Powerhouse author, poet, and memoirist Maya Angelou has led a long and distinguished career characterized by numerous honors and some intensely powerful writing. Yet despite being recognized by multiple presidents and African American organizations such as the NAACP, winning a Grammy for her spoken word album A Stone Flung Up to Heaven, and being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for her first poetry collection, the literary establishment has thus far not honored her with a major award.
Until now, at any rate. The National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Award, has announced that they will present Angelou with their 2013 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.
Certainly Angelou, whose stunning memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, pioneered new ground for the genre, has had a huge impact on American literature, and it’s wonderful that she’s finally receiving recognition from a major literary establishment. Despite never winning a Pulitzer or a PEN/Faulkner award or even being a nominee for the National Book Award, Angelou says that she isn’t bitter.
“Only one name can be chosen for a prize,” she said. “And, here now, I'm getting an award from the National Book Foundation for lifetime achievement of service to the community! It's a blessing. It's incredible."
The award will be presented at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner the November, at the same time that E.L. Doctrow receives the organization’s 2013 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Executive Director Harold Augenbraum said that the National Book Foundation is “privileged” to be able to recognize both authors.
He added, "Dr. Angelou's body of work transcends the words on the page. She has been on the front lines of history and the fight for social justice and decade after decade remains a symbol of the redemptive power of literature in the contemporary world.”
So congratulations to Maya Angelou. This prize is well deserved.