Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s Heads of the Colored People, a collection of humorous and brutally frank short stories that grapple with race, class and identity, was awarded the fiction prize at the 2019 Hurston/Wright Foundation’s annual Legacy Awards, held October 18, at the Washington Plaza Hotel in Washington D.C.
The Hurston/Wright Foundation, a nonprofit literary education institution focused on the contributions of African-American writers to American literature, also honored the contributions of two celebrated African-American literary figures: Pulitzer prize winning poet and former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, and Glory Edim, founder of the Well-Read Black Girl book club.
Dove was awarded the H/W Foundation’s North Star Award (presented to her by poet Kyle Dargan) for her work in support of black poets; and Edim was awarded the Madam C.J. Walker award (presented to her by novelist Marita Golden, cofounder of the H/W Foundation) for her work in creating a space to acknowledge and celebrate black women and their stories.
Along with the fiction prize, the H/W Foundation Legacy Award for poetry was presented to poet Terrance Hayes for American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, described as a “syntactically adroit” collection of poems “that speak directly to the contemporary moment.” The book was published by Penguin Books.
The winner of the H/W Legacy Award for nonfiction was presented to historian Imani Perry for May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem, “an exploration of the origin, evolution, and resonance” of James Weldon Johnson and Rosamond Johnson’s fabled song and its contribution to “our understanding of black cultural and political development,” according to the judges. The book was published by the University of North Carolina Press.
Also presented: The winners of the Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers who included Trevor Lanuzza, fiction winner; Elinam Agbo, fiction honorable mention; Bernard Ferguson, poetry winner; Nadia Alexis, poetry honorable mention.
The evening featured a tribute to the late novelist Toni Morrison, who was a member of the H/W Foundation board. In addition, Kevin Merida, senior v-p and editor-in-chief of The Undefeated, ESPN’s online platform for examining the intersection of race, sports and culture, announced that the media platform will sponsor a new Hurston/Wright award for unpublished nonfiction writers.
The nonprofit Hurston/Wright Foundation was founded in 1990 by novelist Marita Golden and cultural historian Clyde McElvene and named in honor of celebrated authors Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright. The H/W Foundation is a resource center devoted to offering training and support to African American writers and disseminating and preserving their literary contributions to American literature.