This is a guest post by Lum Chi, 2023 Junior Fellow in the Literary Initiatives Office. This is an updated post with links to author talks recorded on August 12, 2023.
This year’s National Book Festival theme was “Everyone Has a Story.”Within this theme, the Library is committed to featuring a diversity of stories, ensuring that we represent voices from different cultural backgrounds, gender experiences, orientations and racial identities. The Library considers all stories important and worth collecting, and it actively works to celebrate everyone. However, we also strive to acknowledge and uplift marginalized authors who have historically faced underrepresentation and disenfranchisement. This blog post spotlights the seventeen Black authors attending this year’s Festival. They have written a variety of different books that can appeal to anyone of any background: fiction, nonfiction and poetry; middle grade, young adult and adult; fantasy and graphic novels.
Each author’s photo is followed by a link to their author talk from this year’s National Book Festival.
S.A. Cosby is an Anthony, Barry, and Macavity Award-winning writer from southeastern Virginia. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Razorblade Tears,” which was recommended on Barack Obama’s summer reading list. In an interview for Musing: A Blog by Parnassus Books” about his new book, “All the Sinners Bleed,” (and featured at this year’s Festival), Cosby states, “In the wake of the murder of George Floyd I wanted to really examine policing in America and how a good man or woman can find themselves overwhelmed by the weight of their responsibility. Eventually the book incorporated mediations on religion, race and loss.”
Tananarive Due an NAACP Image Award winning speculative fiction writer. Due and her husband, Steven Barnes, have collaborated on anthology films, graphic novels, Jordan Peele’s TV show “The Twilight Zone” and their podcast “Lifewriting: Write for Your Life!” She currently teaches Black horror and Afrofuturism at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her work provides more representation for Black characters in the speculative genre. In an interview for Lunch Ticket, Due stated that not only does she believe that the next generation of horror will consist of more Black writers but that she also hopes for more of their work to be adapted by Hollywood. Her featured book at this year’s Festival is “The Wishing Pool,” a supernatural horror collection featuring classic horror tales, a haunted swamp, and a post-apocalyptic future.
Victor LaValle is the author of a short story collection, five novels, two novellas and two comic books. His honors include the World Fantasy Award and the Bram Stoker Award, and his book “The Changeling” has been adapted for television. He currently lives in New York with his family and teaches at Columbia University. His featured title at this year’s National Book Festival is “Lone Women,” a horror novel set in the early twentieth century that follows a woman haunted by a secret sin. In a PEN America interview, LaValle speaks of his research for the book: “So many nooks and crannies of the past were being revealed to me. They were, of course, written in history texts but they weren’t a part of what might be called popular history, generalized history. . . . What are the stories—the myths—that we begin to learn from our earliest days? And how is the relation of that history shaped by the people who share it?”
Jesmyn Ward is the first woman and first Black American to win two National Book Awards for fiction. She was also awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the Strauss Living award. In a Bomb magazine interview, Ward said, “I’ve always wanted to write black characters who are multidimensional, who are complicated, who are sympathetic, who have soul.” She is currently a professor of creative writing at Tulane University. Ward will be talking about her body of work at this year’s Festival with Dr. Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress.
Jericho Brown is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three poetry collections. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Arts, Brown is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University and director of the Creative Writing Program. In an interview for The French Quarter Review, Brown says, “I just think it is the responsibility of the poet to tell the truth. For me, that’s the end of that. You have to tell the truth to the best of your ability. You have to tell it the way that only you could possibly tell it.” He is the editor of the featured Festival title “How We Do It: Black Writers on Craft, Practice and Skill,” an anthology of various Black writers exploring how they approach the creative process.
Camille T. Dungy is an author of four poetry anthologies and two essay collections. Her honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. In an interview for Terrain.org, Dungy said that if “a small percentage of people are telling the stories and making the decisions, then that only provides a small percentage of possible viable solutions to some catastrophic problems. The more open the conversation about our relationship with this planet and our possible courses of action is, the more likely we will correct the course of action before it’s too late.” “Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden,” which is featured at the National Book Festival this year, details Camille’s seven-year effort to diversify her garden in a predominantly white neighborhood that regulates what people are allowed to plant.
Jeanine Hays and her husband Bryan Mason are co-founders and creative directors of AphroChic, a brand dedicated to celebrating design, culture, creativity, health and wellness throughout the African diaspora. In an interview for Madame Architect, Hays talks about noticing that most mainstream blogs catered to white audiences, and creating her own space for Black creatives who also love the arts and design. Her featured title, “AphroChic: Celebrating the Legacy of the Black Family Home,” co-authored by Bryan Mason, explores the intimate spaces of Black family homes within the Washington, D.C. community.
Bryan Mason, along with his wife Jeanine Hays, is a co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of “AphroChic” magazine, a quarterly publication focused on the lifestyle and culture of the African diaspora. He writes the “Journey to Diaspora” series, which explores the history, theory and concept of the African diaspora. This series aims to reach out to and create a safe space for other Black creatives who are passionate about design and lifestyle. His featured title “AphroChic: Celebrating the Legacy of the Black Family Home” explores the intimate spaces of black family homes within the Washington, DC community.
Shane McCrae is the author of eight poetry collections and the poetry editor of Image. He has received an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, a Whiting Award and the Arthur Rense Poetry Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. His work explores racial identity, family, abuse and religion, as well as slavery, Black history and memory. He currently teaches at Columbia University. This year’s feature at the Festival is his memoir “Pulling the Chariot of the Sun” in which McCrae pieces together the story of his childhood kidnapping by his white grandparents—and the fragments of his biracial identity.
Tiphanie Yanique is a Caribbean American poet, essayist and fiction writer. Many of her works center around Black and Caribbean representation, exploring themes of post-colonialism, Caribbean culture (specifically within the Virgin Islands), and generational legacies. In an interview with Literary Hub, Yanique talks about subverting the hero’s journey structure: rather than settle with the individualistic mode that centers around one hero, she makes the journeys in her stories more communal and inclusive to Black heroes. A National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree, she is a professor at Emory University. She is a contributor to “How We Do It: Black Writers on Craft, Practice and Skill,” an anthology of various Black writers exploring how they approach the creative process featured at this year’s Festival..
Nicole Sealey is the author of three poetry collections. The winner of the Rome Prize in Literature and the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Poetry Project, she was was the Executive Director at the Cave Canem Foundation from 2017-2019 and Hodder Fellow at Princeton University from 2019-2020. In an interview with The Paris Review, Sealey says poetry and its power to inspire introspection has and will continue to play an essential role in creating fair, just societies. “The Ferguson Report: An Erasure,” which reimagines the eponymous report on racially-biased policing in Missouri, is Sealey’s featured book at the National Book Festival.
YOUNG ADULT (YA)
Nick Brooks is an author and award-winning filmmaker from Washington, D.C. He received a degree in Film and Television Production from the University of Southern California and has won prestigious awards such as the George Lucas Scholar Award and a finalist position in the Forbes 30 under 30 Short Film Festival. Brook’s first feature film “We Were Born Kings” is currently being developed by Mandalay Pictures. Before becoming a filmmaker, he was an educator working with at-risk youth, and many of his stories are inspired by his experiences with the children and families in his community. In an interview for the Bookseller, Brooks says he wants his work to address the inequities that Black and Brown boys in low-income communities experience, and how society can change to help them. His featured book at the Festival, “Promise Boys,” follows three teens of color who must investigate their principal’s murder in order to clear their names.
Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of 25 books for children, and she has received two Coretta Scott King Honors and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, among others. In her work, Cline-Ransom purposefully interweaves important historical events, particularly within Black history, to enrich her books and enlighten her young audience. In an interview with The Horn Book, Cline-Ransom expresses a hope that the push for diverse books will have a lasting impact on all levels of the publishing industry, so that marginalized voices can be included in every stage of the book process. Her featured book at this year’s National Book Festival is her debut young adult title, “For Lamb,” a story set in the Jim Crow South about an interracial friendship between two teenage girls.
Brittany N. Williams is an actor, singer, director and writer, and is the co-artistic director of The NOLA Project. She has performed across three continents, including a year as a principal vocalist at Hong Kong Disneyland. In an interview with Gambit, Williams reveals that one of the main reasons she wrote her debut novel is because, as a 16-year-old who loved Shakespeare, she never got to see girls like her represented in plays and fantasies. She wanted to create a story that Black youth like her would be interested in reading, featuring main characters who also look like them, who have fun adventures. “That Self-Same Metal,” her featured debut title at the Festival, follows 16-year-old swordsmith Joan as she navigates a Fae uprising in 16th-century London.
Jamar Nicholas is an award-winning artist, graphic novelist and educator. Nicholas has dedicated his career to helping young people realize the power of visual narrative, and he aims to promote anti-bullying, healing and kindness in his work. In an interview with CBS Philadelphiav, Nicholas expresses that he cares about the little Black boys and girls he inspires with his work and plans to continue providing them with meaningful representation through his Black characters and fun storylines. Set in a world where superheroes and ordinary people coexist, Jamar Nicholas’s featured National Book Festival title is the graphic novel “Leon the Extraordinary,” which follows powerless Leon’s mission to save his fifth-grade class from an app that turns them into zombies.
Nisi Shawl is an award-winning writer and editor known for diverse speculative fiction. Their novel “Everfair” was nominated for a Nebula Award and their short story collection “Filter House” won an Otherwise Award. In 1997, they co-founded the Carl Brandon Society to help give people of color greater visibility in the science fiction and fantasy worlds, and their book “Writing the Other” and workshops have taught writers new ways of thinking about diversity and representation within fiction. Shawl received the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award for lifetime achievement from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2019. Shawl’s children’s book debut, featured at this year’s Festival, is “Speculation,” about 10-year-old Winna who embarks on a quest to break a family curse using wish-granting spectacles.
In a 2011 interview with Nashville Review, Jericho Brown said:
“The poets I love are people who, other than writing really good poems, made cultural change. If I had any goal for myself, I guess that would be it. When I think of people like Adrienne Rich, Langston Hughes, T.S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, even Frost—because they existed, whether or not we know it, we go about things differently on this planet.”
The Library of Congress works to preserve the voices of artists, creators, culture-shifters and witnesses to remember that came before us, sharing our cultural treasures, and inviting creativity and inspiration. As you enjoy the writings of the authors described above, make sure to also check out the beautiful voices in the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature collection.
We highlight the present but it can never be decontextualized it from the past. The Library keeps records of all kinds of histories, including Black history collections, and facilitates research on African American studies. Noteworthy collections include the online exhibition “The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship,” which explores the journey to equality for Black Americans throughout the 1900s; The NAACP exhibition, a collection that holds five million records encompassing the organization’s efforts from 1909-2010; The African-American Mosaic collection, known for highlighting the Black experience in the West; and African American Perspectives. If you would like research assistance for these topics, you can reach out to a Library of Congress reference specialists for free from the Ask a Library service: African and Middle Eastern Studies, or experts in Local History & Genealogy, or History, Humanities & Social Sciences.
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