Toni Morrison would be proud. The Center for Fiction’s Annual Awards Benefit was dedicated to the memory of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, who died in August 2019. But the virtual event, emceed by comedian, author and Insecure co-star Yvonne Orji on Thursday night, also subtly celebrated Black voices, lives and creativity, as evidenced by several of the evening’s award recipients and presenters.
Publisher and editor Chris Jackson of One World, an imprint of Random House, was presented the Medal for Editorial Excellence by Ta-Nehisi Coates. And on the heels of the already-bestselling success of her first novel, Luster, author Raven Leilani earned the First Novel Prize, which recognizes the year’s best debut novel and is accompanied by a $15,000 monetary gift.
Author of The Good Lord Bird James McBride, together with the Showtime network, was honored with the On Screen Award for the miniseries of the same name.
“The metaphor of The Good Lord Bird is this—when you let something beautiful die, if it’s gorgeous and irreplaceable, it never comes back,” said McBride in his acceptance speech, according to a release provided to The Root. “Let’s banish the evil now, let’s not let it come back. Let’s let America be what it was supposed to be, and what we know in our hearts it truly is.”
Per the release, the evening was described as “a jubilee in celebration of the power of imagination and the will for social justice” by veteran publisher and editor and Center for Fiction Board Chair Erroll McDonald. The release also gave details about the benefit’s mission:
Funds raised during the Annual Awards Benefit will support the literary nonprofit’s mission to champion the universality and diversity of storytelling by bringing communities of readers and writers together through public author events and performances, awards and fellowships for early-career writers, and educational programs for students in under-resourced NYC public schools.