One of the great perks of being a librarian is that you are surrounded by people who are as passionate about books as you are. I have found that books are a great way to connect with other people and that the shared experience of having read the same author or similar titles can help create lifelong friends. While taking a tour of the Croatian islands during my honeymoon, a fellow passenger and I bonded over our mutual love of Octavia Butler. The other passengers stared curiously at us as we talked a hundred miles a minute and gesticulated wildly because we could not contain our love for Butler and her award-winning books. Thinking back on that conversation, I considered some of the other great authors I look forward to reading throughout the year and especially during February to celebrate African American History Month.
Octavia Butler, the author who had me gesticulating so wildly, has won numerous awards for her literature, including the science fiction and fantasy genre awards, the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus, which she won for her novelette, Bloodchild, the story of relations between humans and an alien species, who protects humans and uses them for breeding on a preserve. Along with Bloodchild, I highly recommend Kindred, which does not fall into science fiction like most of her works.
Toni Morrison has won numerous awards for her novels, including the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon, the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the American Book Award for Beloved, and the 1996 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. The impact of her work was recognized with the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which President Obama awarded to Morrison in 2012. Her works also include The Bluest Eye, Sula, Home, Jazz, God Help the Child, and Paradise.
Alice Walker’s 1982 work, The Color Purple, won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The novel is about the lives of African American women living in the 1930s South. The Color Purple was also turned into a film starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Whoopi Goldberg, who won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.
Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for Fiction for her 2011 novel, Salvage the Bones, which focuses on an African American family as they prepare for and deal with the consequences of Hurricane Katrina. Ward’s next novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, won the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction. In this novel, Ward centers her story on a family as they take a road trip to see the father who is being released from prison.
Colson Whitehead is the author of The Underground Railroad, winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Underground Railroad chronicles the story of Cora and Caesar, who flee from the Georgia plantation where they are slaves in the 1800s using the Underground Railroad, which is a subway in this alternative history novel.
Representative John Lewis chronicled the Civil Rights Movement as seen through his life in the March trilogy. The series of graphic novels, which Lewis wrote with Andrew Aydin and is illustrated by Nate Powell, begins with his life in rural Alabama and covers his meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., sit-ins at lunch counters in Nashville, the Freedom Riders, and culminates in the Selma to Montgomery marches and Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. March: Book Three won the Printz Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the National Book Award for Young People. It is the only graphic novel to win a National Book Award.
Discovering new books and authors can sometimes be overwhelming with a large number of titles being published each year, but I find that paying attention to book awards helps me to narrow my already large to-read list.
This article first appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.