The African American Experience: BCALA Award Winners

The African American Experience blog photo

Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) Literary Award These awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African American authors published in 2019, including an award for Best Poetry and a citation for Outstanding Contribution to Publishing. The following list includes all winning and honor titles in JMRL’s collection.



The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (1st Novelist Award)

A Virginia slave narrowly escapes a drowning death through the intervention of a mysterious force that compels his escape and personal underground war against slavery. By the National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me.


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Winner Fiction)

When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow delinquent; Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.


Africaville: A Novel by Jeffrey Colvin (Honor Fiction)

Three generations of a family of former slaves, the founders of a small Nova Scotia community, navigate prejudice, harsh weather and estrangements against a backdrop of the historical events of the 20th century.


The Last Thing You Surrender: A Novel of World War II by Leonard Pitts, Jr. (Honor Fiction) 

A historical novel of race and war that follows three characters from the Jim Crow South as they face the enormous changes World War II triggers in the United States.


Red at the Bone: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson (Honor Fiction) 

Two families from different social classes are joined together by an unexpected pregnancy and the child that it produces. Moving forward and backward in time, with the power of poetry and the emotional richness of a narrative ten times its length, Jacqueline Woodson’s novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of this child.


Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem: A Memoir by Daniel R. Day (Winner Nonfiction)

With his eponymous store on 125th Street in Harlem, Dapper Dan pioneered high-end streetwear in the early 1980s, remixing classic luxury-brand logos into his own flamboyant designs. But before reinventing fashion, he was a hungry boy with holes in his shoes, a teen who daringly gambled drug dealers out of their money, a young man in a prison cell who found nourishment in books, and, finally, a designer who broke barriers to outfit a who’s-who of music, sport, and crime world celebrities in looks that went on to define an era. By turns playful, poignant, and inspiring, Dapper Dan’s memoir is a high-stakes coming-of-age story spanning more than 70 years and set against the backdrop of an ever-evolving America


1919 by Eve L. Ewing (Winner Best Poetry Award)

The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, the most intense of the riots that comprised the “Red Summer” of violence across the nation’s cities, is an event that has shaped the last century but is widely unknown. In 1919, award-winning poet Eve L. Ewing explores the story of this event—which lasted eight days and resulted in thirty-eight deaths and almost 500 injuries—through poems recounting the stories of everyday people trying to survive and thrive in the city. Ewing uses speculative and Afrofuturist lenses to recast history, and illuminates the thin line between the past and the present.


I: New and Selected Poems by Toi Derricotte (Honor Best Poetry)

A Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry. In Derricotte’s own words: “How do you gain access to the / power of parts of yourself you / abhor, and make them sing / with beauty, tenderness, and compassion? / This is the record of fifty years / of victories in the reclamation / of a poet’s voice.


Hollywood Black: The Stars, the Films, the Filmmakers by Donald Bogle (Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation Award)

From Donald Bogle — the leading authority on African Americans in film and with the backing of the leading authority on film history, Turner Classic Movies — Hollywood Black is a riveting chronicle of black performers and filmmakers.



They Come in All Colors by Malcolm Hansen

Set between the Deep South and New York City during the 1960s and early 70s, a biracial teenage boy’s new life in a big city is disrupted by childhood memories of the summer when racial tensions in his hometown reached a tipping point.


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy, the living embodiment of the New South, are settling into the routine of their life together when Roy is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. An insightful look into the lives of people who are bound and separated by forces beyond their control.


Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L McFadden

Abeo Kata, a young woman must learn to love and trust again after experiencing the brutality of ritual servitude in West Africa.


The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C Stewart

A biography of the father of the Harlem Renaissance describes him becoming the first African American Rhodes Scholar and earning a PhD at Harvard University and promoting the work of young artists including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Jacob Lawrence.


Becoming by Michelle Obama

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America, she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private. A deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations.


Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry

Presents a revealing portrait of the playwright and activist, best known for writing “A Raisin In The Sun,” focusing on how she used her prominence to support the civil rights movement and confront the romantic racism of the Beat generation.


The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism by Howard Bryant

The Heritage is the story of sports post-9/11, once neutral but now embedded with deference toward the military and police, colliding with the political reawakening of the black athlete in post-Ferguson America


Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires by Shomari Wills

The astonishing untold history of America’s first black millionaires – former slaves who endured incredible challenges to amass and maintain their wealth for a century, from the Jacksonian period to the Roaring Twenties – self-made entrepreneurs whose unknown success mirrored that of American business heroes such as Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Thomas Edison. Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of smart, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success.


Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed

Indecency is boldly and carefully executed and perfectly ragged. In these poems, Justin Phillip Reed experiments with language to explore inequity and injustice and to critique and lament the culture of white supremacy and the dominant social order. Political and personal, tender, daring, and insightfulthe author unpacks his intimacies, weaponizing poetry to take on masculinity, sexuality, exploitation, and the prison industrial complex and unmask all the failures of the structures into which society sorts us.


Looking for more reading suggestions? Visit What Do I Read Next? to receive personalized recommendations from JMRL librarians.


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