Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards

The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Ceremony was held last Friday in the historic Carnegie Library in Washington DC. I had the pleasure of attending and celebrating Black literature, as Founder Marita Golden put it, “without controversy or explanation…where brilliance is assumed.”

Circle Unbroken

from the Hurst/Wright Awards program

Dolen Perkins-Valdez, the author of Wench, was the entertaining and thoughtful Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening.  Her excitement about the authors reminded me how we all have, or should have, someone to look up to.

Frances with Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Frances with Dolen Perkins-Valdez

As a student of Black literature in college, to the point that some thought it was my major (it was not; in fact, although I took all the classes that were offered, there weren’t enough to qualify even as a minor), one of the poets I read was Sonia Sanchez.  She was present at the Awards to read her original poem for the occasion, in honor of one of the organization’s namesake, Zora Neale Hurston, entitled “Belly, Buttocks, and Straight Spines.”  I prefer to read poetry to get the full meaning, but I enjoy hearing it for the sound of the interpretation by the author.  Sanchez is proof of why.  Her words melted into a rhythm where they barely had definition but you take the meaning and are moved by the flow and the song in her voice and the patterns of sound in English, speckled with snatches of French and Spanish.  This living legend of Black literature was an inspiring way to kick off the evening.

Sonia Sanchez

Poet, Sonia Sanchez at Hurston/Wright Awards

And the winners from the evenings were…

Northstar Award – U.S. Poet Laureate, Natasha Tretheway who reminded us that as writers, all of our work is grand advocacy for the important work of social justice.

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U.S. Poet Laureate, Natasha Tretheway accepting Northstar Award

Ella Baker Award – Eugene Allen, the author of the Washington Post article that inspired the movie, The Butler.

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You have to share Eugene Allen’s excitement as the theme from The Butler plays and you hear Forest Whittaker say “I’m your new butler.”

Ella Baker Award – Isabel Wilkerson, for her epic history of the Black migration from the south to points north and west, Warmth of Other Suns. The book was titled after a phrase from the other namesake of the organization, author Richard Wright.  Wright was preparing to move from Mississippi to Chicago in 1927, comparing himself to a seed being moved to a better place to grow.  Wilkerson suggested that his and other Blacks’ relocation from the southern states to the east coast, Midwest and west coast, was not only about moving, but really about freedom and how far we would go to find it.  This is one of those books you hope will be part of the required reading in American history classes and the discussion of reasons for migration.

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Isabel Wilkerson (center) accepts her Award for Warmth of Other Suns.

Nonfiction Award – Fredrick Harris, author of The Price of the Ticket, about the election of President Barack Obama.  And congratulations to nominee Natalie Hopkinson, author of Go-Go Live.

College Writers – Justin Campbell won for an excerpt from his yet-to-be published novel, Sitting on the Knees of God.  I’ll be getting this book whenever it comes out, for the title alone.

It doesn’t take much more than a good cover and a great title to get added to my list of considerations, and the nominees for Fiction are filling up my to-read list.

  • Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
  • A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards
  • Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson
  • The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
  • The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (already on my “read” list and reviewed)

Fiction Award winner – Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden.

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Bernice McFadden accepting the Fiction Award from Edward P. Jones

And if all the literary goodness wasn’t enough, the evening was wrapped up with cheese, dessert, wine, music, and a copy of the book, 12 Years a Slave (thank you, because I am so behind on my movies.)

HWAwards-12YearsASlave

Program Hurst/Wright Legacy Awards & Twelve Years a Slave

Plan a Writing Day

When my writing group meets, we usually have sent each other our selected drafts before hand, had time to read them over, and scribble or type comments.  Face to face, we discuss our comments, ask questions, maybe even brainstorm a few ideas for someone who is stuck.  Recently, we decided to switch things up. We would write, enjoy breakfast, and talk about our writing. All of us have attended a writing retreat at some point, whether a day long or a weekend, and we planned to harness this collective writing energy to file a few more pages in our novels-to-be.  I’ve done this in the past with my scrapbooking friends, too. It’s all the creativity bouncing in the air, it spurs you to want to grab it and make something beautiful, too.

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Coffee, laptop and a lot of ideas. All ready for a productive writing day.

Select a place conducive to your work.  Places like Starbucks and Panera are generally welcoming of folks hanging out for a few hours, but be mindful that they are in business to make a buck, not be your secondary office. Don’t take up more than a reasonable amount of space, do buy some coffee and food as “rent” for your space, and do be kind to the staff.  And if they give you the side-eye or keep coming by to clear up your table, that might be the gentle hint that your time is up.  We found a nice small coffee house that served breakfast and a light lunch and kept an eye out for a morning or mid-afternoon crowd. Of course, if your budget and calendar allow, you can plan for a weekend or a few days away from your regular life.  Be sure to invite me if you go this route.

Come prepared to write.  You don’t want to start off your day drumming the table trying to think of something to write. Jot down a few ideas before you come, think about where you want to jump in on an piece that’s already in progress.

Pack your supplies for writing. Are you a paper and pen kind of person or do you need your laptop? Don’t forget your cord or charger.  You may also want to bring headphones if you are one of those people who are easily distracted by conversation at the next table.  What else do you normally have? Do you need chocolate to keep you going, a special stress ball to help you think? Don’t forget your must-have writing accessories.

Prepare for writer’s block with prompts.  What happens when you get stuck?  What are your characters going to do next, where are they going to go, what’s going on? Don’t waste your time staring into the ceiling. Before our writing day, I wrote out a few writing prompts on index cards, ready for anyone to grab one if they needed a little push.  Perhaps you will stick with the idea, perhaps it will get your brains cells to think of something else, totally not even related. It’s all good. A few of the prompts to stick in your writing notebook:

  • Your character is stuck in traffic.
  • Someone offers your character something to eat or drink.
  • Describe one of your character’s flaws.
  • It starts raining.
  • Your character sees someone they think they recognize.

Watch your time. It’s easy to get carried away in the social aspect of the day. Set an agenda, allowing enough time to write (maybe 2 hour blocks), talk about your writing, enjoy a snack or meal, according to your goals for the day.

Have fun! This is what you want to do, right? Enjoy it.

Need more writing prompts? Check my Pinterest page – When Your Muse Takes a Break – for more ideas.