Michael Thomas Wins Impac Award But Questions Why

Novelist Michael Thomas. Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Novelist Michael Thomas. Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich

Brooklyn writer Michael Thomas recently won the Impac Dublin International Literary Award. He was nominated for his novel Man Gone Down by the National Library Service of Barbados.  He also beat out Pulitzer-winner Junot Diaz, among others.  If you don't know, Man Gone Down is this amazing, edgy piece of fiction that examines the life of a brilliant African-American man who reaches a point in his life when he's not living up to his promising youth and fears he'll slip back to alcoholism and poverty.   So here's the deal: in today's NY Times Larry Rohter pens an article about Thomas and his win.  In the article Thomas admits he's suspect of his recent accolade.  Thomas isn't convinced his win was inspired by the pure celebration of talent.  He wonders if his award was inspired by the fact that Obama, a black man, is in the White House and everybody and their Cousin Bettie Lou is interested in celebrating black.


I understand Thomas' sentiment. Often black artists are singled out to fill the "black slot". More often than not the work selected for the slot is mediocre and subpar.  And many times were celebrated for being a noble savage or a survivor of extremes like slavery or war or abusive fathers.  However, even if Thomas was chosen for the Impac Award to fill some "slot", the selection jury has grandiose taste.  Man Gone Down is an amazing first novel.  But I do wonder if there's a time when we're not celebrated for the trendiness of being black.


Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.