On Nov. 15, the Hurston/Wright Foundation held its ninth annual Legacy Award Ceremony at Northwest Washington, D.C. restaurant Eatonville, a popular eatery inspired by writer Zora Neale Hurston’s work. The District-based organization recognized, celebrated and awarded several African-American authors for their exceptional contributions in nonfiction, fiction and poetry.
For 20 years, the foundation – founded by Don’t Play in the Sun author Marita Golden and bibliophile Clyde McElvene – has strived to preserve and advance the past, present and future of Black writers and their literature. Named after Hurston and Black Boy author Richard Wright, the foundation is currently led by a board of directors and advisory board that includes notable scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., author Toni Morrison and Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe.
In all, the foundation honored 16 authors for their literary contributions, but a panel of published authors selected Robin D.G. Kelley (nonfiction), Haki Madhabuti and Rita Dove (poetry) and Percival Everett (fiction) as the 2010 winners.
This is the first time in Legacy Awards History two poets shared first prize honors.
Nonfiction category nominee Betty De Ramus, author of By Any Means and Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad, said America’s slavery era inspired much of her writing.
“This was a time our achievements were lost and forgotten because it was not thought to be worth preserving,” she said. “What makes it exciting today is that I don’t think that our voices are being lost. I think we are being heard, felt and acknowledged in a way that we weren’t before.”
Similarly, McElvene and Golden always had a vision to keep the Black writer and their literature alive and present. “Marita [Golden] said she wanted to do something different,” said McElvene. “She thought that we needed to find a vehicle to support, promote and honor Black college writers.”
As a result, in 2001 Golden and McElvene began dialogues with Borders Books and Music about an award intended for Black published writers and judged according to their peers’ standards. That was the beginning of the Legacy Award.
Since then the foundation has been on a mission to discover, develop and honor aspiring and emerging Black writers through workshops and financial awards. The group hosts creative writing classes for teens and seniors; a week-long summer residency workshop for publishers, agents and professional writers and honors full-time undergraduate students from schools across the nation.
Golden and McElvene both say the Hurston/Wright Foundation’s work is part of a broader mission in the Black literary tradition. “It is very important that we have institutional support for Black writers who are telling the story of our lives from a very authentic position,” said Golden, “not as an outsider but an insider.”