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Winners and Finalists of the 2021 Legacy Awards


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The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation announced the winners and finalists of the 2021 Legacy Awards and paid tribute to three pioneers in the Black literary community: Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, best known for her novels Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun; Ibram X. Kendi, an author, historian, and anti-racist scholar; and the Calabash International Literary Festival, a literary festival with roots in Jamaica.


Author Tiphanie Yanique presented the North Star Award – the foundation’s highest honor for career accomplishment and inspiration to the writing community to Ms. Adichie. Author and Hurston/Wright Board of Directors member, Dr. Andre Perry, presented Dr. Kendi with the Ella Baker Award in recognition for his exceptional work in advancing social justice. Dr. Chris Abani, a Guggenheim Award-winning author, presented the Madam C.J. Walker Award Winner to Calabash for the organization’s exceptional innovation in supporting and sustaining Black literature. The award was accepted by poet and co-founder of the festival, Kwame Dawes.


More than 200 literary stars, readers and representatives of the publishing industry, media, arts, politics, and academia attended the virtual event on Friday, October 15. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones served as Master of Ceremony. The highlight of the evening was the naming of the winners of the juried awards for books by Black authors published in 2020 in the categories of poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and debut fiction.


The winners and finalists of the Legacy Awards are as follows:


Winner: Seeing the Body, Rachel Eliza Griffiths (WW Norton & Company)
In the words of the judges: “Seeing the Body is expert in its grief. The judges were taken with the plunging depths of feeling, the cenote of sorrow cratering the speaker’s life. Yes, the mother has passed, but she was here, lived a life, and how can the speaker expect to continue on? In these deftly crafted poems, Griffiths teaches us that the eye of mourning is not calm, but a bracing against the wall of the storm.”


Fantasia for the Man in Blue, Tommye Blount (Four Way Books)
In the words of the judges: “Blount’s creative and daring introspections ask us as readers to look at the confluence of passions, prejudices, and histories that make up our worlds.  Ultimately, the lasting impression of Fantasia for the Man in Blue is its captivating imagery, the enraptured and dynamic dance of language and meaning.


Pale Colors in a Tall Field, Carl Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In the words of the judges: “These are capacious poems, their capacity, generosity and sight rest as much in what is said as in what is not. Heat radiates out in a fanning field of need and desire and possible nexts. These pieces hold an interior space for us and the mutating ‘us’ that we meet in the world at large. What reminders of how quickly logic and legibility can shift.”


Jump the Clock: New and Selected Poems, Erica Hunt (Nightboat Books)
Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, John Murillo (Four Way Books)
White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, Kiki Petrosino (Sarabande)


Winner: Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, Marcia Chatelain (Liveright)
In the words of the judges: “Chatelain’s Franchise does what the best histories do. It takes a quotidian fact of our everyday lives and de-familiarizes it, showing with great aplomb how fast food franchises have always been bound up with the politics of race in Black America. With great care for the complications and nuance that shape our communities’ relationships to fast food, Chatelain emerges as one our nation’s most consequential historians, able through how she helps us to understand the path, to imagine what we might need in the future.”


Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War, Vincent Brown (Belknap / Harvard University Press)
In the words of the judges: “Tacky’s Revolt is kind of arresting history, one that reminds us that our people have always been deeply thoughtful and critical purveyors, practitioners, and theoreticians of resistance to the challenges of empire. In these times, where we find ourselves still fighting for our very lives, being reminded that tactical sophistication in warfare is a long-standing part of our political lineage, buoys us for the battles ahead. We will be contending with the implications of this work for many decades to come.”

The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth and Power, Deirdre Mask (Profile Books Ltd / Griffin)
In the words of the judges: “The Address Book completely upends our contemporary notions of what it means to put the places where from whence we come, “on the map.” Our addresses are never just a number, but are part of a vast history of place, geography, public health, discovered and attended to by curious adventurers across time and space, trying to make sense of where we are, in every way that that can be meant. Mask takes us along for an equal parts thrilling and meandering journey, helping us every step of the way to take nothing about our sense of place for granted.”


Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, Ijeoma Oluo (Seal Press)
The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another, Ainissa Ramirez (MIT Press)
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, Natasha Tretheway (Ecco Books)


Winner: Telephone, Percival Everett (Graywolf Press)
In the words of the judges: “A quiet domestic novel about grief and loss, an acerbic, Rothian campus tale, a quiet mediation on the power of storytelling itself and an experiment in the “authority of the reader” — one never knows what one is going to get with Everett. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Always it’s astonishing, a novel revealing deep and penetrating truths about the human condition. Always it is worth your time.”


Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark (West Virginia University Press)
In the words of the judges: “Clark deftly traverses the ground between horror and farce, between the historical and the fantastical, creating real monsters to illuminate monstrous behavior without letting human beings off the hook.”

The Freedom Artist, Ben Okri (Akashic Books)
In the words of the judges: “Part dystopian warning, part fable, The Freedom Artist is most of all a compelling meditation on the fundamental human need for storytelling and the danger that ensues when that need is fed with cynical narratives meant to restrain and control instead of liberate.”


These Bodies, Morgan Christie (Tolsun Books)
Book of the Little Axe, Lauren Francis-Sharma (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Black Bottom Saints, Alice Randall (Amistad Books)


Debut Fiction
Winner: Remembrance, Rita Woods (Forge Books)
In the words of the judges: “Remembrance engages in substantive ways with historic and present-day events—the yellow fever epidemic, slave uprisings and revolutions, the Underground Railroad, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti—while creating symmetry in the complex stories of four women who come into their power after catastrophic events. Using fantastical elements, Woods deftly writes a compelling tale focused on how the women use their power to create safe spaces within a world that attempts to destroy them and take their freedom.”


The Coyotes of Carthage, Steven Wright (Ecco Books)
In the words of the judges: “Sharp and witty, The Coyotes of Carthage engages with our present-day politics and shines a light on the inner workings of political campaigns. This rich and detailed book probes how dark money changes campaigns, as well as the conscience of a man fighting for one last chance to turn his career around.”


Black Sunday, Tola Rotimi Abraham (Catapult)


The judges
Poetry: Chanda Feldman, Donika Kelly, Asiya Wadud
Nonfiction: Brittney Cooper, CJ Farley, Ron Stodghill
Fiction: Clyde W. Ford, Kim McLarin, Dinaw Mengestu
Debut Fiction: David Anthony Durham, Amina Gautier, Donna Hemans

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