This post is part of the Reading Writers of Color 2021 challenge hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s staff writer and editor, Dan Michael Fielding.
In 2019 it had been five years since a woman had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Pulitzer’s statistics have been getting worse over the previous few decades, going from near gender-parity at its inception to awarding just two women in the 2010s. The Nobel Prize didn’t fare much better. From 114 recipients, it awarded just 14 women the Nobel Prize in Literature. There have only been three black Nobel laureates in Literature: Toni Morrison, Derek Walcott, and Wole Soyinka.
The Pulitzer Prize appears to be adjusting course. In 2020 the gave several awards for books, drama, and music related to racial justice (although some of these awards are given to white men writing about blackness). Louise Erdrich (Chippewa) won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2021, an awesome achievement that speaks to her prolific and spectacular writing. I’ve mentioned my appreciation for Louise Erdrich before (twice, actually), and I was pleased to see that even an award with a known gender and race problem was able to recognize her.
The problems perpetuated by big-name, prestigious awards are well-documented. For example, it took 83 years for the United Kingdom’s most prestigious children’s book award, the Carnegie medal, to recognize an author of color. Dominican-American poet Elizabeth Acevedo was the first non-white author to be recognized, apparently the result of the prize instigating a review of its policies after receiving backlash for its 2017 list of 20 white authors.
Just to emphasized the point: It took 83 years to award one author of color the Carnegie medal. Wow.
The award-winner you choose to read for this month doesn’t have to be from a “big name” or “prestigious” award. This would be a great time to look through award winners local to your area, or award winners in genres you enjoy reading.
For example, as a science fiction fan I might study the list of Otherwise Award (formerly the James Tiptree Jr. award) winners. This award is given to speculative fiction that explores gender, but also emphasizes “works that have a broad, intersectional, trans-inclusive understanding of gender in the context of race, class, nationality, disability, and more.” An award that specifically names intersectionality and recognizes that gender is not a static concept is one I’m more interested in supporting than a more popularly-known award. Plus, I get to read cool science fiction. It’s a win-win!
What genres are you interested in? What awards are there for the genres you read?
This might also be a good time to look ahead to November’s prompt to read a book by a local author. Many states and regions have awards celebrating excellence in local authors. For me, the Minnesota Book Awards is a good place to start.
Does your locality recognize authors? What kinds of awards are given? How are the award decisions made?
Also, don’t feel limited to the specific book that received the award. Many authors are really being recognized for a lifetime of achievement. You might want to read the specific book being recognized, or read one of their earlier works. Of course, if the author is being recognized for a debut novel that may be more difficult!
The challenge for August is two fold. First, I want to encourage you to read a book by an author of color who has won an award. But just as important, I want us all to examine how awards are decided and who decides them. What practices are baked into these prestigious awards? Why do they repeatedly keep out the amazing work of black, brown, and Indigenous authors? Can we change those practices? Or should we develop new systems of recognition entirely?
I also want to be clear that the fact these awards have been neglecting black, brown, and Indigenous authors is not a reflection on those authors skill or ability. It is only a reflection on the racism (and, as others have noted, the sexism) that has been systematically built into those awards from the beginning.
What are you reading for August? Let us know the results of your research in the comments below!
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