Very Smart Books: VSB's Damon Young Is a Thurber Prize Finalist, Brittney Cooper Scores 7-Book Scholastic Deal and Deesha Philyaw Wins the Story Prize

Damon Young, co-founder of Very Smart Brothas and author of 2019's What Doesn’t Kill you Makes You Blacker.
Damon Young, co-founder of Very Smart Brothas and author of 2019's What Doesn’t Kill you Makes You Blacker.
Photo: Laura Petrilla
It's Lit!It's Lit!Where all things literary live at The Root

Y’all already know that here at The Root, we like big books and we cannot lie. Accordingly, we love big book news from our extended family of writers and thought leaders—and the past few weeks have brought a few announcement that are, in a word, lit.

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First, The Root’s own Very Smart Brotha Damon Young has yet another reason to celebrate his 2019 “memoir in essays,” What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker. Having already been a finalist for an NAACP Image Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction, longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay and an NPR Best Book of the Year, Damon is now one of three 2020 finalists for the prestigious Thurber Prize for American Humor.

Illustration for article titled Very Smart Books: VSB's Damon Young Is a Thurber Prize Finalist, Brittney Cooper Scores 7-Book Scholastic Deal and Deesha Philyaw Wins the Story Prize
Screenshot: Thurber House (instagram)

Ever the humorist, Damon—who cryptically disclosed that he has more published works on the way, in addition to a podcast with Crooked Media—predictably gave us a chuckle when asked how he felt about his latest accolade. “When I first learned about this nomination, I felt like Tommy from Goodfellas,” he said. “I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny—funny how? How the fuck am I funny?’ But then I took some Lisinopril, and then I was happy.”

Another of our It’s Lit! faves, crunk feminist scholar, activist and bestselling author of Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, Dr. Brittney Cooper will soon be bringing her educational superpowers to the babies via a seven-book publishing deal with Scholastic. According to a press release provided to The Root, the global children’s publishing, education, and media company was the winner of a multi-publisher auction, ultimately inking a deal which will include “three picture books and a four-book middle grade series, all celebrating Cooper’s mission to empower Black and brown children to value their own strengths.”

“Brittney is a preeminent voice in today’s discussions of race, feminism, equity and inclusion,” said President and Publisher of Scholastic Trade Publishing Ellie Berger. “We are tremendously honored to become her children’s publishing home, and to amplify her voice for young readers.”

“I grew up going to Scholastic Book Fairs, and now I am thrilled to be a part of the Scholastic family,” said Cooper in a statement. “These books will continue my work of centering the voices and stories of Black women and girls for all age ranges. Black girls continue to be my freedom compass, and I could not be more thrilled to publish these stories that honor both their trials and triumphs.”

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Illustration for article titled Very Smart Books: VSB's Damon Young Is a Thurber Prize Finalist, Brittney Cooper Scores 7-Book Scholastic Deal and Deesha Philyaw Wins the Story Prize
Screenshot: Dr. Brittney Cooper (Instagram)

Released in tandem with Women’s History Month on March 1, 2022, the first of Cooper’s releases for Scholastic will be Stand Up: 10 Mighty Women Who Made a Change! Illustrated by acclaimed artist Cathy Ann Johnson, Stand Up! will share the stories of “10 revolutionary Black women who changed the world for the better,” including Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, Bree Newsome, and “Little Miss Flint” Mari Copeny. As described in the release: “Each heroic figure is interconnected by a united quest for equity, and offers young readers a stirring call to action, reminding them that they, too, are mighty and can be forces for change.”

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This debut will be followed by two more picture books, including Mama Says I’m Fine, “a celebration of her single mom’s unwavering love and faith in her.” In late 2022, The Bees will debut, “a middle-grade series celebrating Black girls and their friendships.”

“Brittney is an incredibly gifted writer of both fiction and non-fiction, dedicated to promoting self-esteem, strength and confidence in young people,” said Liza Baker, vice president and publisher of Cartwheel, Orchard, Acorn and Branches and the editor of Cooper’s upcoming picture books. “Arresting, honest, and authentic to her core, Brittney is one of the most exciting new voices in children’s books to come along in decades.”

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It may have been titled The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, but Deesha Philyaw’s short story collection was one of the breakout books of 2020, becoming a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction and a current finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. On Wednesday, the book garnered another well-deserved award, winning the Story Prize for Fiction (notably, Danielle EvansThe Office of Historical Corrections was also a finalist this year).

In keeping with our still-quarantined times, Philyaw accepted her award and $20,000 prize virtually, giving a reading and interview as part of a streamed ceremony. The videotaped ceremony is perhaps a fitting preamble to the next phase of Secret Lives; as previously reported by The Root, the book is now in development as an HBO series with Philyaw and Tessa Thompson executive producing.

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“This is a dream, but I didn’t even dream this,” said Philyaw in her acceptance speech Wednesday (h/t Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). “I never imagined that the book would receive this kind of attention and acclaim, and I’m really grateful for that.”

Illustration for article titled Very Smart Books: VSB's Damon Young Is a Thurber Prize Finalist, Brittney Cooper Scores 7-Book Scholastic Deal and Deesha Philyaw Wins the Story Prize
Screenshot: Deesha Philyaw (Instagram)

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

DISCUSSION

honkifyoulovebeermeb
HonkIfYouLoveBeer

Hell yeah! Damon better win this. Hollow Kingdom was awesome, but was a distant second place to WDKYMYB in my 2019 reading list. (And I don’t think I would have considered it “humor,” though there were some exceptionally funny parts.) The Dave Barry book was aight, he’s been doing the same schtick for like four decades; no shade, it just wasn’t breaking new ground for me. Damon on the other hand made me routinely laugh so hard on rush hour buses that I had to bite my hand.