Duke University Press Books Win Awards

Competition Honors African-American Writers
Two Duke University Press books have won top honors in the 2003 Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards.

The authors of the nonfiction books, both of which were published under the John Hope Franklin Center imprint, were honored at an Oct. 11 ceremony in Washington, DC.

First prize in the Non-Fiction category went to Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies by Elizabeth McHenry, an assistant professor of English at New York University. Passed On: African American Mourning Stories, A Memorial, by Karla FC Holloway, dean of humanities and social sciences at Duke University, was a finalist.

The winner receives $10,000 and finalists are awarded $5,000 in three categories: fiction, debut fiction and nonfiction.

McHenry’s book traces 200 years of African-American literacy, book clubs and literary societies, including groups founded in the antebellum North and by African Americans throughout the country following the Civil War. These societies provided a safe haven in which to voice opinions, encouraged public speaking and reading aloud, and promoted the sharing of ideas.

McHenry said she was pleased that Holloway’s book was one of the finalists because McHenry met Holloway and Duke Press Editor-in-Chief Ken Wissoker while at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park. She finished writing her book during her stay there in 1998 and 1999.

Holloway said she was honored to receive the award.

“I’m just absolutely thrilled,” Holloway said. “I talk about both Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright in the book. It was an especially thoughtful moment for me.”

“Passed On,” which also won the 2002 Eugene M. Kayden Book Award, deals with the death of Holloway’s son and also examines bereavement, death, dying and burial in 20th-century African America. Holloway used interviews, archival research and analyses of literature, film and music to examine African Americans’ vulnerability to untimely death and their response to it.

Wissoker edited both of the books.

“It feels especially good because of that connection,” McHenry said. She said she also was gratified to see that a scholarly book such as hers could win such an award.

“I felt like the topic had real interest beyond the academy,” she said. “That’s a kind of scholarship that you strive for and are very rarely able to do successfully.”

The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation was established in 1990 by novelist Marita Golden. Its mission is to develop, nurture and sustain the world community of writers of African descent. The Hyattsville, Md., foundation presents monetary awards -- the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Hurston/Wright Award -- and a multi-genre summer writers' workshop for black writers, Hurston/Wright Writers' Week.

The imprint “John Hope Franklin Center Book” is bestowed on four books a year published by Duke University Press. Franklin Center Books exemplify the spirit and themes of the Duke University Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary & International Studies -- justice, race, equity, internationalism and interdisciplinarity.