The American Book Award

The Before Columbus Foundation announces the Winners of the Forty-first Annual AMERICAN BOOK AWARDS. The 2020 American Book Award winners will be formally recognized on Sunday, October 25, 2020, from 2:00–3:30p.m., online.

Information: https://sfpl.org/events/2020/10/25/celebration-columbus-foundation-41st-annual-american-book-award

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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Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts (Photo: Mamadi Doumbouya)

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He is the Director of the Million Book Project, an initiative out of the Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory to radically transform the access to literature in prisons. For more than twenty-years, he has used his poetry and essays to explore the world of prison and the effects of violence and incarceration on American society. The author of a memoir and three collections of poetry, his latest collection of poetry, Felon, explores the post incarceration experience and lingering consequences of a criminal record. In 2019, Betts won the National Magazine Award in the Essays and Criticism category for his NY Times Magazine essay that chronicles his journey from prison to becoming a licensed attorney. He is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2018 Emerson Fellow at New America and holds a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Reginald Dwayne Betts
Felon: Poems (W.W. Norton)

On every page of Felon, a book unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, there’s something far more playful, resonant, and ruggedly revealing happening. Reginald Dwayne Betts animates and really embodies the minutiae of revision in this once-in-a-lifetime art object…Betts’s artistry shows and proves a necessary breaking and blurring of the lines between wandering into yesterday, wondering into tomorrow, and wrestling with the funk of today. Betts has written the twenty-first-century book that will dictate how freedom, power and consequence are written about until the sun says enough. It is that good.”

— Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir

Felon is the keenest of testaments to what it’s like to have lived behind the walls, to the crucible of having one’s humanity challenged, changed, erased, to how―for the anointed―prisons persist beyond the walls. While there are poems aplenty on the mental and physical violence of prison and our unjustice system, the collection is also a moving exploration of love―romantic and familial―and how one nurtures that love against odds that at times seem impossible. Felon is bracing, revelatory work. Read it and be transformed.”

— Mitchell S. Jackson, author of Survival Math

Felon is a stunningly crafted indictment of prison’s dehumanization of Black men and their loved ones. Through his unvarnished descriptions of the path to prison and its aftermath from myriad vantage points―son, husband, father, cellmate, Yale-educated public defender―Betts does nothing to protect himself, or us, from what he has done and suffered and witnessed. His compassion and breathtaking literary gifts make it impossible for us to look away or remain complicit in mass criminalization’s status quo.”

— Sujatha Baliga, Director of the Restorative Justice Project

Sara Borjas

Sara Borjas (Photo: Maya Washington)

Sara Borjas is a Xicanx pocha, is from the americas before it was stolen and its people were colonized, and is a Fresno poet. Say their names.

Her debut collection of poetry, Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff was published by Noemi Press in 2019 as part of the Akrilica series. Tony McDade. Sara was named one of of Poets & Writers 2019 Debut Poets, is a 2017 CantoMundo Fellow, represents California as a CantoMundo Regional Chair, and is the recipient of the 2014 Blue Mesa Poetry Prize. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Her work can be found in Ploughshares, The Rumpus, Poem-a-Day by The Academy of American Poets, and The Offing, amongst others. Sandra Bland. She is a lecturer in the Department of Creative Writing at UC Riverside, where she works with innovative undergraduate writers.

Ahmaud Arbery. She believes that all Black lives matter and will resist white supremacy until Black liberation is realized, lives in Los Angeles, and stays rooted in Fresno. Justice for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the countless others. She digs oldiez, outer space, aromatics, and tiny prints is about decentering whiteness in literature, creative writing, and daily life.

Sara Borjas
Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff (Noemi Press)

Sara thinks about love then not-love, she examines the ashes, shadows, the nostalgia of nostalgia destroyed. “Bothering the neighborhoods,” somewhere in the past, present, in who she is. Mother, father, brother and grandmother appear before her and argue as ghosts argue. Sara is the poem, of course. She drives away. It is the “driving away” from where you bask, that interests me, that will captivate you. This is a groundbreaker. Good-bye to fashionable old stuff, adios to the graspable that can never be touched. Come to the fearless. A brava-shaking collection.”

— Juan Felipe Herrera

Heart Like a Window, Mouth like a Cliff is a transgressive, yet surprisingly tender confrontation of what it means to want to flee the thing you need most. The speaker struggles through cultural assimilation and the pressure to “act” Mexican while dreaming of the privileges of whiteness. Borjas holds cultural traditions accountable for the gendered denial of Chicanas to individuate and love deeply without allowing one’s love to consume the self. This is nothing new. This is colonization working through relationships within Chicanx families—how we learn love and perform it, how we filter it though alcohol abuse—how ultimately, we oppress the people we love most. This collection simultaneously reveres and destroys nostalgia, slips out of the story after a party where the reader can find God “drunk and dreaming.” Think golden oldiez meets the punk attitude of No Doubt. Think pochas sipping gin martinis in lowriders cruising down Who Gives a Fuck Boulevard.

Neeli Cherkovski, Raymond Foye, Tate Swindell

Bob Kaufman

Neeli Cherkovski

Neeli Cherkovski

Neeli Cherkovski was born in Los Angeles and attended Los Angeles State College (now Cal State Los Angeles). He is the author of many books of poetry, including Animal (1996), Leaning Against Time (2005), From the Canyon Outward (2009), and The Crow and I (2015). He is the coeditor of Anthology of L.A. Poets (with Charles Bukowski), Cross-Strokes: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco (with Bill Mohr), and Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman (with Raymond Foye and Tate Swindell). He has also published bilingual editions in Austria, Mexico, and Italy. A facsimile edition of one of his notebooks was published by Viviani Edizione in Verona, Italy. Cherkovski also wrote biographies of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Charles Bukowski, as well as the critical memoir Whitman’s Wild Children (1988). His papers are held at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Cherkovski received the 2017 Jack Mueller Poetry Prize awarded at the Jack Mueller Festival in Fruita, Colorado. He has lived in San Francisco since 1974.

Raymond Foye

Raymond Foye (Photo: Raymond Foye)

Raymond Foye (b. Lowell, MA, 1957) is a writer, editor, publisher, and curator. He studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and has been a literary editor for City Lights, New Directions, and Black Sparrow. With Francesco Clemente he was the publisher of Hanuman Books (1986-1996) and was Director of Exhibitions and Publications at Gagosian Gallery from 1990-95. He is presently editing the Collected Poems of Rener Ricard to be published in 2021. He is the literary executor for the estates of John Wieners and James Schuyler.

Tate Swindell

Tate Swindell

Bay Area farm worker Tate Swindell is a poet, photographer, archivist who produces vinyl via the label Unrequited Records. The next release will be a record of rare Bob Kaufman recordings.

Editor of On Valencia Street: Poems and Ephemera by Jack Micheline.

His own writings include Palpitations, The Creation of Deadlines and the forthcoming California, Southern.

Neeli Cherkovski, Raymond Foye, Tate Swindell, editors
Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman (City Lights)

Like jazz, the music he adored, Bob Kaufman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Among the oldest cities in the New World, New Orleans finds itself at the heart of many disparate histories. The United States, Haiti, Portugal, Spain, France, and the African empires of Benin and Dahomey all trace part of their story to the metropolis at the mouth of the Mississippi.

Far more than a musical style or genre, jazz wove a vision of many cultures in unison from the common thread of the blues. Through the elaborate harmonies of European concert music and the complex polyrhythms of West Africa, New World identities were reflected in light and shadow, darkness and incandescent oblivion. Perhaps most importantly, jazz illuminated the unseen mysteries of African religion that permeated emerging social, political, and economic powers. All the while, the music would continue to embroider and adorn the more easily discernable elements and rituals of day-to-day life, offering solace, comfort, and the joys of the imagination.

In the poetry of Bob Kaufman, jazz appears as a mode of consciousness itself, expressing an abiding filiation with Africa as its source. The uniquely American landscape depicted by Kaufman in these poetics is frequently one of violent conflict and struggle, most often disclosed with incisive humor and historical irony. In the language of the blues tradition, “laughing to keep from crying.”

As with the mythical “Jes’ Grew” from Ishmael Reed’s masterpiece Mumbo Jumbo, for Kaufman the sound of jazz and the message that it brings animate the body into ritual action. The word is made flesh, or rather the meaning contained in the sound of the word, the consciousness expressed by its vibration, becomes physical veracity and free movement. This principle is central to African religion as it is understood in the New World. Attempts to remove it from respectful commentary on the origins of the New World have been frequent and have no doubt contributed to Kaufman’s conspicuous absence from the canon of American literature.

– Justin Desmangles

Staceyann Chin

Staceyann Chin (Photo: JP Robbins Studio)

Poet, actor, and performing artist Staceyann Chin is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir The Other Side of Paradise, co-writer and original performer in the Tony Award–winning Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, and author of the one-woman shows Hands Afire, Unspeakable Things, Border/Clash, and MotherStruck. She has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and 60 Minutes, and her poetry been featured in the New York Times and Washington Post. She proudly identifies as Caribbean, Black, Asian, lesbian, a woman, and a resident of New York City, as well as a Jamaican national. Her new book, Crossfire A Litany for Survival, which collects Staceyann Chin’s empowering, feminist-LGBTQ-Caribbean, activist-driven poetry for the first time in a single book, was recently published by Haymarket Books. Edwidge Danticat calls Crossfire “a remarkable collection from a dynamic and talented writer, whose urgent storytelling and commanding voice feel vital for our times.”

Staceyann Chin
Crossfire: A Litany for Survival (Haymarket)

Crossfire: A Litany for Survival collects Staceyann Chin’s empowering, feminist-LGBTQ-Caribbean, activist-driven poetry for the first time in a single book.

Staceyann Chin’s Crossfire: A Litany for Survival is a remarkable collection from a dynamic and talented writer, whose urgent storytelling and commanding voice feel vital for our times.”

— Edwidge Danticat

We’ve all been waiting for this collection—all of us that know the brilliance, the heartbreaking truth telling, and the magic of Staceyann’s cadences. Now all of us who have been lucky enough to have seen her on stage, heard her from the ramparts, can be joined at last by readers in the quiet spaces to properly celebrate this remarkable voice and watch her take her place in American letters.”

— Walter Mosley

Rarely are experiences of transgender men or that of masculine women given space in conversations around feminism. Staceyann brilliantly and so eloquently weaves in these points of view with passion and prose that brought me to tears. Her words and her presence is a remarkable example of authentic allyship in action.”

— Tiq Milan

This book is irresistible. It hums / sings / talks / seduces us with words. Love. Information. Purpose. She recaptures / reminds us that we must answer that most important question if we are to live: what does it mean to be human? Her words help us to see a path. A future. A beginning. And we say as we read her book: I know why I be reading your poems. And we all say ¡Si se puede! Yes we can!”

— Sonia Sanchez

I’ve never been as brave as Staceyann Chin, never as forthright about my own sexuality or trauma or longing, and she, who stands on the far side of the curve of feminist power, love, and rage, inspires us all to inch our way just a bit more in her direction.”

— Rosanne Cash

Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Kali Fajardo-Anstine (Photo: Graham Morrison)

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is the author Sabrina & Corina, a finalist for the National Book Award Finalist, the PEN/Bingham Prize and The Story Prize, and was longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize. Sabrina & Corina was also awarded the 2020 Reading the West Award in Fiction from the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association and has been shortlisted for the 2020 Saroyan International Prize. Fajardo-Anstine is the 2019 recipient of the Denver Mayor’s Award for Global Impact in the Arts. Her fiction and essays have appeared in O, the Oprah Magazine, The American Scholar, Boston Review, Bellevue Literary Review, The Idaho Review, Southwestern American Literature, and elsewhere. Kali has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, Tin House, and Hedgebrook. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is from Denver, Colorado. Her work has been translated into multiple languages, including Spanish, Japanese, and Italian.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Sabrina & Corina: Stories (One World)

These stories blaze like wildfires.”

— Sandra Cisneros

[An] engrossing collection of tales . . . Stories that bravely reinvent the Wild West narrative by lifting up Latinx women and portraying callused hand cowboys not as heroes, but as villains and perpetrators of violence.”

— Latino Book Review

Fajardo-Anstine challenges and deconstructs stereotypes of the white male savior, who in reality has departed or abandoned his mixed race children. We learn about the ways generational pain is transferred, through a blue-eyed brown girl who wants more than to be considered a beauty, and how, without substantial societal change, women will continue this cycle. We also see the resilience of families caring for their wounded, doors that remain open symbolizing family forgiveness, reading and rendering moments of hope. Finally, Fajardo-Anstine’s lyrical style and hard edged language wins over the reader. The voices of the disappeared call out as if from an ancient grave site, to community for action for women, but it is her stark realism that makes this book a winner. Look, Fajardo-Anstine’s women seem to say, can you see us now?”

— Karla Brundage

Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit in the American West. Against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado—a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite—these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.

In “Sugar Babies,” ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth but tend to rise during land disputes. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.

Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home.

Tara Fickle

Tara Fickle

Tara Fickle is Associate Professor of English at the University of Oregon, and Affiliated Faculty of the Department of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies, the New Media & Culture Certificate, the Center for the Study of Women in Society, the Center for Asian & Pacific Studies, and the Comics and Cartoon Studies and Digital Humanities minors. Fickle received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her B.A. from Wesleyan University. She works at the intersections of Asian American literature, critical race studies, and game studies. Fickle’s work has appeared in journals such as Modern Fiction Studies and MELUS, as well as various public humanities portals. Her first book, “The Race Card: From Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities,” (NYU Press, 2019), explores how games have been used to establish and combat Asian and Asian American racial stereotypes. Fickle is currently working on a digital archive and analysis of the canonical Asian American anthology, Aiiieeeee! (recently re-published by the University of Washington Press, 2019, for which she wrote the foreword). She also runs You on the Market, a comprehensive website for academic job-seekers. More information can be found at tarafickle.com and Aiiieeeee.org.

Tara Fickle
The Race Card: From Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities (New York University Press)

Revealing the orientalist origins of game studies and locating the very tenants of game theory in Japanese internment, Tara Fickle engages racialization as game-play itself. In doing so, Fickle explodes our understanding of economic survival and success by revealing the centrality of gambling rhetoric—and a willingness for risk-taking—in the appraisal of Japanese Americans as the ultimate model minority. An original and timely intervention that at last accounts for the dominant representation of Asian Americans as both the hard-worker and the obsessed gamer.”

— Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, author of Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media

Revealing the mutual constitution of gaming and racialization, The Race Card’s concept of ‘ludo-Orientalism’ offers a significant new way of understanding the historical discourse of Asian exclusionism, as well as more subtle forms of post-1960s anti-Asian racism. Focusing on representations of Asian Americans as pathological players, Fickle shows how racial discourse is linked to the speculative logic of American exceptionalism.”

— Colleen Lye, author of America’s Asia: Racial Reform and American Literature, 1893–1945

As Pokémon Go reshaped our neighborhood geographies and the human flows of our cities, mapping the virtual onto lived realities, so too has gaming and game theory played a role in our contemporary understanding of race and racial formation in the United States. From the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese American internment to the model minority myth and the globalization of Asian labor, Tara Fickle shows how games and game theory shaped fictions of race upon which the nation relies. Drawing from a wide range of literary and critical texts, analog and digital games, journalistic accounts, marketing campaigns, and archival material, Fickle illuminates the ways Asian Americans have had to fit the roles, play the game, and follow the rules to be seen as valuable in the US.

Exploring key moments in the formation of modern US race relations, The Race Card charts a new course in gaming scholarship by reorienting our focus away from games as vehicles for empowerment that allow people to inhabit new identities, and toward the ways that games are used as instruments of soft power to advance top-down political agendas. Bridging the intellectual divide between the embedded mechanics of video games and more theoretical approaches to gaming rhetoric, Tara Fickle reveals how this intersection allows us to overlook the predominance of game tropes in national culture. The Race Card reveals this relationship as one of deep ideological and historical intimacy: how the games we play have seeped into every aspect of our lives in both monotonous and malevolent ways.

Erika Lee

Erika Lee (Photo: Lisa Miller)

Erika Lee is a Regents Professor of History and Asian American Studies and Director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. The granddaughter of Chinese immigrants, Lee grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Lee was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She is the author of award-winning books including At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 (University of North Carolina Press, 2003), Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America (co-authored with Judy Yung, Oxford University Press, 2010), The Making of Asian America: A History (Simon & Schuster, 2015, 2nd ed., 2016, Chinese version, 2019) and the recently-published America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States (Basic Books, 2019). Called “unflinching and powerful” by Carol Anderson (author of White Rage) and “essential reading” by Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Antiracist), America for Americans is shortlisted for the Ralph Waldo Emerson award and received a Kirkus Star and the Richard Frisbie Honored Book Award for Nonfiction. It was also a finalist for the 2020 Minnesota Nonfiction Book Award and was named to best books lists by Time, USA Today, and Ms. Magazine. It has also been excerpted in The Atlantic and profiled in The New Yorker. Op-eds based on the book have appeared in Time and the Washington Post. She is an active public intellectual and serves as the Vice President of the Organization of American Historians.

Erika Lee
America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States (Basic Books)

History shows that xenophobia has been a constant and defining feature of American life. It is deeply embedded in our society, economy, and politics. It thrives best in certain contexts, such as periods of rapid economic and demographic change, but it has also been actively promoted by special interests in the pursuit of political power. It has influenced elections and dictated policies. It has shaped American foreign relations and justified American imperialism. It has played a central role in America’s changing definitions of race, citizenship, and what it means to be “American.” It has endured because it has been an indelible part of American racism, white supremacy, and nationalism, and because it has been supported by American capitalism and democracy.

Xenophobia has been neither an aberration nor a contradiction to the United States’ history of immigration. Rather, it has existed alongside and constrained America’s immigration tradition, determining just who can enter our so-called nation of immigrants and who cannot. Even as Americans have realized that the threats allegedly posed by immigrants were, in hindsight, unjustified, they have allowed xenophobia to become an American tradition.”

— Erika Lee

As Erika Lee brilliantly shows, xenophobia has forever been an integral part of American racism. Forcing us to confront this history as we confront its present, America for Americans is essential reading for anyone who wants to build a more inclusive society.”

— Ibram X. Kendi, New York Times-bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist

America’s xenophobic underbelly is laid bare by Erika Lee’s meticulous chronicle, which begins well before 1776, when ‘swarms’ of Germans in the American colonies were labeled ‘scum’ and ‘criminals,’ and then details how those same hateful descriptions have been applied to Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Muslims, and others. This fascinating, timely, and important book makes it possible for us to stop repeating history and instead to build bridges based on our shared immigrant experiences.”

— Helen Zia, author of Last Boat out of Shanghai

“America for Americans is an intellectual tour de force wrapped in a vibrant, accessible narrative. Erika Lee reveals how hostility toward foreigners has profoundly influenced popular imagination and public policy, beginning with agitation over German settlers in early America. The exclusionist rhetoric, practices, and policies so prevalent today are nothing new, but echo back centuries of marking the boundaries of belonging. A timely, eloquent meditation on immigration, Lee’s book demonstrates why history matters in understanding the contemporary resurgence of xenophobia and makes plain its shameful consequences (past and present) for individuals and the nation.”

— Vicki L. Ruiz, author of From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America

Yoko Ogawa

Yoko Ogawa (Photo: Kodansha Ltd.)

Yoko Ogawa was born in 1962 in Okayama prefecture, Japan. Won several prestigious Japanese literary awards as Akutagawa Prize, Yomiuri Prize for Literature, Junichiro Tanizaki Prize and others. The Memory Police was shortlisted for the National Book Awards for Translated Literature 2019 and also shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize.

Yoko Ogawa
The Memory Police (Vintage)

Ogawa lays open a hushed defiance against a totalitarian regime by training her prodigious talent on magnifying the efforts of those who persistently but quietly rebel.”

— The Japan Times

The Memory Police truly feels like a portrait of today. To await the future is to disappear the present—which only accelerates the speed with which now turns to then, and then turns to nothing . . . A lovely, if bleak, meditation on faith and creativity—or faith in creativity—in a world that disavows both.”

— Wired

The novel is particularly resonant now, at a time of rising authoritarianism across the globe. Throughout the book, citizens live under police surveillance. Novels are burned. People are detained and interrogated without explanation.”

— The New York Times

A haunting Orwellian novel about the terrors of state surveillance, from the acclaimed author of The Housekeeper and the Professor.

On an unnamed island, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses. . . . Most of the inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few able to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten. When a young writer discovers that her editor is in danger, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards, and together they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past. Powerful and provocative, The Memory Police is a stunning novel about the trauma of loss.

Ms. Ogawa’s novel The Memory Police was translated by Stephen Snyder, Kawashima Professor of Japanese Studies, serves as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Language Schools at Middlebury College. He has translated works by Yoko Ogawa, Natsuo Kirino, Miri Yū, Ryū Murakami, Kanae Minato, and Kenzaburō Ōe, among others.

Jake Skeets

Jake Skeets (Photo: Quanah Yazzie)

Jake Skeets is Black Streak Wood, born for Water’s Edge. He is Diné from Vanderwagen, New Mexico. He is the author of Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, a National Poetry Series-winning collection of poems. He holds an MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Skeets is a winner of the 2018 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Skeets edits an online publication called Cloudthroat and organizes a poetry salon and reading series called Pollentongue, based in the Southwest. He is a member of Saad Bee Hózhǫ́: A Diné Writers’ Collective and currently teaches at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.

Jake Skeets
Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers (Milkweed Editions)

In Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, Ná’nízhoozhí, also known as Gallup, Drunktown, and Indian Eden, staggers through memory and violent desire with ‘pipelines entrench[ed] behind [its] teeth.’ Jake Skeets sings this reservation bordertown into being, where the ‘Navajo word for eye hardens . . . into war.’ This collection is inevitable and unrelenting, its tongue ‘coils on the trigger.’ The future of Navajo poetry reveals itself in these pages.”

— Sherwin Bitsui

On its surface, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers is an examination of toxic masculinity through the lens of a queer, indigenous Southwesterner, a book in which alcoholism, violence, and sex under cover of night are both ruefully and sensually described. But experiencing Jake Skeets’s collection is more akin to listening to a musical score to, or watching the choreography of, one Diné man’s vivid boyhood, the family and community of that boyhood, and the landscape holding them all. Indeed, like a lover, the land of these poems enters and ornaments Skeets’s men, old and young, dead and alive. His images haunt, and his use of repetition, field, and fragment provide the book’s structural genius. His is a major debut that feels to me timely and timeless―‘boys only hold boys / like bottles’―and is my singular joy to introduce.”

— Kathy Fagan

Jake Skeets’s metamorphic debut, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, replete with poems of depth, musicality, clarity, and associative throughlines, brings its readers towards real and credible meaning. These poems insist upon harbor, limbus, nettle: as in ‘American Bar,’ when we are reminded that it is ‘such a terrible beauty to find ourselves beneath things.’ As in ‘Drunktown,’ when we are given the rupture into experience: ‘In between letters are boots crushing tumbleweeds, / a tractor tire backing over a man’s skull.’ As in ‘Let There Be Coal,’ when we begin to perceive that ‘no light comes, just dust cloud, / glitterblack.’ Skeets’s poems deserve every celebration and rumination; this, as is his work, is irrefutable.” J

— Joan Naviyuk Kane

People are a landscape, too. We embody the places we’re from. In his debut collection Skeets, a queer Diné writer, lays down the geography of a Drunktown, New Mexico. This geography charts the body of the West, full of cactus, sagebrush, even coal. And full of people also, specifically queer men. Skeets’s poems draw a desire that wear its specific landscape. Want is never placeless. The men in the collection find each other among systematic and personal violence. Yet this is a loving and tender book, showing people made in the context of where they are, as much as our future take shape of where we’re heading.”

— Connor Oswald, Changing Hands

This National Poetry Series winner is an unflinching portrait of the actual west—full of beauty as well as brutality, where boys tentatively learn to become, and to love, men. Its landscapes are ravaged but also startlingly lush, and even its scars are made newly tender when mapped onto the lover’s body.

George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker

Steven Scott, George Takei, Harmony Becker, Justin Eisinger

George Takei

With an acting career spanning six decades, George Takei is known around the world for his founding role in the acclaimed television series Star Trek, in which he played Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the starship Enterprise. But Takei’s story goes where few stories have gone before. From a childhood spent with his family wrongfully imprisoned in Japanese American internment camps during World War II, to becoming one of the country’s leading figures in the fight for social justice, LGBTQ rights, and marriage equality, Takei remains a powerful voice on issues ranging from politics to pop culture. Mashable.com named Takei the #1 most-influential person on Facebook, with 10.4 million likes and 2.8 million followers on Twitter.

Takei has been a passionate advocate for social justice, outspoken supporter of human right issues and a community activist. He has served as the spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign “Coming Out Project,” and was Cultural Affairs Chairman of the Japanese American Citizens League. He is also chairman emeritus and a trustee of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. He was appointed to the Japan-US Friendship Commission by former President Clinton and the government of Japan awarded Takei the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, for his contribution to US-Japanese relations. The decoration was conferred by His Majesty, Emperor Akihito, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Justin Eisinger

Justin Eisinger is Editorial Director, Graphic Novels & Collections for IDW Publishing, where he has spent more than twelve years immersed in graphic storytelling. Following a fateful encounter with March author and Civil Rights pioneer Congressman John Lewis, Eisinger turned his experience adapting television episodes and film for properties such as My Little Pony, Transformers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles towards bringing engaging non-fiction stories to readers. Born in Akron, Ohio, Eisinger lives in San Diego, California, with his wife and two dogs, and in his spare time publishes North America’s only inline skating magazine.

Since publishing his debut comic book in 2010, Steven Scott has worked regularly in comics, (L-R) Steven Scott, George Takei, Harmony Becker, Justin Eisinger most notably as a publicist. His writing has ap-peared in publications by Archie Comics, Arcana Studios, and Heavy Metal magazine. As a blogger/columnist he has written for the pop culture sites Forces of Geek, Great Scott Comics, and PopMatters.

Harmony Becker

Harmony Becker is an artist and illustrator. She is the creator of the comics Himawari Share, Love Potion, and Anemone and Catharus. She is a member of a multicultural family and has spent time living in South Korea and Japan. Her work often deals with the theme of the language barrier and how it shapes people and their relationships. She currently lives in Columbus, Ohio.

George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker
They Called Us Enemy (Top Shelf Productions)

George Takei’s story reveals the important lessons of the WWII Japanese American Incarceration that still need to be learned today. They Called Us Enemy is a compelling must-read for all ages.”

— Karen Korematsu, Founder and Executive Director, Fred T. Korematsu Institute

They Called Us Enemy is George Takei’s living testament to a painful episode in our history that’s still within the memories of generations of today’s Americans. It’s a chapter that must never be lost to history. These are lessons that resonate all the more vividly today, right now. Graphic novels have the ability to distill, to vivify, and to bring abstract ideas to life. They Called Us Enemy is a perfect realization of that promise. He tells his story through the innocence of a child’s eyes, embodied with the wisdom of experience and reflection. His story, and his life, are infused with examples of courage, of patriotism, of loyalty, and of love. George Takei’s faith in the promise of American democracy shines through to us as a beacon, in a way that is both humbling, and beckoning, to us all.”

— Patrick Leahy, US Senator

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What does it mean to be American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong (Photo: Tom Hines)

Ocean Vuong is the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, out from Penguin Press (2019) and forthcoming in 30 languages. A recipient of a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Grant, he is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize.

Vuong’s writings have been featured in The Atlantic, Granta, Harpers, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as a 2016 100 Leading Global Thinker, Ocean was also named by BuzzFeed Books as one of “32 Essential Asian American Writers” and has been profiled on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” PBS NewsHour, Teen Vogue, Interview, Poets & Writers, and The New Yorker.

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he serves as an Assistant Professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at UMass-Amherst.

Ocean Vuong
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin)

A bruised, breathtaking love letter never meant to be sent. A powerful testimony to magic and loss. A marvel.”

— Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf

This is one of the best novels I’ve ever read…Ocean Vuong is a master. This book a masterpiece.”

— Tommy Orange

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous will be described — rightly—as luminous, shattering, urgent, necessary. But the word I keep circling back to is raw: that’s how powerful the emotions here are, and how you’ll feel after reading it – scoured down to bone. With a poet’s precision, Ocean Vuong examines whether putting words to one’s experience can bridge wounds that span generations, and whether it’s ever possible to be truly heard by those we love most.”

— Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.

De’Shawn Charles Winslow

De’Shawn Charles Winslow (Photo: Julie R. Keresztes)

De’Shawn Charles Winslow was born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He is a 2017 graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and holds a BFA in creative writing and an MA in English literature from Brooklyn College. He lives in New York.

De’Shawn Charles Winslow
In West Mills (Bloomsbury Publishing)

From the first page, Winslow establishes an uncanny authority and profound tone that belie the book’s debut status. The precision and charm of his language lure us in and soothe us…He paints a community so tightknit and thorough it becomes easy to forget the people in it don’t exist… Much of the story is told through dialogue, rich and truthful conversations among characters reminiscent of those in August Wilson’s plays, expressing so much more than what is on the surface.”

— The New York Times Book Review

Winslow’s quietly glorious novel is dedicated “To the reader,” and it engages on a level that’s appropriately intimate.”

— Boston Globe

Winslow pens layers of complexity in a narrative that is surprising and irresistible at every turn… “In West Mills” is a refreshing and arresting book that shines a light on a woman who rebels against society’s strict and unforgiving social norms, despite the costs.”

— The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Let the people of West Mills say what they will about Azalea “Knot” Centre; they won’t keep her from what she loves best: cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature, and the company of men. And yet, when motherhood looms, Knot begins to learn that her freedom has come at a high price. Low on money, ostracized from her parents and cut off from her hometown, Knot turns to her neighbor, Otis Lee Loving, in search of some semblance of family and home.

Otis Lee is eager to help. A lifelong fixer, Otis Lee is determined to steer his friends and family away from decisions that will cause them heartache and ridicule. After his failed attempt to help his older sister, who lives a precarious life in the North, Otis Lee discovers a possible path to redemption in the chaos Knot brings to his doorstep. But while he’s busy trying to fix Knot’s life, Otis Lee finds himself powerless to repair the many troubles within his own family, as the long-buried secrets of his troubled past begin to come to light.

Spanning decades in a rural North Carolina town where a canal acts as the color line, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love.

Albert Woodfox with Leslie George

Alfred Woodfox (Photo: Peter Puna)

Albert Woodfox was born in 1947 in New Orleans. A committed activist in prison, he remains so today, speaking to a wide array of audiences, including the Innocence Project, Harvard, Yale, and other universities, the National Lawyers Guild, as well as at Amnesty International events in London, Paris, Denmark, Sweden, and Belgium. His book Solitary was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and winner of the Stowe Prize and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Book of the Year. It has been published in the UK, Canada, Australia, Spain, Germany, and Brazil. He lives in New Orleans.

Leslie George is a long-time journalist and award-winning radio producer. In her years working for WBAI Pacifica Radio in New York City, she was a reporter for “The Evening News,” a producer for the morning news program “Wake Up Call” with Amy Goodman and Bernard White, and the writer and host of the Sunday news program “Week in Review.” She won the Silver Reel Award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters for her documentaries Drug Mules in 1998 and The Emma Clark Story in 2004. She first interviewed Albert Woodfox in 1998. From those recordings she produced the documentary Freedom Behind Bars, which aired on Democracy Now! in 1999. Over the years she has written for a number of national magazines. She was an editorial director at iVillage, and worked as digital product director for WWD.com. She currently lives in Syracuse, New York.

Albert Woodfox with Leslie George
Solitary: My Story of Transformation and Hope (Grove Press)

Solitary is an astounding story and makes clear the inhumanity of solitary confinement. How Albert Woodfox maintained his compassion and sense of hope throughout his ordeal is both amazing and inspiring.”

— Ibram X. Kendi

Sage, profound and deeply humane, Albert Woodfox has authored an American testament. Solitary is not simply an indictment of the cruelties, absurdities and hypocrisies of the criminal justice system, it is a call to conscience for all who have allowed these acts to be done in our name.”

— Jelani Cobb

Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana, all for a crime he did not commit. That Albert Woodfox survived was, in itself, a feat of extraordinary endurance against the violence and deprivation he faced daily. That he was able to emerge whole from his odyssey within America’s prison and judicial systems is a triumph of the human spirit, and makes his book a clarion call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement in the U.S. and around the world.

Arrested often as a teenager in New Orleans, inspired behind bars in his early twenties to join the Black Panther Party because of its social commitment and code of living, Albert was serving a 50-year sentence in Angola for armed robbery when on April 17, 1972, a white guard was killed. Albert and another member of the Panthers were accused of the crime and immediately put in solitary confinement by the warden. Without a shred of actual evidence against them, their trial was a sham of justice that gave them life sentences in solitary. Decades passed before Albert gained a lawyer of consequence; even so, sixteen more years and multiple appeals were needed before he was finally released in February 2016.

Remarkably self-aware that anger or bitterness would have destroyed him in solitary confinement, sustained by the shared solidarity of two fellow Panthers, Albert turned his anger into activism and resistance. The Angola 3, as they became known, resolved never to be broken by the grinding inhumanity and corruption that effectively held them for decades as political prisoners. He survived to give us Solitary, a chronicle of rare power and humanity that proves the better spirits of our nature can thrive against any odds.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

Eleanor W. Traylor

Eleanor Traylor (Photo: Howard University)

Professor Eleanor Traylor was born on December 12, 1933 in Thomasville, Georgia to Esther and Philip Williams. She graduated with her B.A. degree in English from Spelman College in 1955, and went on to receive her M.A. degree in English from Atlanta University in 1956. She also received a Merrill Scholarship to study at the University of Stuttgart in German in 1957. She later earned her Ph.D. degree in English from Catholic University of America in 1976.

From 1959 to 1965, Traylor taught English courses at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She went on to become a professor of English at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, where she taught from 1965 to 1990. While there, Traylor was a collaborating author alongside Toni Morrison on the textbook, College Reading Skills. She also served as the English department chair for the graduate school of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Traylor taught as a guest lecturer at Georgetown University in 1966; as a visiting professor at the African Studies and Research Center of Cornell University in 1979; and as an adjunct professor of drama at Howard University in 1968, where she produced a dramatic reading of Owen Dodson’s The Dream Awake. In 1973, Traylor received a research fellowship to study African drama in Ghana and Nigeria. In 1990, she was hired as a graduate professor of English at Howard University. She also chaired the humanities division until 1993 when she was named chair of the Department of English at Howard University. As chair, Traylor established the annual Heart’s Day Conference which honored African Americans in literature. During her tenure at Howard University, Traylor co-wrote several textbooks, worked as a consultant on the film Amistad and directed the production of Stepping Out of the Negro Caravan in collaboration with George Faison, Debbie Allen and other Howard University alumni.

Traylor served as director of evaluation procedures at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts as well as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. She also served on the board of the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company. She was also an evaluator for the Afro-American Museums Association. In addition to working as a script writer and consultant for the Smithsonian Institution, Traylor also assisted the National Black Arts Festival as a literature consultant.

Traylor received several awards and honors for her work, including the Hazel Joan Bryant Award in 1987 as well as the Marcus Garvey Award, the Catholic University Alumni Achievement Award in literary criticism, and the Larry Neal-Georgia Douglas Johnson Award for literature and community service in 1989. In 1993, Traylor was honored with the African Heritage Studies Association Community Service Award and the Amoco Foundation’s Excellence in Teaching Award. In addition to receiving a Doctor of Humane Letters from Spelman College in 2002, Traylor was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Howard University in 2017.

EDITOR AWARD

The Panopticon Review, Kofi Natambu, editor

Kofi Natambu (Photo: Chuleenan)

Kofi Natambu is a writer, poet, cultural critic, political journalist, essayist, and teacher whose poetry, essays, criticism and journalism have appeared in many literary magazines, journals, newspapers and anthologies. He is the author of MALCOLM X: His Life & Work (Alpha Books, 2002), a biography and two books of poetry: THE MELODY NEVER STOPS (Past Tents Press, 1991) and INTERVALS (Post Aesthetic Press, 1983). He was the founder, and editor of and contributing writer to SOLID GROUND: A NEW WORLD JOURNAL, a national quarterly literary magazine of the arts, culture, and politics he published from 1980 to 1987. He was also editor of NOSTALGIA FOR THE PRESENT, a literary anthology (Post Aesthetic Press, 1985). Natambu has recently completed two manuscripts of social essays and cultural criticism: WHAT IS AN AESTHETIC?: Writings on American Culture, 1985-Present and A BRAND NEW BAG: How African Americans Revolutionized U.S. Culture and Changed the World, 1955-1975.

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.

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.

His essays, criticism, reviews, and poetry have appeared in several anthologies, including BLACK POPULAR CULTURE (Bay Press, 1992), MOMENT’S NOTICE: Jazz Poetry and Prose in America (Coffee House Press, 1993), AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE: The Mosaic Series (HarperCollins, 1995), CULTURES IN CONTENTION (Real Comet Press, 1985), NOSTALGIA FOR THE PRESENT (Post Aesthetic Press, 1985), SEEING JAZZ: Artists & Writers On Jazz (Chronicle Books & the Smithsonian Institution, 1997) and ENCYCLOPEDIA, Volumes I, A-E, Volume II, F-K and Volume III, L-Z (Encyclomedia, 2006 and 2010, and Publication Studio Hudson, 2017) and BRILLIANT FLAME! AMIRI BARAKA: POEMS, PLAYS, POLITICS FOR THE PEOPLE (Third World Press, 2018).

He has taught American literature (poetry and fiction), literary theory and criticism, cultural history and criticism, 20th century American history, film studies (theory, history and criticism), political science, creative writing, philosophy, critical theory, African American studies, and music history and criticism (Jazz, Blues, R & B, HipHop) fulltime at a number of academic and cultural institutions including the California Institute of the Arts, San Francisco State University, Empire State College (SUNY), Long Island University (Brooklyn, NY), Wayne State University (Detroit), St. Mark’s Poetry Project (NYC), the University of California, Irvine, and in the New York public school system in Harlem and the South Bronx. He was also a curator in the Education Department of the Museum of African American History in Detroit.​

Natambu has also read his work widely and given many lectures and workshops across the country at numerous arts institutions, including New Langton Arts (San Francisco), Just Buffalo Literary Center, Dia Center for the Arts (NYC), Beyond Baroque (Los Angeles), Pro Arts Gallery (Oakland, CA), the Detroit Institute of the Arts Museum, Center for Creative Studies (Detroit), and St. Mark’s Poetry Project (NYC). He was also a curator in the Education Department of the Museum of African American History in Detroit. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Natambu has also lived and worked in New York, Boston, and Chicago, as well as northern and southern California. He currently lives and works in Berkeley, California with his wife Chuleenan , a writer, visual artist, and editor.

PUBLISHER AWARD

Commune Editions, Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover,and Juliana Spahr, editors

Jasper Bernes

Jasper Bernes is author of a scholarly book, The Work of Art in the Age of Deindustrialization (Stanford, 2017), and two books of poetry, Starsdown (2007) and We Are Nothing and So Can You (2015). Essays, poems and other writings can be found in Critical Inquiry, Modern Language Quarterly, Radical Philosophy, Endnotes, Lana Turner, The American Reader, and elsewhere. Together with Juliana Spahr and Joshua Clover, he edits Commune Editions. He lives in Berkeley with his family.

Joshua Clover

Joshua Clover specializes in critical theory, Marxism, political theory, political economy, poetry and poetics. Interests include social movements, social reproduction theory, crisis theory, and the end of capitalism. He is also a faculty member in the Department of Comparative Literature, and affiliated faculty in French and Italian Department, Film Studies Program and the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. He is affiliated with the Mellon Research Initiative in Racial Capitalism.

His most recent book Riot.Strike.Riot: the New Era of Uprisings (Verso in 2016) theorizes riot as historically concrete form of class struggle, and uses the dialectic of riot and strike to develop a revised history of capital accumulation. He has contributed articles to journals from Representations to Critical Inquiry. Forthcoming work focuses on poetry and the transformation of the world-system, and particularly on the dynamic between overdeveloped nations and neocolonialism, oriented by Marx, Fanon, and Mariarosa Dalla Costa.

He has also published three books of poetry, most recently Red Epic; been translated into a dozen languages and appears in many anthologies including the Norton Introduction to Literature.

Juliana Spahr

Juliana Spahr is a poet & scholar of 20th c. literature. Her poetry moves between lyricism, explanatory prose, and theoretical discussion. In her most recent book, That Winter The Wolf Came, concerns global struggle, especially those located at the intersection of ecological and economic catastrophe. Previous to this, she has published four full-length collections of poems and two books of prose that might be memoirs. Dr. Spahr’s scholarly work is about literature’s complicated role in political movements.

Publisher Award: Commune Editions, Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover,and Juliana Spahr, editors

“Commune Editions began with Bay Area friendships formed in struggle: the occupations in resistance to UC tuition hikes in 2009-11; the anti-police uprisings after the shooting of Oscar Grant that continued with the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner; and the local version of Occupy, referred to by some as the Oakland Commune. In these moments, the people committed to poetry and the people committed to militant political antagonism came to be more and more entangled, turned out to be the same people. This felt transformative to us, strange and beautiful. A provisionally new strain of poetry has begun to emerge from this entanglement with communist and anarchist organizing, theorizing, and struggle.

“This work inspires us. Because there was no existing venue attuned to these changes, we decided to start one. We committed first our own work to this project, and brought our experience with other presses. We hope to publish poetry for reading and writing explicitly against the given world, always aware that it begins inside that world—and to put this work in dialogue with poetries from other countries and from other historical moments, times and places where the politicization of poetry and the participation of poets in uprisings large and small was and remains a convention.

“We are curious about, but not overconfident regarding, the capacities of art. Poems are no replacement for concrete forms of political action. But poetry can be a companion to these activities, as the “Riot Dog” of Athens was a companion in streets. A dog, too, might start barking when the cops are about to kick down your door. Perhaps that’s it, for now, what we’re doing, what is to be done, with poetry. Some barking. Some letting you know that the cops are at the door. They’ve been there for a while.”

— Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover, and Juliana Spahr

ORAL LITERATURE AWARD

Amalia Leticia Ortiz

Amalia Leticia Ortiz (Photo: Olivia Vargas)

Tejana poet and playwright Amalia Ortiz appeared on three seasons of Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry on HBO. NBC Latino named her book, Rant. Chant. Chisme. one of “10 Great Latino Books of 2015.” It won the 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Poetry Discovery Prize. Amalia was chosen to speak at TEDx McAllen 2015. She was awarded an Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Grant and a writing residency at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. She is a CantoMundo Fellow, a Hedgebrook writer-in-residence alumna, and she was the inaugural performing-artist-in-residence at ArtPace in 2018. She was awarded a NALAC Fund for the Arts Grant to film music videos for her latest book The Cancion Cannibal Cabaret (Aztlan Libre Press). Amalia received her MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She is the director of theatre arts for SAY Sí’s ALAS (Activating Leadership, Art, and Service) Youth Theatre Company.

Amalia Leticia Ortiz’s The Canción Cannibal Cabaret & Other Songs is a hybrid manuscript, experimenting with poetry at the intersection of performance. As a text, it is a collection of post-apocalyptic prose poems and poem songs “cannibalizing” knowledge from before the fall of civilization. In performance, The Canción Cannibal Cabaret is a Xicana punk rock musical — part concept album, part radio play. Following a successful summer 2019 tour, this show has now been performed in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Marcos, McAllen, Harlingen, Edinburg, and Victoria, Texas. Additional cities coming in 2020. Amalia was recently awarded a Fund for the Arts San Antonio Artist Grant by the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, to support the creation of a series of music videos for poem-songs from The Canción Cannibal Cabaret.

Amalia spoke at TEDx McAllen. She is the writer and composer of the Latino musical Carmen de la Calle, which has been produced in San Antonio and Dallas. Amalia is also creator of Otra Esa on the Public Transit — a powerful one-woman stage show about destination and destiny, performed at San Antonio’s Guadalupe Theater and Talento Bilingue de Houston. She stars in the award-winning independent film Speeder Kills. This high-energy film has been broadcast on SiTV and PBS. As a member of Chicano Messengers of Spoken Word, she co-wrote and performed the poetry/theater piece Fear of a Brown Planet, in San Francisco, Miami, Denver, and Houston.

She was selected as a Hedgebrook Writer in Residence and a CantoMundo Fellow, and as a recipient of an IC3 Residency at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Her poem “Women of Juarez” was published in the textbook, The Line Between Us. This outstanding grade-school publication teaches the border, immigration, and globalization. From ground-breaking publisher Rethinking Schools. Latina Magazine honored Amalia for founding, co-writing, directing, and performing in Women of ILL Repute: Refute!. Raising money for the Rape Crisis Center, it was presented at the Texas Book Festival, Young Tongues Festival, San Antonio Inter-American Book Fair, Latina Letters Conference, Austin Poetry Festival, Austin Book Festival, and many universities. Amalia is currently studying for her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.

Poetry awards include: team 2nd place at the National Poetry Slam; first Latina to reach the National Slam finals; the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Award sponsored by Sandra Cisneros; San Antonio Puro Slam MVP and 3-time champion; San Antonio Current editors’ “Best Local Poet”; Open Slam Champion and Tag Team Champion (w/ Gary Mex Glazner) at Taos Poetry Circus; and winner of Ultimate Poetry Boxing Championship, 2014.

Amalia’s poetry has been featured in literary journals and spoken word CD compilations. She performed for the First Lady at the National Book Festival in D.C. Her poetry tours include South by Southwest (twice), the Def Poetry College Tour, Slam America National Bus Tour and the documentary Busload of Poets. She coached for Brave New Voices’ youth poetry camp and slam championship in San Jose, after touring California with MadMedia/Reset Collective’s What Are You Doing Tonight?.

WALTER & LILLIAN LOWENFELS CRITICISM AWARD

Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy,
edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll

Anthony Harkins (Photo: Bryan Lemon)

Tony Harkins is a professor of history at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, and a scholar of U.S. popular culture history, particularly representations of rural America. He is the author of Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon (Oxford University Press, 2004) and co-editor, with Meredith McCarroll, of Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy (West Virginia University Press, 2019) which expresses the complexities and possibilities of contemporary Appalachia through scholarship, narrative essay, photography and poetry.

Meredith McCarroll

Meredith McCarroll is Director of Writing at Bowdoin College, where she teaches writing, Southern and American literature, and film. McCarroll is the author of Unwhite: Appalachia, Race, and Film (University of Georgia Press), which asserts the racial liminality of the Appalachian figure in Hollywood film, and offers a rereading of Appalachian film through the lens of Critical Race Theory and Whiteness Studies. Along with Anthony Harkins, McCarroll edited Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy (West Virginia University Press) which complicates a monolithic portrayal of the region with scholarship, narrative essays, poetry and photography.

Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy,
edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll

In this illuminating and wide-ranging collection, the authors do more than just debunk the simplistic portrayal of white poverty found in Hillbilly Elegy. They profoundly engage with the class, racial, and political reasons behind a Silicon Valley millionaire’s sudden triumph as the most popular spokesman for what one contributor cleverly calls ‘Trumpalachia.’ This book is a powerful corrective to the imperfect stories told of the white working class, rural life, mountain folk, and the elusive American Dream.”

— Nancy Isenberg, author of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

Appalachian Reckoning is a retort, at turns rigorous, critical, angry, and hopeful, to the long shadow Hillbilly Elegy has cast over the region and its imagining. But it also moves beyond Hillbilly Elegy to allow Appalachians from varied backgrounds to tell their own diverse and complex stories through an imaginative blend of scholarship, prose, poetry, and photography. The essays and creative work collected in Appalachian Reckoning provide a deeply personal portrait of a place that is at once culturally rich and economically distressed, unique and typically American. Complicating simplistic visions that associate the region almost exclusively with death and decay, Appalachian Reckoning makes clear Appalachia’s intellectual vitality, spiritual richness, and progressive possibilities.

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