If you’re a Black writer (or a Black person in entertainment), the NAACP Image Awards is on your radar (up there with the Hurston Wright Awards, and for children’s books the Coretta Scott Award, and if you’re in the Caribbean Bocas and the Burt Award). There are so few opportunities for us to be the cream rising to the top, we can’t be out here lukewarm with our ambitions. And unaware of the niche opportunities. So, it follows that Wadadli Pen welcomes the opportunity to celebrate the winners (yes, nominees are winners too) of these awards (if you’re a book lover these long and short lists are always good for ‘discovering’ books you might not have heard of before). Here (with random ramblings so that this isn’t just another list) are (some highlights of) the NAACP 2019 literary winners and nominees (full list after the link)– shout out to the African American Literary Book Club for always being on the ball.
In the memoir/autobiography category, I recognize Francesca Ramsey’s face if not her name or the book (Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist) as I’ve watched episodes of her de-coded series on MTV on Youtube, where she tackles topical issues with a humorous spin – sort of like a comedy-esque wiki.This is the first one I saw (I think) You might also remember her from the What White Girls Say video series.
Years on from his death, Nelson Mandela (also a nominee in this category) remains an inspiring global figure. If you haven’t read his Long Walk to Freedom, you should; his nominated book this time around though is The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela.
If the Harlem Renaissance is of interest to you (and if you like the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, check; Langston Hughes, check; Claude McKay, check; and others of this transformative time in 20th century Black literature, it will be), another nominated book The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart will catch your eye as it did mine. Locke is described as the father of the Harlem Renaissance.
Speaking of, a book that is quite possibly the literary find of the past year or so (and one on my TBR), Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: the Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’ is sure to be interesting reading (I’ve read excerpts and that’s my opinion, and would be even if she wasn’t already one of my faves). I only wish Zora had realized how much her writing meant to all of us while she was still alive (check out her classic work Their Eyes Were Watching God if you haven’t already).
You knew this one was going to be on the list, the bestselling before it even dropped biography of our US First Lady forever Michelle Obama – it’s fascinating to me how public attitude toward Michelle transformed between the campaign during her husband Barack’s first run to, well, now where she is quite possibly more popular than him. Her book is Becoming.
In the children’s category, there is Facing Frederick: the Life of Frederick Douglass by Tonya Bolden. I hadn’t heard of this one before but I can testify to how inspiring the life of the enslaved man turned abolitionist can be for a child, as it was for me when I first came across his autobiography (a section of it at least) as a child.
Can I just say that picks in this category remind me of our own lack of vision (because I know I have, and perhaps I’m not the only one, pitched to the powers that be – separately and on more than one occasion – for funding – because researching, writing, and producing takes time – for a book and TV mini-series re Antigua and Barbuda’s National Heroes as a way to inform and inspire our young people… and, ah well).
That brings me to a children’s book treatment of Hidden Figures, the story of the black women whose brains made America’s achievements in the space race possible. It has already received the big screen treatment in an award winning film; and now it’s an award nominated picture book with Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. Point of interest, there are four women on the book’s cover when only three were featured in the movie; so, more to discover.
One of the books in the debut author category is one I’ve been seeing around the book blogs for awhile Small Country by GaëL Faye – I think the universe is trying to tell me something.
Tyler Perry and gospel music fans will likely be excited about this one – Us Against the World: Our Secrets to Love, Marriage, and Family by David Mann and Shaun Sanders – so this one’s for you.
Then *blows loud horn* the category I love because I love fiction and I love the first author among the fiction nominees Tayari Jones and her latest novel An American Marriage – critically acclaimed and well received – with extra boosts for being an Oprah’s Book Club pick and a pick for Obama (yes, that Obama, Michelle’s husband’s) summer reading list. Hey now! – p.s. I highly recommend Tayari’s immediate previous novel Silver Sparrow.
Envy: A Seven Deadly Sins Novel by Victoria Christopher Murray – I haven’t read this one but this is another of those authors who’s on my radar as a past participant (very cool and down to earth and forthright as I remember) in the Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival (yep, we had one of those and attracted high caliber talent too…never forget).
Oh, oh, oh! Imma just drop this one right here Who Is the Black Panther?: A Novel of the Marvel Universe by Jesse J. Holland. Make that who is the three-time Academy award winning Black Panther.. I actually just read a novelization that features T’Challa before he was King, Storm: Prelude to the Wedding of the Century.
In the Instructional book category, fans of the now cancelled The Chew (and other sisters opting to embrace their funky grey locs) will likely appreciate Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration by Carla Hall.
Politics junkies and fans of another sister in funky greyness (Donna Brazille) may find For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics by Donna L. Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, Minyon Moore, and Veronica Chambers interesting. I’ve seen some of their interviews about this book and I may read it someday, as I’ve very much enjoyed – and been baffled by – the bits I’ve heard.
Or how about this one, anyone remember FUBU (yeah, yeah, I know he’s on Shark Tank but since I don’t truck with reality TV he’s the founder of FUBU to me) – Rise and Grind: Outperform, Outwork, and Outhustle Your Way to a More Successful and Rewarding Life by Daymond John.
Of course, the one in this category that sounds right up my alley is Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim – not because I am but because, as many books as I’ve read, it feels like I’m discovering more and more books everyday and when will I have the time to read them all. Sigh.
Brazille and co’s book is also nominated in non-fiction, as is Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: the Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’.
As is Black Girls Rock!: Owning Our Magic. Rocking Our Truth. by Beverly Bond, a brand you already know as a dope annual TV special. (goosebumps RIP Queen of Soul)
Do you know all the words to the Negro Anthem? Do or do not, this might be the book for you (or me, since I love this song and I’m also the music nerd who likes reading liner notes and lyrical annotations and cultural history): May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem by Imani Perry.
Alice Walker, a forever fave (for books like The Colour Purple, The Temple of My Familiar, In Search of A Mother’s Garden, Living by the Word, and my most recent read Possessing the Secret of Joy), is also on this list for Taking the Arrow out of The Heart.
There is also a poetry section and a teen/young adult section with Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin by James L. Swanson as a nominee in the latter category , as well as Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson who has been winning alllll the awards of late.
Props to all the nominees. See the full list here.
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