The American Book Awards happened over the weekend, and as always, they honored some titles that definitely belong on your reading list. For those unfamiliar with the ABA, they aren't quite like most other literary awards. The awards are run by the Before Columbus Foundation, which was founded by Ishmael Reed, and if you don't know who that is, you need to go read Mumbo Jumbo now. It's not that long; I'll wait.
In accordance with Before Columbus Foundation's mission to advance the "promotion and dissemination of contemporary American multicultural literature," the American Book Awards seek to "[honor] excellence in American literature without restriction or bias with regard to race, sex, creed, cultural origin, size of press or ad budget, or even genre." There are no limitations on which books can be submitted for consideration, no categories, and no losers — every year they honor a certain number of books from across all categories, and by authors from all backgrounds.
Now, of course, no literary award is ever going to admit to discriminating based on race or sex or any other category, but it is remarkable how many mainstream award winners are some combination of white, straight, and male. For instance, of the 63 books that have won the National Book Award for fiction since the prize began, only 18 were written by women and only three by women of color.
By contrast? The American Book Awards honored five women of color this year alone: Demetria Martinez for her novel The Block Captain's Daughter, Natalie Diaz, above, for her poetry collection When My Brother Was an Aztec, dg nanouk okpik for poetry collection Corpse Whale, Joy Harjo's memoir Crazy Brave, and Louise Erdrich's novel The Round House. Aside from coming from women with diverse cultural backgrounds, the titles all sound amazing.
Of course, the award doesn't discriminate against white men, either: Books such as Seth Rosenfeld's non-fiction title Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals and How Reagan Came to Power also took home a prize, and looks like a good read, too.
All told this year, four poetry collections, three novels, four works of non-fiction, a short story collection, and two memoirs were honored. Three authors received lifetime achievement awards: Ivan Argüelles, Greil Marcus, and Floyd Salas.
Though the American Book Award does not offer monetary prizes, it does highlight some of the most exciting titles recently published in the U.S., and you can and should make space for them on your bookshelf.
Check out the full list of winners on their website.