Hundreds of authors, publishing industry notables and celebrities gathered to honor the best in African-American literature at the first-annual ESSENCE Literary Awards at New York City’s Parker Meridien hotel last night. Bestselling authors Terry McMillan and Rev. T.D. Jakes, model Alek Wek, director Melvin Van Peebles and actors Lynn Whitfield (The Josephine Baker Story), Victoria Rowell (The Young and The Restless) and Jamie Hector (The Wire) were among the attendees. The event was co-hosted by Hoda Kotb (The Today Show) and Dr. Ian Smith (Celebrity Fit Club.)
“So often the African-American literrati of the world are not acknowledged,” said Whitfield, a presenter at the gala, which will kick off ESSENCE’s “Save Our Libraries” campaign to benefit the Countee Cullen Regional Library in Harlem. “You have to be in the room tonight to see how exciting it is to honor our writers.”
The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to McMillan, who ascended to literary stardom creating African-American characters that illuminate the pivotal and dynamic roles that woman play in relationships. Her two most popular novels, Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, have sold more than six million copies.
“I don’t know where I would be without words and stories,” said McMillan who won ESSENCE’s first college-writing contest in 1974. “I’m humbled and honored to be acknowledged.”
McMillan is currently working on Getting To Happy, a follow-up to Waiting to Exhale, which will chronicle the lives of the four female characters fifteen years later.
“Terry’s phenomenal success proves that there is a huge audience of readers of African-American literature,” observed publishing matriarch and agent Marie Brown. “She’s opened publishing doors of opportunity for a new generation of African-American authors in every category.”
Rev. Jakes received The President’s Award for his faith-based, self-help work Reposition Yourself, Living Life Without Limits.
“Black literature has had an extraordinary affect on my life,” said Rev. Jakes. “I grew up listening to my mother quote Black poets and Black writers. That inspired me to have a deep appreciation for expressing my thoughts on paper.”
L.A. Banks won the Storyteller of the Year Award, which was voted on by Essence readers. Other winners included Margaret Cezair-Thompson, who received the Best Fiction Award for The Pirate’s Daughter, and Edwidge Danticat, who was honored with the Best Memoir Award for Brother I’m Dying.
ESSENCE LITERARY AWARD WINNERS
POETRY: Duende by Tracy K. Smith/Graywolf Press
CURRENT AFFAIRS: An Unbroken Agony by Randall Robinson/ Basic Civitas
PRESIDENT’S AWARD: Reposition Yourself by T.D. Jakes/Atria
PHOTOGRAPHY: Daufuskie Island by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe/University of South Carolina Press
CHILDREN’S BOOKS: Marvelous World by Troy Cle/Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing
SAVE OUR LIBRARIES: Countee Cullen Regional Library in Harlem
MEMOIR: Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat/Knopf
NON-FICTION: Supreme Discomfort by Michael Fletcher and Kevin Merida/Doubleday
INSPIRATION: Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy/Tyndale
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Terry McMillan
FICTION: The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson/Unbridled Books
STORYTELLER OF THE YEAR: L.A. Banks