas Festival to Google to the United Nations to the New Yorker Festival. His writing appears regularly in the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post and The Guardian. He helped launch the Al Jazeera America network as co-host of The Stream, a daily news show that extended the conversation to social media and beyond. As a playwright, Ali is the author of The Domestic Crusaders—the first major play about Muslim Americans post-9/11—which was published by McSweeney’s and performed off-Broadway and at the Kennedy Center. He is a Peabody-nominated producer of the series The Secret Life of Muslims, a series of short-form, first-person documentary films featuring a diverse set of American Muslims. Ali was also the lead author and researcher of “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” the seminal report from the Center for American Progress.

Shawn Wong

Shawn Wong

As one of the original BCF board members, I emceed many of the early American Book Award ceremonies at the American Booksellers Association conventions (later Book Expo) and our award ceremonies brought much needed attention to often ignored and neglected writers and underfunded small presses. The publishing industry had to take notice of our ‘good trouble’ and good noise and good words and representatives from the large commercial presses started attending our award ceremonies and taking notice of the literary excellence and the unsilenced voices.

Genny Lim

Genny Lim

COVID-19 peeled back the mask of the real America–that alternative landscape upon which Before Columbus was founded in order to address the vacuum of literature in the mainstream publishing world, which did not adequately reflect our cultures, languages, experiences and narratives as Americans. BC shed light on the America of the George Floyds and Breonna Taylors, the xenophobic America of Muslim bans, hate crimes against Asian Americans, Native Americans, LBGT, migrant workers and immigrant children in cages. BC has pioneered a path for our multiplicity of voices to be heard, included and honored as true American voices, which shall not be silenced, muted or suppressed as long as we have breath.

Genny Lim is San Francisco Jazz Poet Laureate emeritus. Her most recent poetry-music collaboration, Don’t Shoot! Requiem in Black, dedicated to Black Lives Matter, premiered at SF Jazz Center in April 2018 with Marshall Trammell, Francis Wong, and Equipto. Lim’s award-winning play, Paper Angels, was the first Asian American play that aired on PBS’s American Playhouse in 1985 and has been produced throughout the U.S., Canada and China. She is author of five poetry collections, Winter Place, Child of War, Paper Gods and Rebels, KRA!, La Morte Del Tempo, and co-author of Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, winner of the American Book Award and the forthcoming anthology of Senior Asian American memoirs, Window: Glimpses of Our Storied Past.

Nancy Mercado

Nancy Mercado (Photo: Ricardo Muñiz)

The Before Columbus Foundation, American Book Award is a vital entitiy that affords recognition and accolades to otherwise overlooked or indeed shunned authors and works in the field of American literature. With a vision focusing beyond ideology, race, ethnicity, gener, sexual orientation and favored literary techniques, the Before Columbus Foundation, American Book Award dares to set a new caliber of excellence in American literature.

Margaret Porter Troupe

Margaret Porter Troupe (Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths)

Margaret Porter Troupe produces multidisciplinary arts and cultural events that enrich communities. She is the director of the Harlem Arts Salon, a series of readings, talks, performances, exhibitions featuring celebrated artists such as  Toni Morrison, Derek Walcott, Mel Edwards, Mildred Howard; Ron Carter, Randy Weston, Hugh Masekela, Ta’Nehisi Coates. She is founding director of The Gloster Arts Project, which sponsors a free summer arts camp for kids in rural Mississippi. Formerly the owner/director of Porter Troupe Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in San Diego, CA, she is the former arts editor of Black Renaissance Noire, a literary and cultural journal formerly published at NYU’s institute of African American Affairs. Her writings have appeared in magazines, journals, ezines, and anthologies, including Konch, A Gathering of the Tribes, River Styx, Code, Green, Confirmation, and Mississippi Writers Reflections of Childhood and Youth. Born and raised in Gloster, Mississippi, she lives in Harlem in New York, with her husband, poet Quincy Troupe.

Karla Brundage

Karla Brundage (Photo: Tasin Sabir)

A member of Before Columbus Foundation since 2007, Karla Brundage is a Bay Area based poet, activist, and educator with a passion for social justice. Born in Berkeley, California in the summer of love to a Black mother and white father, Karla spent most of her childhood in Hawaii where she developed a deep love of nature. She is the founder of West Oakland to West Africa Poetry Exchange (WO2WA), which has facilitated cross-cultural exchange between Oakland and West African poets. Karla is a board member of the Before Columbus Foundation, which provides recognition and a wider audience for the wealth of cultural and ethnic diversity that constitutes American writing. Her editorial experience includes a pan-Africanist WO2WA poetry collection, Our Spirits Carry Our Voices, published by Pacific Raven Press in 2020; Oakland Out Loud (2007); and Words Upon the Waters (2006) both by Jukebox Press. Her poetry book, Swallowing Watermelons, was published by Ishmael Reed Publishing Company in 2006. Her poetry, short stories and essays have been widely anthologized and can be found in Hip Mama, Literary Kitchen, Vibe and Konch Literary Magazine as well in publications by Lotus Press and Bamboo Ridge Press. She holds an MA in Education from San Francisco State University and an MFA from Mills College. You can see what she is up to now at her website westoaklandtowestafrica.com.

Karla Brundage is a Bay Area based poet, activist, and educator with a passion for social justice. She believes that in order to restore balance and to reclaim our humanity as Black people, racist structures that uphold this belief, must be dismantled. Her writing is primarily for black women and people disenfranchised by poverty abuse neglect or violence.

Marie Anderson

Marie Anderson (Photo: Natasha McGuire)

Marie Anderson has been a Before Columbus Foundation Board member since 1978. She is a contributor to Calafia, an Anthology of California Poetry; a Cal Grad, B.A., Liberal Arts, Major Spanish, and a Teacher of Spanish (Secondary). Additionally, Marie is a business development, serial entrepreneur, and Certified Physical Vascular Therapist.

Justin Desmangles

Justin Desmangles (Photo: Mercy Hawkins)

Justin Desmangles is chairman of the Before Columbus Foundation, administrator of the American Book Award, and host of the radio broadcast New Day Jazz, now in its twentieth year. A member of the board of directors of the Oakland Book Festival, Mr. Desmangles is also a program producer at the African-American Center of the San Francisco Public Library. He is the co-author with Jack Hirschman of Passion, Provocation & Prophecy: A Pier Paolo Pasolini Dossier. His poetry and journalism has appeared in Amerarcana, Black Renaissance Noire, Drumvoices Revue, Konch, and Musiqology. He is a Columnist-in-Residence at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Open Space.

Directors of the Before Columbus Foundation not pictured here:

Gundars Strads
Sean Hill
T.J. English
Victor Hernández Cruz
Lawrence DiStasi