McKinney-Whetstone, French win 2005 BCALA Literary Awards

Contacts: John S. Page

BCALA Literary Awards Committee

(202) 274-6030

For Immediate Release

January 18, 2005

McKinney-Whetstone, French win 2005 BCALA Literary Awards

BOSTON - The Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) today announced Diane McKinney-Whetstone as the winner of the 2005 BCALA Literary Award for fiction, and Howard French as the winner for nonfiction. The announcement came as part of the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Boston, January 14-19.

The awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African American authors published in 2004, including the work of a first novelist, and a citation for Outstanding Contribution to Publishing. The recipients will receive the awards during the 2005 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, June 23-29.

McKinney-Whetstone won for her book, "Leaving Cecil Street" (William Morrow). Three fiction honor book winners also were selected: "Robbing Peter," by Kia DuPree (Prism Pages), "Some People, Some Other Place" by J. California Cooper, (Doubleday) and "The Blackbird Papers" by Ian Smith (Doubleday).

Set in the late 1960s at the onset of a new era in African American consciousness, "Leaving Cecil Street" tells the memorable story of a working-class family in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Burgeoning friendships, disintegrating family bonds and frustrated ambitions intertwine to weave a tale rife with complexity. The author's well-defined characters and evocative settings make this work all the more compelling. McKinney-Whetstone teaches fiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Debut novel "Robbing Peter" is a heartbreaking story of three families united by fatherlessness, unconditional love and hard lessons learned. The setting is a graphic depiction of reality in urban life that emotionally follows the lives of three women from different walks of life. A twist at the end connects them all. DuPree is a native Washingtonian who teaches English at Hampton University.

"Some People, Some Other Place," tells the story of Eula Too from the omniscient perspective of her unborn child. In Eula's pursuit of a third-generation dream of a life in Chicago, she is raped, beaten and left by the road only to be rescued, befriended and employed by a rich proprietor of an upscale brothel. Cooper examines themes of loyalty, class division, friendship and narcissistic manipulation by weaving a marvelous story of several families who end up on Dream Street. Cooper resides in California.

"The Blackbird Papers" is an intriguing and suspenseful debut novel. Intertwining themes of racism, hate crimes, academic elitism and natural deception are unraveled as FBI agent Sterling Bledsoe delves into the mystery of his brother's death. Dr. Smith lives in New York City.

French led the nonfiction category with "A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa" (Alfred A. Knopf). Two Honor Book winners also were selected: "Wrestling With the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press" by Melba Joyce Boyd (Columbia University Press), and "Black Titan: A. G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire" (One World) by Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner.

"A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa" is a poignant and compassionate description of the natural phenomena and political policies that have set the stage for both tragedy and triumph on the continent. French's astute commentary and deep knowledge of Africa's history provide readers with a better understanding of Africa's injustices while highlighting the extraordinary efforts of political leaders and ordinary citizens to rise above them. A native of Washington, D.C., French currently lives in Shanghai.

"Wrestling With the Muse" is a thorough and well-written biography of a poet, civil rights activist, librarian - Broadside Press founder and publisher Dudley Randall. Boyd, who was privy to Randall's dreams, successes, shortcomings and bouts of depression, intermingles Randall's poetry with various events in his life. Randall chose Boyd to write his biography prior to his death. She is a professor of Africana Studies at Wayne State University.

In "Black Titan," Gaston's nieces Jenkins and Hines chronicle the life of this savvy businessman and self-made millionaire. In addition to describing Gaston's successful ventures, the book highlights his warmth and generosity to his business associates and colleagues to encourage the achievement of financial success. Gaston, who died at the age of 103, was one of the wealthiest Black men in America. Jenkins lives in Winchester, Va., and her daughter, Hines, lives in New York City.

The recipient of the First Novelist Award is Delores Phillips for "The Darkest Child" (Soho). This debut novel explores one Black family's oppressive situation in a small Georgia town in 1958. Poverty, killings, injuries and child abuse at the hands of the mother are some of the cruelties the family endures. Tangy Mae, the darkest-skinned child in a family of 10 children, dreams of getting an education and leaving Georgia. This intense work graphically depicts an unimaginable familial existence. Delores Phillips is employed as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital in Cleveland.

For excellence in scholarship, the BCALA Literary Awards Committee presents the Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation to Lucy Anne Hurston and the estate of Zora Neale Hurston for "Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston" (Doubleday). This thorough and unique biography of the great writer is complete with transcripts of some of her works, as well as a CD featuring excerpts from interviews and folk songs sung by Hurston. The work outlines the author's strength, hardships and adversities throughout her life, showing evidence of her pioneering and adventurous spirit. Lucy Anne Hurston, Zora's niece, lives in Bloomfield, Conn., and teaches sociology at Manchester Community College. The Zora Neale Hurston estate is in New York City.

Members of the BCALA Literary Awards Jury are: Chair John S. Page, University of the District of Columbia; Vice-Chair Virginia Dowsing Toliver, Washington University; Gladys Smiley Bell, Hampton University; Tracie D. Hall, ALA Office for Diversity and the Spectrum Initiative; Phyllis W. Jackson, Georgia Perimeter College, Decatur Campus; Karen Lemmons, Howe Elementary School; and Joel White, Forsyth (N.C.) County Public Library.

For more information on the BCALA Literary Awards, please visit