Wednesday, October 15, 2008

4th Annual African American Literary Awards held at historic Harlem Gatehouse

The 4th Annual African American Literary Awards Show, which honors the works of African American writers, journalists, and publishers, was held for the first time at the historic Harlem Gatehouse.

“We are in a new space this year, the historic Harlem Gatehouse, but our mission remains the same-recognizing African American authors as leaders in thought, preservationists of our culture, a viable collective within the publishing industry, ” stated Yvette Hayward, Founder of the African American Literary Awards Show.

The awards ceremony-in which writers from various genres including mystery, romance, Christian fiction, street fiction, erotica, non-fiction, children’s/young adult books, poetry, self-help, cookbooks, comic strips, television writer, screen writer, and self-published author, to name a few - was fun and laid back although very elegant. This vibe was thanks in part to the evening’s host, author and television personality Abiola Abrams, whose calm demeanor, beautiful smile, and quick wit kept the audience engrossed and entertained throughout the evening.

On hand to present awards and enjoy the show were literary giants like Deborah Gregory, author of the Cheetah Girls series of book who was also promoting her new book “Catwalk” which promises to be as fun and “catty” as all of her other works of fiction. New comers like debut author Jacqueline Reinhardt, whose wonderful “My Organic Soul” will be released in November was on hand to present a few awards as was yours truly, whose book “He’s Gone, You’re Back! The Right Way to Get Over Mr. Wrong” will be available in January 2009. Terrie Williams, author of “Black Pain” was also in attendance, showing her support. It was legendary literary agent Marie Brown, though, who received a standing ovation from the audience after the host acknowledged her presence. Ms. Brown, who was humbly enjoying her dinner, smiled and stood to accept her well-deserved accolades for being one of the most important and influential literary agents of our time by recognizing, representing and supporting talented Black authors for over thirty years. But it is not only her work as an agent that has earned her such respect and admiration, it is her encouraging spirit, which was lauded by Abiola Abrams. “I met Marie Brown years ago and told her ‘I’m going to write books and I’m going to be on television and I’m going to…" And according to Ms. Abrams, Marie Brown smiled and said “Well you go right ahead and do that.” This sense of can do, faith and belief in one’s dreams was evident the entire evening. While authors were awarded for their great work, the evening undoubtedly inspired writers to do more and better work in an industry where finding publishers and readers is always a challenge. Still, dreams do come true, especially for writers who believe in their voice and talent and constantly encourage themselves to keep writing, to never stop writing. “I’m someone who grew up in foster care with nothing,” Deborah Gregory has said. “And what “Cheetah Girls” represents to me is a chance to get out of the ghetto. It’s the chance to transcend your background through sheer talent.”

This couldn’t be more true than for the evening’s winner of Biography/ Memoir of the year, DaShaun “Jiwe” Morris who won for his gripping book “War of the Bloods in My Veins: A Street Soldier’s March Toward Redemption”. In his acceptance speech, he thanked readers and the award committee but was also sure to thank his publishers, Simon and Schuster, for believing in him and his talents and showing him a way out of the streets.
His was probably one of the most memorable acceptance speeches of the evening, his excitement and the excitement of his friends and family being extremely contagious. But there were other winners that evening: Book Club of the Year was Black Expressions; Non Literary Magazine of the Year was Black Enterprise; Literary Magazine of the Year was Mosaic Literary; Cookbook of the Year was G. Garvin’s “Make it Super Simple”; Comedy Book Author of the Year was Finesse Mitchell for “Your Girlfriends Only Know So Much: A Brother’s Take on Dating and Mating for Sistas”; breakout Author of the Year was Carleen Brice, author of “Orange Mint and Honey: A Novel”; and the award for Street Fiction of the year went to J.M. Benjamin for “Ride or Die Chick”. Overall there were nearly thirty awards handed out during the evening which was a testament to the power of the written word and proof that just like Black writers today, the African American Literary Awards Show is only getting better and better.

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