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Latest Book Club Reading

Mitchell S. Jackson and David Anthony Durham read from and discussed their work during a free, public reading at Sankofa Books in Washington, D.C., on March 14th.

Jackson’s debut novel, The Residue Years, was a 2014 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Finalist for Fiction. He also won the 2014 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.

Durham, a prodigious author of many historical fiction and fantasy novels, is the author also of Walk Through Darkness and Gabriels Story, which won the 2002 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction.

Both writers were recipients of the Hurston/Wright award for college writers.

During the event at Sankofa, Jackson read from and discussed an essay and a short story inspired by memories of growing up in Portland, Oregon, and Durham read from a screenplay of Gabriels Story, which has been optioned for a feature film. Earlier in the day, both taught at the Hurston/Wright Weekend Writers Workshop.

Trouble Sleeping

Trouble Sleeping by Abdul Ali

Trouble Sleeping

Trouble Sleeping, the debut book of poems by local poet and Hurston/Wright Foundation board member Abdul Ali, is the contemporary answer to Lucille Clifton’s 1991 call to “come celebrate/with me that everyday/something has tried to kill me/and has failed.” It’s the sleepless night spent thinking of things that failed to kill but still torment. Thoughts of death, mental illness, a New York City childhood, family, silence, pop culture, and racialized violence all haunt Ali’s sleepless poems. The collection, which won the 2014 New Issues Poetry Prize, is punctuated by black pages with only “(blink)” printed on them, and these serve as brief yet potent pauses between dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks.

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Ballou Students Challenged to Think Out Loud

City First Bank of DC, in partnership with The Hurston/Wright Foundation and Guerilla Arts Ink, sponsored a Black History Month Writing Contest for the senior class of Ballou High School. Gloria Nauden of City First Bank says the mission was, “To celebrate the minds of Ballou’s students as we challenge them to think out loud and shape their thoughts and ideas as they experience the power of the literary arts brought forth by world class instruction.”

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Hurston/Wright Foundation awards NoViolet Bulawayo for her debut novel, ‘We Need New Names’

By DeNeen L. Brown October 25, 2014
Read Original Article Here (The Washington Post)

Zimbabwean novelist NoViolet Bulawayo won the 2014 Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Legacy Award for fiction for “We Need New Names,” her debut novel inspired by Zimbabwe’s “lost decade,” that tells an “unflinching story” of a girl named Darling and her friends who steal guavas while living in a shanty called Paradise and reminiscing on the “proper houses with real rooms and furniture they used to have.” They dream of traveling to “real paradises”—perhaps Europe or Dubai or America.

The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award judges described Bulawayo’s novel as a story of two continents. “It felt like an imperative read,” said Marita Golden, a novelist and co-founder and president emeritus of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, which honored black writers during a gala Friday at the Carnegie Library in Northwest Washington. “The judges said, ‘We see NoViolet’s great characters, their entrapments, their miseries, their hungers and we also see ourselves.”

The Hurston/Wright 2014 award for non-fiction went to Craig Steven Wilder for “Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities,” a book linking many of the country’s most prestigious public and private institutions to the slave trade and documenting how the institutions “expanded on the back of African Americans,” Golden said. The judges said Wilder’s book “brilliantly exposes the blood-soaked ties between slavery and high education and higher education in America.”

In “Ebony & Ivy,” Wilder, a history professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes that before the American Revolution, merchants and planters became benefactors and “new masters” of a colonial society.

“Slaveholders became college presidents. The wealth of the traders determined the locations and decided the fates of colonial schools. Profits from the sale and purchase of human beings paid for campuses and swelled college trusts.”

The award for poetry went to Amaud Jamaul Johnson, who wrote “Darktown Follies” a collection of poems that examine the legacy of Black Vaudeville and minstrel shows. The judges found that the poems in “Darktown Follies” laid bare “the difficult terrain of the false images” created “by black face in Vaudeville,” Golden said.

Johnson’s collection, she said, “crafts a manuscript which balances the false and ugly with the beauty and truths of the black lies that exist beneath the gaze.”

Poet Nikki Giovanni received the Hurston/Wright North Star Award for her commitment to art and social justice. “For 45 years,” the judges said, “she has been a determined witness and eloquent advocate of cultural change in America.”

The Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Foundation, which is based in Washington, was founded in 1990 with a mission to ensure the survival of black writers and literature by black writers.

From left, Hurston/Wright Foundation co-founder and president emeritus Marita Golden, poet Nikki Giovanni and Hurston/Wright board chairman Darlene R. Taylor during Friday’s ceremony. (DeNeen L. Brown/The Washington Post)
Golden, a novelist who has published several books, including, “Don’t Play in the Sun”; “Saving Our Sons”; “Long Distance Life”; and “Migrations of the Heart,” said the foundation celebrates black writers and writers in the African diaspora. The foundation, which helps writers find their voice and craft stories in programs and writing workshops, will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. Golden said BET is a major sponsor of the foundation. During the gala, BET unveiled a clip of its mini-series, “The Book of Negroes,” which will debut on the network in February.

“There is a lot of conversation these days about the state of literature in general, that publishing has been destroyed by Amazon, that fewer people are reading and that books are dying,” Golden said in an interview. “But my feeling is this: while the publishing industry and the lives of writers have undergone major, revolutionary changes, some of them unsettling, in the last decade, I think it keeps getting better for black writers.”

Golden sees a continued renaissance in black writing. “You had Toni Morrison winning the Nobel Prize. You had Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Terry McMillan on the best-seller list at the same time,” Golden said, pointing to the rise of writers who have found commercial success and the emergence of a vibrant community of writers.

“So yes, there has been retrenchment. There is probably less money out there for writers. But I think it is a great time to be a black writer,” Golden said. “If a publisher says no, you can say, ‘Yes,’ and self-publish…..As long as there are cultural organizations like Hurston/Wright, as far as I’m concerned, the glass is not half full, but it is overflowing for black writers.”

The hall of the Carnegie Library was packed Friday night with publishing giants, powerhouse writers, editors, poets and top names in the literary industry, including Nate Marshall, Dana Williams, Tracy Sherrod, Kyle Dargan, Clarence Page, Darlene Taylor and Dolen Perkins-Valdez.
Perkins-Valdez, who wrote the New York Times best-selling novel “Wench,” presented the Hurston/Wright 2014 award for fiction. Perkins-Valdez said when she read the opening passages of Bulawayo’s novel, she did not want to put it down.

“NoViolet has written a novel that is both pressing and pristine,” Perkins-Valdez said. “Her sentences are crystalized and sparkle like glass.”

Perkins-Valdez read the opening passage of the novel, which was short-listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize: “We are on our way to Budapest: Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me. We are going even though we are not allowed to cross Mzilikazi Road, even though Bastard is supposed to be watching his little sister Fraction, even though Mother would kill me dead if she found out; we are just going. There are guavas to steal in Budapest, and right now I’d rather die for guavas. We didn’t eat this morning and my stomach feels like somebody just took a shovel and dug everything out.”

Accepting the award, Bulawayo stood on stage in brilliant yellow. “It is such a great privilege to be nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for fiction and to be nominated along with a fine list of writers with many accomplishments,” said Bulawayo, who won a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. “I accept this award with gratitude and in celebration of the luminous lives and the works of Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, for being the bright beacons who created so we could write today with gratitude and dignity.”

Wilder, the winner of the nonfiction category, said the award was like an affirmation. “Most historians don’t write with an aim of getting a specific award,” Wilder said. “My dream was people will say one day I got it right.”

Poetry winner Johnson told the crowd he began writing poetry 20 years ago as a student at Howard University. “I read poems because they were short. ‘I could read a 500-page novel or I could read this poem five times,’ ” he said. “I never imagined being a poet. It is an honor to be in the space.”

Biographer and journalist Wil Haygood was master of ceremonies during the 2014 Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Awards ceremony. (DeNeen L. Brown/The Washington Post)
Washington Post staff writer and biographer Wil Haygood, whose front-page story in The Post inspired the movie “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” was master of ceremonies. Haygood was awarded the 2013 Hurston/Wright Ella Baker Award for his “masterful writing.”

Haygood recalled his time as a writer at the Boston Globe, when an editor called Haygood into his office and gave him an assignment to write about a feature writer teaching at the University of Massachusetts.

“I said, ‘Who is it?’ ” Haygood recalled.

“He said, ‘It’s James Baldwin.’ ”

Haygood recalled being very nervous. “I was still on what the Boston Globe termed in those days a try-out. I could sink or swim. I certainly didn’t want to sink with a story on James Baldwin.”

But Haygood told himself he would end his interview with Baldwin, asking a compelling but personal question.

“I said: ‘Mr. Baldwin, I’ve never written a book and I want to write a book. But I’m very scared because that means I would have to leave my nine-to-five newspaper job and take a leave of absence and scrounge around for money and beg some publisher to give me enough money to keep paying my rent.’ That struggle of an artist is always there.”

Haygood asked Baldwin should he go write books.

“James Baldwin looked at me and he said this: ‘You have to go the way your blood beats, baby.’”
Haygood told the crowd of writers: “That is what you all have done. You’ve gone the way your blood beats.”

Nominees and Finalists for the 2014 Hurston/Wright Awards were:

Fiction: “Every Boy Should Have A Man” by Preston L. Allen (Akashic); “The Residue Years” by Mitchell S. Jackson (Bloomsbury); “See Now Then” by Jamaica Kincaid (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride (Penguin); “The Gospel According to Cane” by Courttia Newland (Akashic).

Nonfiction: “Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home” by Sheri Booker (Gotham Books/Penguin); “Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker” by Stanley Crouch (HarperCollins); “The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights” by William P. Jones (Norton); “Searching for Zion: The Quest For Home in the African Diaspora” by Emily Raboteau (Atlantic Monthly Press); “Men We Reaped” by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury).

Poetry: “What We Ask of Flesh” by Remica L. Bingham (Etruscan Press); “Hemming the Water” by Yona Harvey (Four Way Books); “The Cineaste” by A. Van Jordan (Norton); “Silverchest” by Carl Phillips (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); “The Big Smoke” by Adrian Matejka (Penguin).

DeNeen L. Brown is an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post who has covered night police, education, courts, politics and culture.


At D.C. gala, Esi Edugyan, Fredrick C. Harris win Hurston/Wright Legacy awards

By DeNeen L. Brown October 25, 2013
Read Original Article Here (The Washington Post)

Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan won the 2013 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for fiction Friday night for her novel “Half-Blood Blues.”

The novel, which was honored during a gala celebration at the District’s Carnegie Library, tells the story of a young, half-black German man who plays the trumpet with a “massive sound, wild and unexpected, like a thicket of flowers in a bone-dry field” and is arrested in a Paris cafe under the Nazi regime.

“The judges felt ‘Half-Blood Blues’ was an astonishing work of originality,” said Marita Golden, a novelist and co-founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, which celebrates writers in the African diaspora. “They had never read a novel quite like it.”

The nonfiction award went to Fredrick C. Harris for “The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and Rise and Decline of Black Politics,” an examination of President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and the effects of his “race-neutral” approach on African Americans’ quest for racial equality and justice.

Golden said the judges deemed “Ticket” “an important book that deserved a much wider readership.”

The award for poetry went posthumously to Lucille Clifton for “The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010.” The collection by the former poet laureate of Maryland “secured her place in American letters,” the judges said.

The Hurston/Wright Foundation was founded in Prince George’s County in 1990 by Golden and Clyde McElvene, a marketing executive, to discover, educate and mentor black writers and ensure the survival of literature by black writers.

“This is just an extraordinary time for black writers,” said Golden, who has written several fiction and nonfiction books, including “Don’t Play in the Sun,” “Saving Our Sons,” “Long Distance Life” and “Migrations of the Heart.”

“So many new voices are coming out of the diaspora,” said Golden, who lives in Bowie and teaches writing workshops in the Washington area. “It is a very exciting time, but at the same time, because of the changes in the publishing industry and the changes in the way people buy books, black writers are just as negatively impacted in the case of royalties and financial remuneration.”

The foundation stopped giving out monetary awards several years ago, but Golden said that “has not diminished the respect writers have for the award, because it is a game-changer.” She added: “Many times, a publisher will decide to bring a book into paperback because of the award.”

Washington Post staff writer and biographer Wil Haygood, whose front-page story in The Post inspired the movie “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” was awarded the Ella Baker Award for his “masterful writing” and support of the foundation.

In accepting the award, Haygood said that someone had asked him what has changed in his life since the movie was made. “Not a whole lot,” Haygood told the crowd. “But I have heard from both of the ladies who turned me down for my high school prom.”

Haygood, who has written biographies of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Sammy Davis Jr. and Sugar Ray Robinson, said in an interview earlier that he was honored to have been selected as an award recipient.

“The others receiving the Legacy award are extremely gifted and very prominent writers,” he said. “I admire their work, and to be selected to receive this type of recognition from the Hurston/Wright Foundation is extremely special.”

Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson also won the Ella Baker Award. Her book “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” won the 2011 Hurston/Wright Award for nonfiction.

Wilkerson said she was thrilled to receive the award, named after Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, who were part of the Great Migration and took the same routes as two of the book’s protagonists. The book’stitle was inspired by the words of Wright.

Wilkerson called the award ceremony a homecoming.

“This book has taken me all over the country,” she said, “but no city has a deeper personal meaning to me than Washington, because it is where my parents migrated, met, married and had me. Had they not joined the Great Migration, I, like millions of others, would not have had the opportunity to grow up on freer soil.”

Wilkerson told the audience earlier that she had spent 15 years working on her book. “I often say, ‘If this book were human, it would be in high school,” she said.

After the ceremony, Wilkerson stood near the stage in a red sheath dress, where she answered questions about the Great Migration, snapped photos with fans and encouraged aspiring writers, even as the staff began to put away food and clear tables.

The North Star Award went to U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, author of “Thrall: Poems.”

“I am a poet deeply concerned with history and social justice,” Trethewey said in accepting the award. She cited another poet’s remark — “Poets need not be aiming for social change when they sit down to write, but it can be an outcome” — and added, “Tonight, I accept this award in pursuit of social justice and the idea that all of our work as writers is one of the most grand advocacies in that pursuit.”

Presenters during Friday’s gala featured top names in literature, including poet and activist Sonia Sanchez, who performed an original poem in tribute to Hurston; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward P. Jones; Mignon L. Clyburn, daughter of Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.); author Lucy Anne Hurston, who has written a biography of her aunt called “Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston”; and Teri Ellen Cross Davis, who is poetry coordinator at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Host Dolen Perkins-Valdez, who wrote the novel “Wench,” spoke of the literary firepower of the gala, filled with legendary writers, poets, literary agents and editors at high-powered publishing houses. Writers gushed as they shared the stage with legends. “This ceremony is a space for the brilliant work of black writers to . . . take center stage,” Perkins-Valdez told the crowd.

The other nominees for the fiction prize were “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; and “Gathering of Waters,” by Bernice L. McFadden.

The other nominees in the nonfiction category were “There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra,” by Chinua Achebe; “Go-Go Live,” by Natalie Hopkinson; “Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free,” by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot; “The End of American Lynching,” by Ashraf H.A. Rushdy; and “Help Me to Find My People,” by Heather Andrea Williams.

The other poetry nominees were “But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise,” by Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, and “Me and Nina,” by Monica A. Hand.

The Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers went to Justin Campbell, a graduate student in English at Loyola Marymount University. He won for his novel excerpt, “Sitting on the Knees of God.”

Cary Williams, a student at Harvard University, and Samantha Mallory, a student at Middle Tennessee State University, were finalists in the college writers category.

DeNeen L. Brown is an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post who has covered night police, education, courts, politics and culture.

Natasha Trethewey

Announcing the 2013 Legacy Honorees

The Hurston/Wright Foundation Announces the 2013 Legacy Award Honorees

The 2013 Legacy Awards Ceremony will also honor the following writers:

Wil Haygood, prize-winning biographer and author of the article that inspired the film THE BUTLER: A Witness to History
Natasha Trethewey, the U.S. Poet Laureate, professor and author of Thrall
Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Warmth of Other Suns

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Hurston/Wright Names Winners of Annual College Writing Competition

Hurston/Wright Names Winners of Annual College Writing Competition

by Frederick H. Lowe
Read Original Article Here (The NorthStar News & Analysis)

The Hurston/Wright Foundation on Monday named the winner and the two finalists of its annual award for college writers.

Justin Campbell, a graduate teaching fellow studying creative writing at Loyola Marymount University, was named the 2013 Hurston/Wright Foundation winner for an excerpt from his novel Sitting on the Knees of God.

The novel, which takes place in the 1920s, is about a jazz musician who moves from Alabama to Harlem and the differences he experiences in the two black communities, Campbell tells The NorthStar News & Analysis.

“It is a real honor to win the award,” Campbell added. “The foundation’s lineage is great, and I am honored to be a part of a community of great black writers and great writers period.”

Campbell lives with his wife and child in Whittier, Calif.

Samantha Mallory, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English at Tennessee State University, and Cary Williams, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history, literature, African- and African-American studies at Harvard, were named finalists.

The foundation selected Williams for her short story My Street and Mallory for her short story Ren.

Three writers received honorable mention: They are Sanderia Smith, Essence Ward and Alyss Dixson. The foundation recognized Smith for an excerpt from her novel Mourning Beach. Ward also was recognized for an excerpt from her novel The Lynching.

The Hurston/Wright Foundation acknowledged Dixson for her short story Palestine.

The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation Award for College Writers was established by novelist Marita Golden to honor excellence in fiction writing by African-American undergraduate and graduate students. Golden cofounded the Hurston/Wright Foundation in 1990 with Clyde McElvene.

The winners are selected for the best unpublished short story or novel excerpt. They will be recognized during the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Ceremony on Oct. 25, 2013, at the Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C.


Hurston/Wright Foundation Announces the Recipients of the 2013 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers

Washington,D.C. – The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation announces the recipients of the 2013 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. Recipients will be recognized at the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Ceremony, October 25, 2013 at the Carnegie Library, Washington, D.C.

The Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers was established by novelist Marita Golden to honor excellence in fiction writing by African7American undergraduate or graduate students enrolled full-time in a college or university. Winners are selected annually for the best unpublished short story or novel excerpt.

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Tope Folarin finds his place in the literary world

By Krissah Thompson July 23, 2013

Original article at
There was a time when Tope Folarin came almost daily to Politics and Prose not to sip iced lattes, as he’s doing on this recent Sunday afternoon, but to learn his craft by reckoning with language. Back then, he sat in this bookstore cafe and copied poetry into a raggedy notebook.

“It pained me that I couldn’t afford to buy the books,” Folarin says, leaning in to take another sip.

Four years ago, as he wrote down verse after verse, his academic pedigree as a graduate of Morehouse College and a Rhodes Scholar were meaningless. He was out of work and unsure where he fit into the Washington scene. He did know that the story he would someday tell would be of the complexity of blending cultural and national identities. In his case, Ni­ger­ian and American.

Last week, the 31-year-old was awarded the prestigious Caine Prize, given annually for a short story by an African writer. With the prize, Folarin gained instant legitimacy, but his achievement also spurred a conversation in the literary world about the boundaries of the far-flung African diaspora and what it means to be an African writer.

Folarin, who has lived in Washington, D.C., for five years, has not returned to the homeland of his Nigerian parents since he was about a year old. His childhood memories are those of the place he was born, Ogden, Utah, and later Grand Prairie, Tex., where he was reared.

Lagos is a place he sees only in his dreams. His mother, who became ill when Folarin was young, returned there when he was 6 years old. He has not seen her since. She and other relatives in Nigeria are souls with voices he cannot touch.

So is he an African writer? Is he an American writer? Does growing up virtually cloistered in Utah, eating moin moin and jollof rice in a household where Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey are played on repeat, make you Nigerian enough?

“It’s the same conversation I’ve been having my entire life about ‘where do I fit?’ ” Folarin says. “I was prepared for the questions.”

Toying with those queries (and sometimes accusations) has been an important part of Folarin’s coming of age as a storyteller. It is his relationship with Nigeria, a place he hardly knows but at the same time knows intimately, that shapes his writing and sense of self.

Amid the buzz of the bookstore cafe, his voice is devoid of any discernible accent — a result of his father’s insistence that his children mimic newscasters Dan Rather and Peter Jennings. Folarin, slight and ebony-skinned and dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, seems as much at home behind the cafe table as behind his black-framed glasses.

Folarin, an assistant in Washington to a member of the board for the entity that oversees the audits of public companies, says the mosaic of short stories he is currently polishing form a novel, and the story for which he won the Caine Prize — “Miracle” — is a chapter from that as-yet-unpublished book. “Miracle” is set in Texas at an evangelical Nigerian church where the congregation has come to witness the healing powers of a blind pastor-prophet. The prophet praises the flock as those who “haven’t forgotten your people back home.”

The boy at the center of the story, who is unnamed and narrates the piece, grapples with the meaning of “miracle” when the prophet attempts to heal his poor eyesight. He comes to the realization that the miraculous has been before him all along: in his family’s ability to stay together “despite the terror of my mother’s abrupt departure” and in his own ability to see with his thick glasses when centuries ago that would have been impossible. The boy also finally sees a truth in his father’s constant admonition that they are blessed to be living in poverty in America. Back in Nigeria, relatives “would die for the chance.” These blessings are his miracle.

Folarin believes his work has a place in the dynamic space occupied by young writers of the African diaspora. Critical acclaim has come to several, including Taiye Selasi, a Ghanaian Nigerian writer who was born in London, raised in Boston and lives in New York, New Delhi and Rome, and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo, an earlier winner of the Caine Prize and now a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. (The Cain Prize may be won by African nationals and by those born in or whose parents were born in Africa.)

Both Selasi and Bulawayo released novels this year. It was Selasi, author of “Ghana Must Go,” who coined the term Afropolitan, a combination of the words African and cosmopolitan, to refer to the generation of moneyed young Africans who jet-set around the world, are highly educated and know their parents’ home countries as well as the places they were born.

Folarin brings up Afropolitanism to refute those who would say he is not a Nigerian writer because he has not spent time in the country. “I haven’t been able to access this [cosmopolitan] lifestyle because I’ve been struggling and hustling my entire life,” he says.

Folarin says he was the first black child to attend his Utah elementary school and recalls the day when a white classmate tried to wipe off Folarin’s dark skin color. When his skin color did not change, the classmate declared Folarin dirty.

Folarin moved with his family to Texas at age 14. He found black classmates there, whom he was desperate to impress. On his first day of classes, he put on red pants two sizes too small and a white shirt and thought he looked like Michael Jackson. “Everybody loves Michael Jackson, and he’s black!” he recalls thinking. The other children pointed and laughed.

Folarin’s father came to Utah as a college student and dropped out after Tope was born; he sold ice cream and cleaned trailers to sustain the family and he insisted that the children work hard in school. “He would say, ‘second place is first loser,’ ” Folarin says.

Folarin finished high school near the top of his class and enrolled at Morehouse College, the renowned, traditionally black, all-male college. But there, too, he experienced another form of culture shock. Folarin had never heard of the black upper-crust organization Jack & Jill of America or the black fraternities and sororities that are a large part of the social life of historically black schools. Folarin felt out of place and spent a year and a half as an exchange student, first at Bates College in Maine, then at a university in South Africa.

When he returned to Morehouse to complete his final year of study, he was told he had lost some of his financial aid package because he had failed to complete forms while abroad. He was broke, desperate to earn his degree in political science and was living on a friend’s floor. He did what any American would do: He wrote to Oprah.

Two weeks later, the school informed him that his senior year would be covered. (He subsequently met Oprah Winfrey and attributes the financial assistance to her help or the intervention of someone on her team.)

Four months later, Folarin was named a 2004 Rhodes Scholar. At Oxford, he began to examine whether he should follow his father’s wishes that he earn a law degree at Yale. At Oxford, he decided to take a different path.

“When I first got there a friend of mine said, ‘I love Philip Roth,’ ” says Folarin, who had never heard of the American novelist. He began reading contemporary fiction and worked on what he describes as his first “failed novel.”

After a few years of detours — working as a spokesman for Google in London; taking a low-level position on the Obama campaign; a period of unemployment — Folarin moved to the District in 2008 and connected with poets and writers here, including E. Ethelbert Miller. Those connections and that encouragement led Folarin to submit “Miracle” for the Caine Prize.

In London last week, where Folarin accepted the prize, he had a conversation with another finalist, whom Folarin declines to name. The other writer told Folarin that he should begin using his full Ni­ger­ian name — Oluwabusayo Temitope Folarin — rather than calling himself Tope (pronounced tow-PAY).

“Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t allow people to mispronounce his name,” said the other writer, according to Folarin.

“I don’t see calling myself Tope as a capitulation,” Folarin says. And, he insists, it’s a better fit for his 21st-century hybrid Ni­ger­ian American life.

“I had to recognize that if I wrote about my missing of Africa, my missing of Nigeria, my missing of my mom, then perhaps I could infuse my stories with a poignancy,” he says. “I’m trying to write back — even though I can’t be there physically. I’m trying to write back to Nigeria.”