Akhtar, Ehrenreich among winners of American Book Awards

Writer Ayad Akhtar sits in a chair.
Ayad Akhtar, winner of a 2021 American Book Award, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 2016, where his play “Disgraced” was performed.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Ayad Akhtar‘s acclaimed novel “Homeland Elegies,” Ben Ehrenreich’s environmental warning “Desert Notebooks” and an illustrated edition of the late William Melvin Kelley’s postmodern narrative “Dunfords Travels Everywheres” are among this year’s winners of American Book Awards for works that highlight the country’s diversity.

The awards are presented by the Before Columbus Foundation, a nonprofit established in 1976 by Ishmael Reed to promote and popularize multicultural literature.

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“The purpose of the awards is to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions,” the foundation said Monday. “There are no categories, no nominees, and therefore no losers. The award winners range from well-known and established writers to under-recognized authors and first works. There are no quotas for diversity, the winners list simply reflects it as a natural process.”

Others cited by the foundation include Johanna Fernández’s “The Young Lords: A Radical History,” Cathy Park Hong’s “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning,” Robert P. Jones’ “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity” and Carolyn Forché’s poetry collection “In the Lateness of the World.”

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Author and scholar Maryemma Graham, who in 1983 founded the Project on the History of Black Writing, was given a lifetime achievement award.