Hot in Harlem

IMAG1834What a weekend. Friday afternoon I traveled to NYC to attend the Phillis Wheatley Award ceremony. I met up with my wonderful friend and fellow illustrator, Taeeun Yoo earlier in the day for a great lunch at Cho Dang Gol of Stone Bowl Bibimbap and Dak Galbi. Next we took the 1 train to 125th street and walked 6 avenues over to Lenox Avenue. I had no idea the red line split in opposite directions and overshot us so far from our destination. Once we made it to Lenox and 125th, we walked 10 blocks to the Schomburg at 135th. It was well over 95 degrees on Friday, so needless to say, we were drenched. Please don’t ask me why I didn’t think to grab a cab or take the bus because I have no logical or reasonable answer to that.

Tae and I arrived just in time to hear the winners announced for the Young Adult Readers category. I sat in my seat anxiously awaiting the results and was thrilled to see The Diary of B. B. Bright flash onto the screen as this year’s winning book! I was so happy to be able to receive the award on behalf of the authors. To be clear, the Wheatley Awards are primarily to honor the writers of books for children. Though I was honored to be a part of the project, the award certainly belongs to Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams, the authors.

This was my first year attending the Harlem Book Fair and the Wheatley Awards Ceremony. The Wheatley’s were held at the Schomburg Center for Cultural Research, which is home to Aaron Douglas’s amazing series, Aspects of Negro Life. 

Aaron Douglas. Aspects of Negro Life. The Negro in an African Setting. Oil on canvas, 1934. The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division.

I was saddened because many of the authors who won that night had no representation. Taeeun and I both stared in awe when an award winner was announced and no one took the stage to receive the honor and give thanks. I understand that many people live out of state and can’t just hop on a bus to go to New York, but many of the publishers are in New York City and if the author or illustrator couldn’t be in attendance, at least a representative from the house could be there. On facebook and in close circles, people complain about the industry and how people don’t read anymore and don’t respect books, etc. etc. If we who create the work don’t celebrate it, how can we expect others to do so?


The winners who did receive their awards were more than gracious and it was a treat to hear them give thanks and talk about their journey to publication. I was glad to be a part of such a great evening. Though the emcee made a few unwelcome remarks, one being a joke about the difference between an author and a bucket of chicken (a bucket of chicken can feed a family) or maybe I was being too sensitive…overall the mood was celebratory. Many people approached me after the evening ended to sincerely congratulate me on the win.

The icing on the cake for me was seeing Sonia Sanchez receive the receive 1st Annual Sonia Sanchez ​Award in Poetry. I grew up knowing Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker. Sonia Sanchez never made it to my classrooms. But, as a black woman in America, how can you live a lifetime without knowing Sonia? My literary friends have shared her with me, but it wasn’t until seeing her fill the stage on Friday night that I understood who she really is…amazing. See for yourself.

 Congratulations to this year’s winners of the 2013 Phillis Wheatley Awards:


Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah by Patricia Smith
Tea Cakes for Toshby Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
The Diary of BB Bright: Possible Princess, written by Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams,
illustrated by Shadra Strickland
Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation by Deborah Davis (Winner)
by Deborah Davis
Gather at the Tableby Sharon Leslie Morgan and Thomas Morgan DeWolf
Love In A Carry-on Bag by Sadeqa Johnson
Antebellumby R. K. Thomas

Thank you to the NYPL and Harlem Book Fair for this prestigious honor.

IMAG1820On Saturday afternoon I spent the day at the Harlem Book Fair. Wade and Cheryl Hudson organized and sponsored the Children’s Book Pavilion where many fantastic authors and illustrators shared their work. Visit Wade Hudson’s page to see a few highlights. Special THANK YOU to recent MICA alumn, Dingding Hu for coming out to celebrate, my dear friends, The DeSouza’s for sheltering me for the night and, Araba S., creator of Asenya for spending the day with me at the fair and giving my feet a rest for a while at her home. I hope to see everyone again next year~