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Writers Demand Recognition for Toni Morrison (1988)


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[beloved's] failure to win the National Book Award sparked a protest by 48 black writers and critics, who signed a statement published in The New York Times Book Review lamenting the fact that Ms. Morrison had been overlooked for the award and had not yet received a Pulitzer Prize. Shortly afterward, Ms. Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for "Beloved." In a 2006 New York Times survey of prominent writers, "Beloved" was chosen the best work of American fiction of the previous 25 years. Read full article from the NY Times

June Jordan Houston A. Baker Jr. STATEMENT

Despite the international stature of Toni Morrison, she has yet to receive the national recognition that her five major works of fiction entirely deserve: she has yet to receive the keystone honors of the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize. We, the undersigned black critics and black writers, here assert ourselves against such oversight and harmful whimsy.

The legitimate need for our own critical voice in relation to our own literature can no longer be denied. We, therefore, urgently affirm our rightful and positive authority in the realm of American letters and, in this prideful context, we do raise this tribute to the author of ''The Bluest Eye,'' ''Sula,'' ''Song of Solomon,'' ''Tar Baby'' and ''Beloved'':

Alive, we write this testament of thanks to you, dear Toni: alive, beloved and persevering, magical. Among the fecund intimacies of our hidden past, and among the coming days of dream or nightmares that will follow from the bidden knowledge of our conscious heart, we find your life work ever building to a monument of vision and discovery and trust. You have never turned away the searching eye, the listening ear attuned to horror or to histories providing for our faith. And freely you have given to us every word that you have found important to the forward movement of our literature, our life. For all of America, for all of American letters, you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people.

Your gifts to us have changed and made more gentle our real time together. And so we write, here, hoping not to delay, not to arrive, in any way, late with this, our simple tribute to the seismic character and beauty of your writing. And, furthermore, in grateful wonder at the advent of ''Beloved,'' your most recent gift to our community, our country, our conscience, our courage flourishing as it grows, we here record our pride, our respect and our appreciation for the treasury of your findings and invention.

Robert Allen, Maya Angelou, Houston A. Baker Jr., Toni Cade Bambara, Amina Baraka, Amiri Baraka, Jerome Brooks, Wesley Brown, Robert Chrisman, Barbara Christian, Lucille Clifton, J. California Cooper, Jayne Cortez, Angela Davis, Thulani Davis, Alexis De Veaux.

Mari Evans, Nikky Finney, Ernest J. Gaines, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Paula Giddings, Vertamae Grosvenor, Cheryll Y. Greene, Rosa Guy, Calvin Hernton, Nathan Irvin Huggins, Gloria T. Hull, Gale Jackson, June Jordan, Paule Marshall, Nellie McKay, Louise Meriwether.

Louise Patterson, Richard Perry, Arnold Rampersad, Eugene Redmond, Sonia Sanchez, Hortense Spillers, Luisah Teish, Joyce Carol Thomas, Eleanor Traylor, Quincy Troupe, Alice Walker, Mary Helen Washington, John Wideman, Margaret Wilkerson, John A. Williams, Sherley Anne Williams.-

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Good question. As a self publisher/independent writer I don't meet the qualifications for most awards presented in my genre. But for me personally the awards are not that important. But I can understand the frustration. Awards are recognition from your peers of your accomplishments and most people would be lying if they said they wouldn't be happy to receive the praise of their peers. Awards also have a commercial benefit, acting as advertising by making other readers aware of your work.

But that' how it goes for us. It's not right, but it's almost expected. Big ups to Toni Morrison.

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Hey Milton, it was mentioned in a related in the Times article that Jimmy Baldwin, for example, never received any of these awards and today he is recognized as one of America's most important writers. Obviously his importance to the Black community is even more significant.

Do you think Baldwin's prose would have been more on target if he'd won a Pulitzer? Do you think winning a National Book Award would have validated his work or given it more credibility?

Given Baldwin's life long commitment and output we can assume with a great deal of certainty that he did not write for the purpose of being given a trophy or a medal. I doubt most serious writers write for this reason.

You raise a great point: "Awards have a commercial benefit". The financial benefit accrues not just to the recipient.

Jesmyn Ward's National Book Award for Salvage the Bones, for example, even benefited AALBC.com -- advertising from the publisher, commissions on increased book sales, traffic, conversation, etc. This is all great.

Awards with financial prizes also help writers continue to write.

The only problem I have is our reliance on these awards for validation -- further our inability to bestow an award of equal prestige.

I could go on and on pointing out awards that have relatively little consequence within our community. ReShonda Tate Billingsley winning an NAACP image award had zero impact here. Kadir Nelson winning a boat load of Correct Scott King Award means nothing as far as I can tell.

No advertising from the publisher, not increased traffic, sales, nothing...

What this means however is that I have all the incentive in the world to cover Black National Book Award Winners than I do to cover Hurston/Wright winners.

It is a good thing I'm not just here for the money... and certainly not for awards ;)

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