Dave Eggers and Amiri Baraka are among more than a dozen winners of the 31st annual American Book Awards, which were announced on Thursday. The awards, first established by the Before Columbus Foundation in 1978, are given for literary works that cover "the entire spectrum of America's diverse literary community."
Baraka, an author, poet, playwright, and activist, was honored for Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music, published by the University of California Press. This is his second American Book Award. In 1984, he and his wife Amina Baraka were recognized for editing Confirmation: An Anthology of African-American Women (Morrow). Eggers was cited for Zeitoun (Vintage), a work of nonfiction set in post-Katrina New Orleans.
"The American Book Awards have always been to expand the whole literary awards tradition and system," says Baraka. "So that books that might not come up under the aegis of the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize...there is some recognition for other kinds of works. You're always happy at any sign that someone recognizes the work," he continues, "and it means a great deal to receive that kind of attention since a lot of times you receive negative attention."
Other award winners Thursday include Sesshu Foster's World Ball Notebook, published by City Lights Publishers, and Victor Lavalle's The Big Machine, published by Spiegel & Grau. The awards were established in part by author-poet-playwright Ishmael Reed. There is no cash prize.