Earlier this week the winners of the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes were announced. I was ecstatic to learn that of the 21 winners, 4 were African American writers in the categories of fiction, poetry, drama, and criticism. So as I surfed the net to read up on the awards I came across a post written by good friend, Troy Johnson, Founder of AALBC.com. His post, found here, talked about the “dismal” history of the Pulitzer in awarding African American writers.
I’d be the first to argue that the Black community does not need the validation of Pulitzer Prize Board to substantiate our work. Indeed, given the history of the award, it is not expected either. However, there have been substantive changes in the awards in recent years. This is the first time three Black writers have won in these categories in a single year. Of the total 22 awards given to Black writers, almost half were given in the last 10 years. This is a positive trend.
So while we do not need the award to know our writing deserves merit, it is, of course, welcomed when our literary merit is acknowledged and celebrated by the broader community. In additional to the $10,000 monetary award, these writers will enjoy even greater success with better book advances and more lucrative speaking gigs. This is America and awards like the Pulitzer help authors achieve financial success—a benefit denied so many talented Black writers.
To be honest, there’s not much else I can add to this without going on a rant about the politics of the publishing industry and the necessity of building and supporting our own institutions. However, at the end of the day, what’s most important in this instance is the literary recognition people of color have been collecting over the past few months. Whether it’s Paul Beatty for The Sellout, Ibram Kendi for Stamped from the Beginning or any of the many others who received awards, what we are witnessing now is the public acknowledgment that #BlackBooksMatter. The stories, beliefs, history, and characters written about from the perspective of African Americans and all our Diasporic cousin’s matter. They matter(ed) in times of resistance, they matter(ed) as tools to educate, and they matter even more now as Americans still continue to learn about one another.
My recommendation for world peace, read diverse books. Give a neighbor friend, a co-worker, or a teacher an “African American Book” today. There are plenty of award-winning books to choose from.
MahoganyBooks congratulates all the winners of Pulitzer Prizes in the Letters and Drama categories:
For distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life, Fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000).
Colson Whitehead for his novel The Underground Railroad
“For a distinctive work that melds performance art with the deeper art of poetry to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity.”
For a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author, Fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000).
Tyehimba Jess for his book Olio
“For a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.”
For distinguished criticism, using any available journalistic tool, Fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000).
Hilton Als for The New Yorker
“For bold and original reviews that strove to put stage dramas within a real-world cultural context, particularly the shifting landscape of gender, sexuality, and race.”
For a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life, Fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000).
Lynn Nottage for her play Sweat
“For a nuanced yet powerful drama that reminds audiences of the stacked deck still facing workers searching for the American dream.”