Tag Archives: Race

Black Writers Dominate the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes

Tyehimba Jess, Hilton Als, Colson Whityehead and LYnn Nottage. Black writers winners of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize

Back in January of this year, I took the time to try to figure out how many Black writers have won Pulitzer Prizes in the six “Letters and Drama” categories; Biography/Autobiography, Fiction, General Non-Fiction, History, Poetry, and Drama.  The results were spectacularly dismal.

The award was first bestowed in 1917.  The first award was not given to a Black person until 1950! Gwendolyn Brooks was the first to win for her book of poetry Annie Allen.  Almost another three decades would go by before another Black writer, James Alan McPherson would win for his novel, Elbow Room in 1978.

As far as I can tell, no Black writer has ever won for General Non-fiction. Only one writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was ever nominated in the category, for the spectacularly successful, Between the World and Me.

Up until 2016, only 19 Black writers have won Pulitzer Prizes during the first century the award was given.  However this year, three Black writers have won half of the awards in given in the Letters and Drama categories.  Given the history of the award, it is like lightning striking not twice but three times.

In fact, novelist and critic Hilton Als won the Award for Criticism.  I did not research the history of the other 18 categories for which Pulitzer Prizes are awarded.  The other categories deal mostly with journalism and reporting; I suspect that would be an interesting and revealing exercise to review those categories too.

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.

AALBC.com congratulates all the winners of Pulitzer Prizes in the Letters and Drama categories:

Colson Whitehead for his novel 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.”

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.”

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.”


The Black Media Archive—Even Better than Facebook #HBIT

The Black Media Archive (BMA) is a multimedia collection of African and African-American history, including speeches, interviews, archival video, movies, music and more. Since 2006, it has existed for educational and cultural exploration as a central resource of black history in multimedia formats.


Prince Among Slaves – Abdul Rahman Sori’s Story

With the recent popularity of the film 12  Years a Slave and focus on Solomon Northup’s the tragic story story, we tend to forget the millions of other precious souls whose lives were stolen, during what is referred to, euphemistically, as the “peculiar institution” of American slavery.

Abdul Rahman Sori’s is one example.  In 1788 Sori was 26 years old and heir to the throne of one of the largest kingdoms in Africa (present-day Guinea, Fouta Djallon) when he was captured, in an ambush, and was sold to English slavers.  Abdul Rahman Sori endured over 40 years of enslavement before he was freed.  Abdul Rahman Sori describes his story and subsequent ordeal in part;


Abdul Rahman Sori

“I was born in the city of Tombuctoo. My Father had been living in Tombuctoo, but removed to be King in Teembo, in Foota Jallo. his name was Almam Abrahim. I was five years old when my father carried me from Tombuctoo. I lived in Teembo, mostly, until I was twenty one and followed the horesen. I was made Captain when I wasn twenty-one – after they put me to that , and found that I have a vergy good head, at twenty-four they made me Colonel. At the age of twenty six, they sent me to fight the Hebohs, because they destroyed the vessels taht came to the coast, and prevented our trade. When we fought, I defeated them. But they wen tback one hundred miles into the country, and hid themselves in the mountain. We coud not see them, and didn not expect there was any enemy. When we got there we, dismounted and led our hourses, until we were half way up the mountain. Theyn they fired upon us. We saw the smoke, we heard the guns, wes saw the people drop down. I told every one to run until we reached the top of the hill, then to wait for each other until all came there, and we would fight them. After I had arrived as the summit, i could see no one excpet my guard. they followed us, and we ran and fought. I saw this would not do. i told every one to run who wished to do so. Every one who wished to run , fled. I said I will not run for a Kufr. I got down from my horse and sat down. ………They sold me directly, with fity others, to an English ship. They took me to the Islamd of Dominica. After that I was taken to New Orleans. they the took me to Natchez and Colonel Foster brought me. I hae lived with Colonel Foster 40 years. thirty years I laboured hard. the last ten years I have been indulged a good deal. I have left five children behind and eight grand children. I feel sad, to think of leaving my children behind me. I desire to go back to my own country again; but when I think of my childre, it hurts my feelings. If I go to my own country, I cannot fell happy, if my children are left. I hope by God’s assistance, to recover them.”

Sadly, despite monumental effort, Abdul Rahman Sori, was unable to free his all of his children or return to his home.  Learn more about this story:

About the Film: Prince Among Slaves

prince among slaves dvdIn Theaters: Feb 4, 2008 Wide, On DVD: Feb 19, 2008

Unrated, 1 hr., Documentary, Special Interest, Directed By: Andrea Kalin , Bill Duke

Tells the true story of a little known African American hero, an African prince who was sold into slavery in the American South in 1788. His name was Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori, and he remained enslaved for forty years, before ultimately regaining his freedom and returning to Africa.

The broad outline of Abdul Rahman’s biography reads like a fairytale: A young prince falls from a life of power and privilege into exile and enslavement in a strange land. There he endures unimaginable indignities, yet carves out a life, marries a woman enslaved like himself, and has children. Then, through improbable circumstances, including meeting President John Quincy Adams at the White House, he is granted his freedom and returns to his homeland, but not before he rescues his wife from enslavement and sees his royal status recognized in the very land that held him in bondage.


prince among slaves bookAbout the Book: Prince Among Slaves by Terry Alford

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press; 30th anniversary edition (September 19, 2007)

In this remarkable work, Terry Alford tells the story of Abd al Rahman Ibrahima, a Muslim slave who, in 1807, was recognized by an Irish ship’s surgeon as the son of an African king who had saved his life many years earlier. “The Prince,” as he had become known to local Natchez, Mississippi residents, had been captured in war when he was 26 years old, sold to slave traders, and shipped to America.

Slave [editor’s note: the word enslaved is more appropriate in this context ] though he was, Ibrahima was an educated, aristocratic man, and he was made overseer of the large cotton and tobacco plantation of his master, who refused to sell him to the doctor for any price. After years of petitioning by Dr. Cox and others, Ibrahima finally gained freedom in 1828 through the intercession of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Clay. Sixty-six years old, Ibrahima sailed for Africa the following year, with his wife, and died there of fever just five months after his arrival.

The year 2007 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Prince Among Slaves, the only full account of Ibrahima’s life, pieced together from first-person accounts and historical documents gathered on three continents. It is not only a remarkable story, but also the story of a remarkable man, who endured the humiliation of slavery without ever losing his dignity or his hope for freedom. This thirtieth anniversary edition, which will be released to coincide with a major documentary being aired on Ibrahima’s life, has been updated to include material discovered since the original printing, a fuller presentation and appreciation of other African Muslims in American slavery-Ibrahima’s contemporaries-and a review of new and important literature and developments in the field.

Terry Alford is a Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College.