KC Public Library and Missouri universities announce new literary award

Maya Angelou Award announced at Writers for Readers event // Photo courtesy Talia Evans

On Oct. 29, the Maya Angelou Book Award was announced at the annual Writers for Readers presentation, an online event hosted by the Kansas City Public Library and the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. This new literary award is dedicated to recognizing notable authors and new releases of American fiction and poetry centered on social justice and inclusion. Established by the Kansas City Public Library, UMKC, and five other Missouri universities, its inaugural winner will be selected and announced in November 2021. The award also includes a $10,000 stipend.

Joining the Library, creative partners include UMKC, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri State University, Northwest Missouri State, Truman State, and Southeast Missouri State universities. Winning authors and poets will do a reading tour of the partnering educational institutions for two weeks of the fall semester.

The prize’s namesake, Maya Angelou, was a St. Louis-born memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist. The Pulitzer Prize finalist and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom passed away in 2014.

“I’m honored by it, and I know that she would be, too. This is the kind of award she would have held close to her heart,” Angelou’s son, Guy Bailey Johnson, says. “Anytime people devote thought to being creative in the name of justice, it’s good work. We need that human sensitivity and involvement at this time more than we have in many years.”

Library director John Herron adds, “Our country has long struggled with social equity and justice, difficult issues so eloquently illustrated in Maya Angelou’s prose and poetry. Many contemporary writers and poets are now adding their voices to hers, lending invaluable context, understanding, and vision. The best, most impactful of those works should be recognized.”

Herron continued that through this award, “we are doing just that.”

The literary award will alternate between being presented to an American fiction writer and poet. It will start with a poet in 2021.

Selections will be made based on literary merit, significance, and inclusion.

The 14-person selection committee consists of members from the partnering universities and the Library. Three finalists will be selected and an external judge will choose the winner.

The first recipient will be announced at the next Writers for Readers event in November 2021.
Overseeing the award are Whitney Terrell, an associate professor of English at UMKC; Phong Nguyen, an English professor and director of creative writing at the University of Missouri-Columbia; Carrie Coogan, the Library’s deputy director for public affairs and community engagement; and Kaite Stover, the Library’s director of readers’ services.

Categories: Culture