The 2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards were presented on October 20, at the Washington Plaza Hotel, Washington D.C. Over 200 people attended. There were poets, novelists, academics, essayists, editors and publishing icons. It was a superb event.
Three legendary figures were honored: the long-time civil rights activist-turned-bestselling-author Congressman John Lewis; poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti; and Carla Hayden, the first woman and first black person to serve as Librarian of Congress. Dr. Hayden told a wonderful story about her “job interview” with Barack Obama.
Congressman Lewis, his passion undimmed by time, told us, “We must never, ever give up or give in. If we see something not right, not fair, not just, we have a moral obligation to find a way to get in the way.”
The winner of the main fiction award was Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad – another accolade to add to the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal and the Pulitzer Prize. The non-fiction award went to Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America by Kali Nicole Gross. The poetry award went to Bestiary by Donika Kelly. And the debut fiction award went to my novel Damnificados. It was so unexpected that I hadn’t prepared a speech. I got up, mumbled a joke or two, grinned for the camera, and sat down again.
It was the biggest honor of my life in fiction and I am deeply grateful to the Hurston/Wright Foundation for their support of black writers.
In the organization’s own words:
The Hurston/Wright Foundation’s annual Legacy Awards Ceremony honors the best in Black literature in the United States and around the globe. The gala, held in Washington, D.C., is one of the brightest nights in the literary community. The first Legacy Awards ceremony was held in 2002 to celebrate the trailblazers who paved a way for generations of Black writers and to honor excellence in literature by Black writers. The program includes merit awards determined by the Board of Directors, a juried competition for debut fiction, fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and recognition of college writers. Stars of the literary community also pay tribute to the foundation’s namesakes, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright.