The 2013 African American Literary Awards Show (AALAS) was held on Thursday, September 26, 2013, at Landmark on The Park in New York City. The setting was exquisite, the food was exceptional, and the warm greeting we received from Yvette Hayward, AALAS’ CEO and Founder, was extraordinary. Hayward greeted us at the door and introduced herself; she was genuinely interested in learning who we were, and making sure we felt comfortable and welcome.
My fiancé and I had the pleasure of sharing our table with several other women who flew in from Atlanta and North Carolina for the event. Halfway through the show, I introduced myself and found out that two of the women were L.D. Wells and Dr. Francene Breakfield. Their book, An Anthology of Sisterhood: 22 Shades of Red, was nominated in the Best in Short Stories/Anthologies category.
The evening’s host was CJ Miller of “The Ultimate Merger,” who was touted as an author, TV personality and motivational speaker. However, less than an hour into the ceremony, it became apparent that he lacked the personality to motivate the AALAS crowd. It seemed that CJ was more interested in satisfying his own agenda than he was about the nominees and the event as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, what he lacked in persona he more than made up for in appearance; but like Mama used to say, “Baby, you have to be more than just a pretty face.”
This was never more apparent as when an established author whom I have come to know, love and respect in the industry, K’wan Foye, was announced as the winner of Best Author of the Year – Male. As we all basked in his much-deserved win, and sat attentive and supportive as he delivered his very succinct and humble acceptance speech, we were all taken aback when he reached for the actual award and was informed—in front of the entire room—that a mistake had been made. He was not really the winner. In fact, the award went to Eric Jerome Dickey.
Needless to say, since CJ handled the situation without tact or regard for the feelings of others, many tempers flared, the presenter, Carol Mackey, was devastated and earnestly apologetic, and K’wan graciously stepped down. Nevertheless, the shift in the atmosphere was apparent.
As the show progressed, the crowd was now buzzing with accusations of favoritism and backdoor policies when author and publisher, Rahiem Brooks, decided to take a stand—literally. As J.M. Benjamin was called to the stage to accept his award for Best in Street Fiction, Brooks stormed out, but not before spewing a few choice words prior to his departure. Things continued to spiral downward from that point on.
While I applaud the incredible efforts put forth by Hayward and her team, I also expected that year nine would have been more fine-tuned. Perhaps they should follow in the footsteps of more successful award shows, and invest in winner envelopes to minimize mistakes and select hosts that are personable as well as attractive. A more orderly arrangement is required to have the flow of the show and the handing out of the awards go more smoothly, too.
I want to take time out to congratulate all of the nominees as well as the winners and commend you for your hard work and determination. You were all selected because in a sea of many, your work stood out. That in itself, is a feat many will never have the opportunity to experience.
A list of AALAS award winners is as follows:
Best African American Newspaper: Atlanta Tribune
Best Author of the Year – Female: Kimberla Lawson Roby
Best Author of the Year – Male: Eric Jerome Dickey
Best Book Club of the Year (Includes Online): Black Expressions
Best Comic Strip: Jerry Craft
Best Cookbook: Faith Knight
Best in Biography/Memoir: Cissy Houston
Best in Children’s Books/Young Adult: Kwame Alexander
Best in Christian Fiction: Victoria Christopher Murray
Best in Comedy: Pat G’orge Walker
Best in Erotica: Honey B
Best in Fiction: Eric Jerome Dickey
Best in Magazine (Literary): Black Pearl Magazine
Best in Magazine: Ebony
Best in Mystery: Walter Mosley
Best in Non-Fiction: Charles J. Jones
Best in Romance: Francis Ray
Best in Short Stories/Anthologies: ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Best in Street Fiction: J.M. Benjamin
Best Independent Publisher of the Year: Wahida Clark Presents
Best Literary Radio Show: From Cover 2 Cover
Best Publisher of the Year: Kensington
Best Self-Published Author of the Year: Tamika Newhouse
Blogger of the Year: Denene Milner
Break-Out Author of the Year: Michael F. Blake
Science Fiction: Stone Erickson
On a final and rather comical note, the AALAS should rethink their gift bag sponsors next year. I say this only because many were appalled when they opened their swag bag to find a roll of Luxury Toilet Tissue that goes by the name of Tushay. That may not be the best gift to give at an upscale event such as the AALAS.
At any rate, say what you want, but an award show is supposed to be entertaining and thanks to all the behind-the-scenes tomfoolery and program glitches, the AALAS was definitely that and so much more.
Forgive me if it appears I am bashing or condemning the AALAS, because I am not. I am giving an honest rundown of my experience from start to finish. My true feeling is that the African American Literary Award Show is a great vehicle to bring our voices further into the mainstream. I salute Yvette Hayward for her vision and applaud her continued determination to not only bring exposure and credibility to the event, but for acknowledging those authors who deserve the accolades and recognition.
Most award shows would have you believe there can only be one winner. That night I learned that true winners are not only those who take home the award, but those who keep striving to be the best they can be in their craft and remain steadfast in their calling no matter what the odds.
‘Til next year… Peace and Blessings, and please continue to support AA arts and each credible movement!