BCALA Announces the 2013 Literary Awards Winners

BCALA Announces the 2013 Literary Awards Winners

Press Room-Washington State Convention Center — January 27, 2013 — The Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc. (BCALA) announces the winners of the 2013 BCALA Literary Awards during the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association in Seattle, WA. The awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African American authors published in 2012, including an award for Best Poetry and a citation for Outstanding Contribution to Publishing. The recipients will receive the awards during the 2013 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Chicago, IL.

The winner of the 1st Novelist Award is The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (Alfred A. Knopf).

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is an expertly crafted, often harrowing tale revealing the interrelated stories of matriarch Hattie Shepherd and her diverse offspring in a unique twentieth century American story. The individual personal experiences of each family member are thematically linked together in a dynamic illustration of the universal story of loss, illness, personal demons, and unrealized dreams. Ultimately, this story demonstrates the search for self-actualization, personal truth, reconciliation, and love. Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

In the Fiction category the winner is Freeman: A Novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr. (Bolden).

Freeman tells the heroic story of Sam Freeman, an ex-slave, who after fifteen years of living in the North, risks his life and freedom to reunite with his wife who remains in bondage in the South. Against insurmountable odds, Sam defines his personal meaning of freedom during the tumultuous aftermath of the Civil War. This gripping story is a powerful testament to the transcendent power of purpose, faith, and love. Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

The Honor Book for Fiction is The Cutting Season: A Novel by Attica Locke (Harper).

The Cutting Season deftly mixes literary genres creating an atmospheric tale centered around the true main character of the story, the Belle Vie Plantation. The multi-generational story of Belle Vie’s inhabitants, both past and present, comes crashing together when a woman is murdered on its grounds.  In this contemporary novel, Locke highlights lingering racial tensions and politics of the South while bringing to light issues of agro-politics and the plight of undocumented workers in post-Katrina Louisiana. Locke lives in Los Angeles.

The winner in the Nonfiction category is Benjamin Elijah Mays: Schoolmaster of the Movement by Randal Maurice Jelks (University of North Carolina Press).

Benjamin Elijah Mays chronicles the life of the man who inspired numerous African American leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Maynard Jackson, Julian Bond, and John Lewis.  Mays encouraged these leaders to persevere in the struggle for human rights and to challenge injustice. Concluding 17 years of meticulous research, Jelks examines how Mays’s religious theology shaped the discourse of the Civil Rights Movement that propelled a generation of influential Black leaders. Jelks is an Associate Professor at the University of Kansas.

Honor Books for Nonfiction are Dorothy West's Paradise: A Biography of Class and Color by Cherene Sherrard-Johnson (Rutgers University Press) and If Your Back’s Not Bent: the Role of the Citizenship Education Program in the Civil Rights Movement by Dorothy F. Cotton (Atria).

Dorothy West's Paradise is a well-researched and important biography of one of the youngest Harlem Renaissance authors, Dorothy West. This unconventional biography provides excellent insight into West's life and the influence her privileged upbringing and deep involvement with the elite society of the Oak Bluffs community on Martha's Vineyard had on her writing. Sherrard-Johnson is a Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Courage and determination take center stage in If Your Back’s Not Bent, a compelling memoir offering insights into how a young, inexperienced woman of color fueled her passion for justice, playing a key role in influencing important decisions and strategies that helped shape the course of the Civil Rights Movement. Cotton lives in Ithaca, NY, where continues to advocate for human justice through the Dorothy Cotton Institute at Cornell University.

The BCALA Literary Awards Committee presents the Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation to The 21st-Century Black Librarian in America: Issues and Challenges (Scarecrow Press), edited by Andrew P. Jackson (Sekou Molefi Baako), Julius Jefferson Jr., and Akilah S. Nosakhere.

The 21st-Century Black Librarian in America is dedicated to the legacy of Dr. E. J. Josey, a trailblazer, activist librarian, and educator. The eight-part volume consists of essays written by library educators, graduate students, retirees, library trustees, and new librarians. This work includes poignant essays covering a myriad of issues and challenges in all types of libraries. Library technology, diversity, and other timely topics that call for continued activism by African American librarians are examined. Jackson is Executive Director at Queens Library’s Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center. Jefferson is Information Research Librarian, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.  Nosakhere is Director of Library Services for New Mexico State University-Carlsbad.

The winner for BCALA’s Best Poetry Award is Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place by bell hooks (University Press of Kentucky).

In Appalachian Elegy, hooks continues her work as an imagist of life’s harsh realities in a collection of poems inspired by her childhood in the isolated hills of Kentucky. This collection is meditative, confessional, and political, drawing the reader deep into the experience of living in Appalachia. Rich with familiar Appalachian subjects, including wild roses, tobacco, bears, and horses, the poems connect these familiar images to major social issues such as slavery, war, racism, and poverty. The poetry mourns the marginalization of the people and the environmental degradation they suffered over the years, creating an intelligent and educated body of literature. hooks teaches at Berea College.

If One of Us Should Fall by Nicole Terez Dutton (University of Pittsburgh) is the Honor Book for Poetry.

From the very beginning of Dutton’s stunning book of verse, If One of Us Should Fall, it is obvious that poetic genius is at work. Capturing life in an assortment of settings, she crafts joy, heartbreak, and emotion in a literary style that is all her own.  Dutton offers readers an evocative, lyrical journey that renders them grateful for the experience. With this work, she establishes herself as one of the great emerging poets of our day. Dutton lives in Boston and is a lecturer at Boston University.

Members of the BCALA Literary Awards Jury are: Gladys Smiley Bell (Chair), Hampton University; Jennifer Baxmeyer, Princeton University; Tracy Crawford, Queens Library’s Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center; Makiba Foster, Washington University in St. Louis; Carolyn Garnes, Atlanta, GA; DL Grant, San Antonio Public Library; and John Page, Washington, DC.

BCALA Literary Award Seals are available for purchase and may be displayed on these 2013 winners as well as all previous winners.

Contact: Gladys Smiley Bell 757-727-5185 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.