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Black Writers Dominate the 67th National Book Awards


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I'm here for my fourth National Book Awards (NBA) Ceremony.  The NBA is the Academy Award of the book world.  It is always an honor to attend.  The most celebrated authors on Earth are honored here.  I, as usual, focus on the authors of African descent, and there is no shortage of these authors honored this year. I'm making these posts live, from the event. The entire program may be found here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/DNpxugLaDgG


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“BET Presents the National Book Awards” —Larry Wilmore 

For real, after decades of barely recognizing the existence of Black literature, the National Book Foundation gives 3 of 4 National Book Awards to Black writers!  But it was not about correcting past wrongs--it was about recognizing great literature

Below Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Accept Literarian Award for Outstanding Service:





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I just changed the topic of this conversation to: "Black Writers Dominate the 67th National Book Awards," because they did.

This evening, in between classes, I began running searches on the awards ceremony just to see how well my content ranked and to comment on other sites sharing my content where appropriate.

Would you believe many people believe that giving three of the four awards to Black writers is a result of "white guilt?"  I actually had a version of this conversation with a white attendee last night.  I simply said, "...the winning books obviously reflect a high quality of writing."  Here is a typical comment in left-leaning New York Times.

"Is it even possible to win a major lit award anymore without being a black male writing about the African American experience, and in particular slavery and racism? Apparently not, just as there are apparently no other worthy or noble topics in the world. The quality of these books notwithstanding, it's hard not to view all these recent wins (NBA's, Man Booker Prize, etc.) as evidence of a pervasive strain of white guilt among the liberal intelligentsia. Time to stop treating books as props...and literature as politics."

Sure Black writers were absolutely over-represented at the National book awards not just this year, but last year too.  Is the National Book Foundation trying to correct for previously overlooking Black writers?  I seriously doubt it, but who knows?  

Besides, this is not the first time three Black writes won the award.  Back in 1983 Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, and Joyce Carol Thomas won National Book Awards.

But let's for argument sake, say the National Book Foundation is indeed giving conspiring to give awards to Black writers to make up for the years they were overlooked.  Is that even possible?  How long would it take?  Below is a chart which breaks down the number of Black winners since the award was launched.

I attended the last four National Book Awards. In those four years, seven Black writers won the award. To put that in perspective: The award has been given for 57 years, it took 42 years before 7 Black writers won!  It took another 20 years before another seven author were given the honor.  



Even before I ran the numbers, I was fairly confident that Black writers were historically underrepresented.  Of course, this lack of recognition can not be attributed to a lack of talent.  Many great writers who never won, Baldwin, Hughes, Wright, Morrison and on.

Obviously, the doors to mainstream publishing were closed to all but a few talented Black writers.  Indeed it has been illegal for us to even read the majority of the time we've been here.  How many great writers did we miss out on because Black people were systematically prevented from being educated let alone being published?

How many potentially great writers are lost, in 2016, because they aren't being educated?

Today, when a handful of our best writers are finally being recognized, why can't it just be for pure talent? Why does "white guilt" have to be part of the mix?  Racism reveals itself in the strangest places...

If the Trump election tells us anything, it tells us who we really are as a nation.  Comments like the one that I posted from the New York Times above just reinforces what we, in the Black community already know. 

Of course, Larry Wilmore's joke about the book awards being hosted by BET, was probably not funny to many in the audience last night and probably exacerbated some ill sentiment. But Larry called President Obama "my nigga" in a room full of white folks, so you know he'll say anything, at any time, in front of anyone.

I commend the National Book Foundation for providing a platform which is not afraid to recognize Black talent, obviously doing so generated some criticism. 

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My John Lewis, shown above (higher up in this conversation), has more 5,500 views in less than two days. The reason for the greater number of views that normal is that Rachel Maddow used a clip from my video on her show, and credited me.  Normally this video would have had at most a couple hundred views at this point, but just that simple mention on her show increased it to thousands. She also copied me on a tweet of the video posted --blowing up my twitter account as a result :-)


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As we both know all it takes is a consistent cosign from a person of status for your video or information to take off. 5500 is a huge number for a book, but when you realize that a 22 year old kid doing book reviews is a YouTube millionaire, you realize how crazy the entire social sharing system really is. It's awesome that she shared it, what should happen now and it would be great if it did, you should be more of a correspondent for the book topics.

Just in case you don't know what I'm talking about with book reviews. Look up a channel on YouTube called FightMediocrity. I'm not linking it because the dude doesn't need anymore subscribers, lol. All he does is book reviews and he is making a killing.

Nice job though on this!!!!

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Thanks Chris!

There are already plenty of people reviewing books on Youtube, but most of these book reviewers, that I've found, are not getting many views. But FightMediocrity is quite a good channel and I'm not surprised the guy is doing well.

Man, I would be happy to be a correspondent on books, but what platform would be willing to pay for this service?

You are right; book videos are tough to get a lot of viewers; CSpan's BookTV, The National Book Foundation and others published youtube videos of the National Book Awards too.  Even if you ignored my "viral" John Lewis video, my videos got more views because I posted them first and actively promoted them.  

That is really saying something because the others had teams of people shooting their videos, with high-end equipment, and produced videos of much higher quality.  I was by myself, with a crappy camera, running around drinking and socializing the whole night  but ultimately I was more effective.  God only knows what I'd be capable of with a decent budget and staff.

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Screw a budget and staff. You are right on point with what you're doing. It's all about the cosign. That FightMediocrity is amazing isn't it? If you simply found a different way of doing what he does, you'd kill it. Then again, you know what? This kid didn't even get a cosign, he ran YT ads and has a very catchy style. You simply need to review the "popular" books in a catchy way. I'm giving all of my time to YT and my site now. Sneaker Sites are now IPO'ing and selling for millions. I'm all in.

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  • 11 months later...

The 68th National Book Awards are being held this Wednesday, November 15, 2017.  For the first time in five years I, or rather AALBC.com, was not invited to attend this year's celebration. I'm not sure if any Black owned media will be in attendance covering the event.  It was not like there were that many to begin with but I just reached out to the other group that covered the event to see if they are going.


I'm not mad, but I get the feeling the organizers do not want a repeat of 2016.  As I noted in my comments from last year (above), I know some in attendance were not happy that night.  No one will ever be able to joke about the National Book Awards being a production of BET ever again.


Here are my predictions for the 2017 National Book Awards:


Now my predictions are based solely on what I'd describe as politics.  "Politics" is really not the right word.  The idea is that my predictions are not based upon the quality of the literature at all, but more a combination of political correctness and a reaction to 2016,   Of course this reasoning is not objective, but I don't think the National Book Awards, indeed any awards are objective.  Despite the lack of objectivity, I'm going to go out on a limb and make my predictions public.  


The finalist for 2017 include five books by Black Writers. This represents 25% of all the finalists which based upon our percentage of traditionally published authors, I'm sure this is pretty good representation (rrremember I'm completely ignoring the quality of the books themselves--perhaps all of the Finalists should have been books written by Black writers; maybe none deserved to be).


In all of the categories for which that National Book Awards gives prizes, Fiction (1), Nonfiction (1), Poetry (1), and Young People's Literature (2). there is at least one book, written by a Black writer that is a finalist:


Black Finalists for the 2017 National Book Awards


I expect one, and only one, of these titles to win. 


However if no writer wins a National Book Award in 2017, I will not be surprised.  I will not only be unsurprised, I will be a bit disheartened because that would portent even less mainstream publishing support for books written by Black writers in the near future.  I'd also have to suspect that the lack of Black writers winning an award is in direct reaction, conscious or not, to the dominance that Black writers exhibited in 2016. 


The likelihood of two titles winning is so low that it approaches zero.


So if only one title will win, which title will it be? For that we need a little historical content:


Below is a chart which shows the number of titles that were written by Black writers and have won a National Book Award.  It is a different view of the same information presented in the graph above.  Technically two of the awards were presented in categories that no longer exist "Children's" and "First Fiction." I have placed these, for the purpose my prediction, under "Young People" and "Fiction" respectively.


Year Fiction Nonficn Poetry Young People's Total
1953 1       1
1975       1 1
1983 2     1 3
1989 1       1
1991   1     1
1999     1   1
2000     1   1
2006     1   1
2008   1     1
2010     1   1
2011 1   1   2
2013 1       1
2014       1 1
2015   1 1   2
2016 1 1   1 3
Total 7 4 6 4 21


We can see that Black writers have, historically, won the most awards in the fiction and poetry categories.  Given that Black writers have the won the most prestigious award, the fiction category, three of the last 5 years, I doubt a Black author will win that category this year.  Black writers, since 1999 have won 1 out of 3 of the poetry awards bestowed.  So I doubt the win will be in poetry for similar reasons.


Now that might sound like a lot of awards in those two categories, but lets keep in mind: the award started in 1950; for the next 60 years only 8 Black writers won in those categories, roughly one Back winner every 8 years!


That leaves nonfiction and children's. Black writers won nonfiction the last two years in a row. I don't see this happening three years in a row.  The chidlren's category is a bit more interesting.


2017 Children's book author finalist, Rita Williams-Garcia is only one of 6 authors to be longlisted 3 times or more for a National Book Award and not win.  The other are James Baldwin, Carl Phillips, Kevin Young, Marilyn Nelson, and Walter Dean Myers. I think if anyone has a chance this year it is Rita.


Rita is the all-time bestselling children's book author on AALBC.com.  She is also our #24 bestselling author; no other children's book author is even in the top 50. Rita also has the temperament and personality to appeal to diverse audiences and be an ambassador for books which the National Book Foundation loves. The publisher of Rota's nominated title, Amistad, was started by a Brother, Charles Harris, Amistad's titles have been nominated 9 times but has never won. Both Rita and Amistad are overdue.


So there it is.  We will see what happens Wednesday night.  Again, I will not be there, but I will report on the results Thursday.


If I'm right, you would be able to tell me nothin'! :D




*The data behind the information provided above comes from the AALBC.com database.  If there are any inaccuracies they are all mine. I'm not aware of another source for this type of information.  If you find any errors in the information in my database please share them by posting a reply.





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Well I was correct …one, and only one, of these titles to win.”  I, however, was wrong about the book that would win. 


I discounted Jesmyn's book simply because she'd previously won a National Book Award.  In fact, Jesmyn is the only Black writer to win two National Book Awards in any category.  She may be the only author to have won the award twice of any color, but I only track the Black authors.  Her first win was for Salvage the Bones


Perhaps my picking Rita's children's book to win was wishful thinking. Still there have only been four Black winners of a National for Children's Literature in 68 years, which stands in stark contrast Jesmyn Ward who, by herself, has already won half of that many in just 7 years!



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