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October 20, 2020

Recognizing important literary accomplishments

By Lauren Scribi

On Thursday, October 15, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute joined the Museum of African American History and the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation to present the first-ever virtual edition of the MAAH Stone Book Award. Now in its third year, the Award is an annual prize that encourages scholarship and writing in African American literature by awarding a $25,000 prize and two $5,000 finalist prizes for exceptional adult non-fiction written in a literary style.

The MAAH Stone Book Award is intended to recognize new literary work in the field of African American history and culture, foster community engagement and dialogue centered around a widely accessible new literary work, and celebrate the history of the successful abolitionist movement that began in Boston and the unity between races that it exemplified and fostered. Hosted by Callie Crossley, host of GBH’s Under the Radar, this year’s program celebrated three incredible authors for their unveiling and articulation of the historical and cultural stories of the African American experience.

The first finalist for the 2020 MAAH Stone Book Award, awarded $5,000, is Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Her 2019 publication, “Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership,” uncovers how exploitative real estate practices continued well after housing discrimination was banned. It was longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award, and a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in History. Speaking on her nomination, Taylor said “I’m appreciative for the recognition of what this book had on the history that has been brought to light and the historical roots to the kind of inequality that continue to plague our society. I hope that the understanding of the longevity of these kinds of inequality can inform the struggles to uproot it.”

The second 2020 finalist, also awarded $5,000, is Tiffany Lethabo King, Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Georgia State University. King’s 2019 publication, “The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies,” conceptualizes the shoal –– an offshore geologic formation that is neither land nor sea –– as a space where Black and Native literary traditions, politics, theory, critique, and art meet in productive, shifting, and contentious ways. Praised by Darryl Barthé, Ethics & Racial Studies professor at Berkeley College, as “a masterful mix of precision and sensitivity in describing the historical Native anti-blackness as well as the historical cooperation between Africans and the European settlers,” “The Black Sholes” offer insights into understanding how slavery, anti-Blackness, and Indigenous genocide structure white supremacy.

“It’s fitting that my book’s first substantive chapter opens with the 2015 defacing of the [Christopher] Columbus statue located on the waterfront in the North End of Boston,” reflected King during the event. “The defacing of –– and specifically the timing of –– the statute with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ in 2015 and the recent 2020 beheading of the statute this past June by American Indian activists during rebellions that followed the murder of George Floyd are examples of the centuries of abolitionists’ struggle that ‘The Black Shoals’ is meant to honor. Black and Indigenous people’s struggles in Boston and globally enforce the energy of my book.”

The winner of the MAAH Stone Book Award and its $25,000 prize is Jelani M. Favors, Associate Professor of History at Clayton State University. Favors’s newest book, “Shelter in a Time of Storm: How Black Colleges Fostered Generations of Leadership and Activism,” offers a chronicling of historically Black college and universities from the 1837 founding of Cheyney State University to the present, told through the lens of how they fostered student activism. “Shelter in a Time of Storm” has also won the 2020 Lillian Smith Book Award and was one of five finalists for the 2020 Pauli Murray Award.

“As I began that process of research and looking into the stories of Black colleges, one of the things that clearly stood out was that beyond Latin, beyond Greek, beyond math and sciences, there was a burgeoning building curriculum that was filled with race consciousness, idealism, a cultural nationalist. I defined it as the ‘second curriculum,’” said Favors, of “Shelter in a Time of Storm.” “When you look at all three components of that curriculum, they very much explain how these institutions became incubators, beginning in 1837 with the founding of Institute for Colored Youth, all the way through the 20th century, and even to this present day. They became incubators for the politicization of Black youth.”

At the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, we believe that inspiring the next generation of citizens and leaders to engage in their civic life starts with encouraging participation in our communities and invigorating civil discourse. The MAAH Stone Book Award is a prime example of the benefits of lifting historically suppressed voices, celebrating their work, and reflecting on their interpretation of both history as well as modern society. We are thankful for the Museum of African American History and the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation for letting us join in this important celebration. A recording of the 2020 MAAH Stone Book Award can be found here. To view more future events from the Kennedy Institute, visit the upcoming programs page here.

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, civic education organization in Boston envisioned by the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Through a range of exhibits, interactive educational offerings, and topical programs, the Institute engages students and visitors in a conversation about the essential role each person plays in our democracy and in our society.