New Chapters In the Story of Africa's People Are Honored

By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 3, 2007

Edward P. Jones added to his long list of honors last night, winning the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the fiction category for his story collection, "All Aunt Hagar's Children."

Jones wasn't able to attend the award ceremony at the National Press Club. Bryan Christian, marketing director for Jones's publisher, HarperCollins, accepted the award for the somewhat reclusive Washington writer, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his novel "The Known World." Christian drew laughter and applause when he summed up Jones's probable reaction to the news.

"For those of you who know Edward," Christian said, "he would be thrilled as much as Edward is able to be thrilled."

Aminatta Forna won the debut fiction category for "Ancestor Stones." It tells the story of an African woman living in England (as Forna does) who returns to her native country. There she encounters four aunts whose lives reveal the complex history of her family and her childhood home.

"Sometimes a country loses its way," Forna said. "My country of Sierra Leone was one such country. Of the many things that fall to writers, I think that chronicling and understanding how that happens is one of them."

Forna went on to thank her father, "who was a political prisoner in Sierra Leone in the 1970s and who was executed in 1975." She dedicated her award "to the people of Sierra Leone -- to those who died in the civil war and to those who survived."

Wangari Maathai, who in 2004 became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, won the nonfiction award for her memoir, "Unbowed." The book tells of Maathai's struggle to found the Green Belt movement, a grass-roots attempt to reverse environmental destruction in Kenya.

Maathai -- who is now Kenya's deputy minister for the environment, natural resources and wildlife -- also was unable to attend last night. The judges said that her book should make her feel "warrior proud."

The poetry award went to Patricia Smith for "Teahouse of the Almighty."

The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation initiated the Legacy Awards in 2002. Borders Books and Music has sponsored them from the beginning.

"There was a void in terms of literary recognition that came directly from the black writing community," Marita Golden, the foundation's president and co-founder, said yesterday. "We started to fill that void."

The awards are open to all published writers of African descent. Golden said she was especially pleased at their international flavor.

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