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.

Tretheway

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.

EAllen

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.

DolensIWilkerson

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.

BMcFadden

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