Hurston/Wright Foundation | Hurston/Wright Foundation Announces 2017 Legacy Awards
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Hurston/Wright Foundation Announces 2017 Legacy Awards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation announced the winners and finalists of the 2017 Legacy Awards and paid tribute to three pioneers in their fields: Dr. Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first African American to lead the national library; Congressman John Lewis, author and civil rights activist; and Haki R. Madhubuti, poet, publisher and one of the architects of the Black Arts Movement.

The winners of the juried awards for books by Black authors published in 2016 were Colson Whitehead in fiction for The Underground Railroad; JJ Amaworo Wilson in debut fiction for Damnificados; Kali Nicole Gross in nonfiction for Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America; and Donika Kelly in poetry for Bestiary. More than 200 literary stars and representatives of the publishing industry, media, arts, politics, and academia attended the ceremony on Friday, October 20 in Washington, D.C. Author and award-winning journalist Lonnae O’Neal served as Mistress of Ceremony and poet Derrick Weston Brown delivered a poetic tribute to Richard Wright.

Darlene Taylor, executive director for the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, presented the North Star Award – the foundation’s highest honor for career accomplishment and inspiration to the writing community – to Dr. Hayden for her work as a champion of literature. Marita Golden, co-founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, presented Congressman Lewis with the Ella Baker Award for his life’s work fighting for social justice. And, Malaika Adero, a veteran editor and author, presented Dr. Madhubuti with the Madam C. J. Walker award in recognition of his life-long dedication to uplifting the Black cultural experience.

The winners, finalists and nominees of the Legacy Awards are as follows:

Debut Fiction

Winner: Damnificados by JJ Amaworo Wilson (PM Press)

In the words of the judges: Damnificados creates a fabulist and gritty dystopia that is nearly allegorical in its portrayal of the dispossessed. It has intrigue and speculation, multi-lingual sweep and narrative drive. A book that challenges even as it entertains.

Blackass, A. Igoni Barrett (Graywolf Press)
Born on a Tuesday, by Elnathan John (Black Cat/Grove Atlantic)


Winner: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

In the words of the judges: Colson Whitehead is without a doubt one of our most brilliant creatives. His attention to our painful history of slavery and the current state of race in this country is unprecedented in this book of remarkable craft and imagination. If his previous works did not do it, the remarkable work clearly confirms Whitehead’s place in the African American canon.

Finalist: The Loss of All Lost Things, by Amina Gautier (Elixir Press)
Finalist: Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson (Amistad)
The Mother, by Yvvette Edwards (Amistad)
The Book of Harlan, by Bernice L. McFadden (Akashic Books)
Swing Time, by Zadie Smith (Penguin Press)


Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America, by Kali Nicole Gross (Oxford University Press)

In the words of the judges: This book is a marvel. It accomplishes the very difficult task of weaving together a brutal story of murder while simultaneously creating empathy for the circumstances of the killer–a black woman trying to negotiate her own position in a society that has in turn, brutalized her. Tabbs thus reflects the condition of black women writ large at the turn of the 19th century–she is neither a hero, nor an anti-hero, yet, altogether riveting in her life-story.

Finalist: The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, And Reconciliation After the Genome, by Alondra Nelson (Beacon Press)
Finalist: In The Wake: On Blackness and Being, by Christina Sharpe (Nation Books)
The Firebrand and the First Lady:Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice, by Patricia Bell-Scott (Alfred A. Knopf)
Stamped from the Beginning,The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by
Ibram X. Kendi (Nation Books)
Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives, by Gary Younge (Nation Books)


Bestiary by Donika Kelly (Graywolf Press)

In the words of the judges: Bestiary is a book with animal instincts, each of these poems carrying breath and the will to live, to show how survival is possible in the midst of terror. Kelly’s plain-spoken way of proceeding is a guise for sharp truths that leave readers wounded. … In this book, we root around in the wilderness of an interior orphaned by America. Irreverent of the usual boundaries drawn around a name, these poems track insight across various fields of longing and experience, bristling for a fresh blood-music of belonging and liberation: “What beast/ will your blade free next? What call will you loose/ from another woman’s throat?” What brittle birthing Bestiary is: some parts human, all animal and forest in bloom!

Finalist: play dead, by francine j. harris (Alice James Books)
Finalist: Thief in the Interior, by Phillip B. Williams (Alice James Books)
Third Voice, byRuth Ellen Kocher (Tupelo Press)
Rapture, by Sjohnna McCray (Graywolf Press)
The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib (Button Poetry)

Previously announced awards for college writing, which went to Shakarean Hutchinson for fiction and Cheswayo Gabriel Mphanza for poetry, were presented by Tracy Sherrod, editorial director of Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers and underwriter of $1,000 cash prizes.

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