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Claire Hartfield, Ekua Holmes win 2019 Coretta Scott King Book Awards

CHARLESTON CHRONICLE — Claire Hartfield and Ekua Holmes are the winners of the 2019 Coretta Scott King Book Awards.



The Charleston Chronicle

Claire Hartfield, author of “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919,” and Ekua Holmes, illustrator of “The Stuff of Stars,” are the winners of the 2019 Coretta Scott King Book Awards honoring African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults. Tiffany D. Jackson, author of “Monday’s Not Coming,” and Oge Mora, illustrator of “Thank You, Omu!” are the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent winners. The awards were announced today at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits, held Jan. 25-29, 2019, in Seattle, Washington and will be presented in Washington, D.C. at the ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition in June.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. Presented annually by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee of the ALA’s Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT), the awards encourage the artistic expression of the African American experience via literature and the graphic arts; promote an understanding and appreciation of the Black culture and experience, and commemorate the life and legacy of Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination in supporting the work of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for peace and world brotherhood.

“A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919,” published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is a meticulously researched exposition of the socio-economic landscape and racial tensions that led to the death of a black teen who wanted to swim, and the violent clash that resulted. In 20 chapters, Hartfield’s balanced, eye-opening account contextualizes a range of social justice issues that persist to this day.

Claire Hartfield, a lifelong Chicago resident, published her debut novel, “Me and Uncle Romie” (Dial Books), which received national honors in 2002. Hartfield’s second book, “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919” (Clarion), tells the story of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. She is particularly interested in writing about people and events.

“Hartfield’s nuanced account of unrest between African Americans and white European immigrants in early 20th century Chicago fills a much-needed gap in the children’s literature world,” said Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury Chair Sam Bloom.

In “The Stuff of Stars,” written by Marion Dane Bauer and published by Candlewick Press, illustrator Ekua Holmes uses hand marbled paper and collage to create a lush explosion of color that brings to life the formation of the universe while distinctly reflecting the essence of the African diaspora.

“Using oceanic waves of color, Holmes employs her trademark aesthetic to carry this creation story to its stunning crescendo,” said Bloom.

Ekua Holmes is a native of Roxbury, Massachusetts and a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The recipient of several children’s awards, Holmes received the 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for “Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets”; and a Caldecott Honor, Robert F. Sibert Honor, John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, and Boston Globe-Horn Book Non-fiction Honor for “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement.”

The Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent affirms new talent and offers visibility for excellence in writing and/or illustration at the beginning of a career as a published African American creator of children’s books. This year’s winners are Tiffany D. Jackson, author of “Monday’s Not Coming,” published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, and Oge Mora, illustrator of “Thank You, Omu!” published by Little, Brown Young Readers.

In the timely thriller “Monday’s Not Coming,” Jackson examines friendship, child abuse, and family relationships. In alternating chapters, the reader is immediately pulled into the angst that Claudia feels as she struggles to piece together this fragmented tale that concludes with a mind-blowing resolution of Monday’s disappearance.

“Thank You, Omu!” is a fresh take on a timeless tale of altruism and community-mindedness. Mora’s collage work is skillfully pieced together with acrylic, marker, pastels, patterned paper, and old book clippings, creating a visual smorgasbord. Mora brings to life an amalgamation of many grandmothers and captures the African spirit of generosity and community.

Three King Author Honor Books were selected:

“Finding Langston” by Lesa Cline-Ransome, published by Holiday House; “The Parker inheritance” by Varian Johnson, published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.; and “The season of Styx Malone” by Kekla Magoon, published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Three Illustrator Honor Books were selected:

“Hidden Figures” illustrated by Laura Freeman, written by Margot Lee Shetterly, and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers; “Let the children march” illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Monica Clark-Robinson, and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company; and “Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop” illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Alice Faye Duncan, and published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights.

Members of the 2019 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury are: Chair Sam Bloom, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County; Jessica Anne Bratt, Grand Rapids (Mich.) Public Library; Irene L. Briggs, Retired, Silver Spring, Md.; LaKeshia Darden, Campbell University, N.C.; Jason Miles Driver, Sr., Chicago Public Library; Dr. Sujin Bernadette Huggins, Dominican University, River Forest, Ill.; and Christina Vortia, HypeLit, Land O’Lakes, Fla.

For information on the Coretta Scott King Book Awards and other ALA Youth Media Awards, visit

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle

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COMMENTARY: Telling Our Family Stories Keeps Black History Alive

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of our favorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.



Dr. Margaret Fortune, Fortune School, University of Southern California (USC), football, USC marching band, marching bands, drumline, public charter school, Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School, family stories, life in the Carolinas, parents, grandparents, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, children’s book, Rex and the Band, grandma, Dr. Rex Fortune, retired public school superintendent, little Rex, spirited young boy, high-energy marching band, North Carolina A&T football games, sister’s beautifully illustrated book, Telling our family stories, African Americans, history, Griots, storytellers, grandparents, ancestors, passed on, Black press, clearinghouse, many stories, Black community, Ebony Jr., elementary school student, high school, Sacramento Observer newspaper, Cocoa Kids Books, engaging, authentic, uplifting, inspiring
Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

Let’s Talk Black Education

By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO Fortune School

When we were kids, my dad would take us to football games at the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t care much for football, but I loved it when we’d stay after the game to hear the USC marching band play. His love for marching bands is why we have a drumline at the public charter school I founded and named after my parents — Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of ourfavorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

As the story goes, one day back in 1947, my grandma sent little Rex to the corner store to get some eggs so she could bake a cake. My dad bought the eggs and put them in his pockets. On the walk home, he encountered a marching band high-steppin’ down the dusty road to his mother’s house. Little Rex got so excited that he followed the band, beating on his legs like drums all the way home and, yes, breaking all the eggs.

“Rex and the Band” explores a day in the life of Rex, a spirited young boy who dreams of one day playing in a high-energy marching band like the ones he enjoys watching with his father during North Carolina A&T football games.

Reading my sister’s beautifully illustrated book, I cried tears of joy. Telling our family stories is such an important way for African Americans to keep our history alive. Griots, or storytellers, are the reason why we know the truths that we do know about our family history and ancestors.

I believe all of us can think back to when our grandparents would tell us stories about our ancestors who may have passed on before we were born. It was their way of making sure our stories were not only told but preserved.

The Black press has been the clearinghouse for many stories that have impacted the Black community over time. My sister published her first poem in Ebony Jr. as an elementary school student and then in high school she interned at the Sacramento Observer newspaper.

Gwen founded Cocoa Kids Books to publish books like “Rex and the Band” that encourage Black children to dream, aspire for more, and soar because they see themselves reflected in stories that are engaging, authentic, uplifting, and inspiring. I’m so proud of my big sis! You can buy Gwen’s book at

Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

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New Documentary Unveils Pauli Murray, Little-Known Civil Rights Activist, Feminist

I’ll admit it; I was not familiar with Pauli Murray.  Honestly, Murray’s extraordinary accomplishments in the years before and after the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement are history lessons many of us didn’t know, until now.



Pauli Murray/ Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

I’ll admit it; I was not familiar with Pauli Murray.  Honestly, Murray’s extraordinary accomplishments in the years before and after the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement are history lessons many of us didn’t know, until now.

An accessible compilation of mixed media running 91 minutes, “My Name Is Pauli Murray” unearths a revealing journey of extraordinary feats that pre-date the heralded stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.  Pauli Murray knew intimately what it meant to live a life that was out of sync—when even language wasn’t sufficient to define or describe a journey. 

Lawyer, professor, poet, and Episcopal priest, Murray was an iconoclast who pushed against the limits—both the conventional and strict legislation and the narrow thinking around issues of race and gender equity. The struggle wasn’t abstract: Murray’s own life —as an African American intellectual whose gender identity felt fluid —personified it. 

Born in 1910, in Baltimore, Md., Pauli was taken in at 3 years old by the maternal wing of the family following the sudden death of Pauli’s mother. Embraced by loving grandparents and two aunts—Pauline and Sarah—Pauli exhibited a proficiency in reading and critical thinking, assessing, early on, the vast discrepancies in conditions African-American families lived in as compared to their white counterparts. Murray’s formative years were spent in a segregated North Carolina where she was among the first to integrate classrooms, courtrooms and conferences to sit alongside the world’s most influential powerbrokers. 

That gulf of injustice settled deep inside. A visionary, Pauli Murray understood that the same arguments employed to assail Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial discrimination could be made to attack gender inequity — and, consequently, these pivotal insights became a professional signature. 

Confidante to President Franklin D. Rooselevelt’s wife Eleanor and  an inspiration to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who cites Murray in her first Supreme Court brief regarding the Equal Protection Clause), Pauli frequently stood in close proximity to power. 

Rejected by the University of North Carolina for being Black, and arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus, Pauli didn’t dodge conflict, even if there was no precedent or model. Yet, there’s often an excruciating price paid for being “ahead of one’s time.” 

Richly recounted in Pauli’s own voice—with archival audio drawn from intimate oral histories and interviews dating back to the 1970s — Pauli’s timely story is augmented by testimonies from a host of contemporary thinkers, educators, and present-day civil rights activists and there are many parallels to today’s ongoing struggle for racial and gender equality.

Murray’s story, artfully told, with the help of editor (pronounced syn-quay) Northern, a former Bay Area resident, and filmmakers Betty West, Julie Cohen, and Talleah Bridges. The film is showing at theaters now from Amazon Studios and releases on Prime video on October 1.

Northern is an artist, filmmaker, and editor who’s been working in documentary for over 18 years. He has edited numerous projects for PBS including “America by the Numbers” featuring Maria Hinojosa and “Your Voice Your Story.” He also spent 10 years working as a lead editor for Stanley Nelson’s Firelight Media (“Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,” “Black Panthers”). To date, he has over a dozen short films on permanent display at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, along with the 2021 documentary, “The One and Only Dick Gregory.”

I spoke with Cinque Northern about this absorbing retelling of Pauli Murray (b.1910-d.1985). Please see the link to a portion of our conversation below.

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Poet James Cagney on Closure, Reckoning’s Limits, and What’s Next

Oakland poet James Cagney was 19 when he asked his mother “Are you really my mother?” Her answer changed his life forever. He learned he was adopted, that his birth parents, who already had seven children, couldn’t afford to raise him. 



James Cagney/Photo Courtesy of Zack Haber

Oakland poet James Cagney was 19 when he asked his mother “Are you really my mother?” Her answer changed his life forever. He learned he was adopted, that his birth parents, who already had seven children, couldn’t afford to raise him. 

As a baby, Cagney had been given to an older couple who raised him. His adoptive mother had been his birth mother’s teacher in cosmetology school. The women knew each other well, but Cagney never knew his birth family as a child.

Cagney grew up as an only child in North Oakland and forged a close, loving relationship with his mother. But things were different with the man who raised him. While Cagney has emphasized that his father wasn’t abusive, his parenting was passive and detached. In his poem “Someone Else’s Child,” Cagney asks “Did you ever hold me as a baby?” to which his father answers “Naw. ‘fraid I’d drop you. ‘sides. You were someone/else’s child.”

After learning about his adoption, Cagney’s life would become even more turbulent in about the next dozen years. During that time, the parents who raised him died. Then there was the literal earth shaking, the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, contributed to him losing the home he grew up in, and he became homeless.

He bounced around as a guest in friend’s homes, lived in an SRO, and most notably, lived with his birth mother in Sacramento for about two years. He forged complex, difficult, but ultimately rewarding and loving relationships with much of his birth family, but he never got to meet his birth father, who died before Cagney even knew he existed.

He began penning deeply autobiographical poetry about his familial experiences. It would take him about 20 years to write and collect this poetry into his first book, “Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory.” He was 50 when the Oakland-based Nomadic Press published it in 2018.

Since then, he’s become a celebrated and widely read poet. “Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory” sold out of its first print run and Nomadic Press just reissued it in a second printing with a new foreward and introduction. His next book, “Martian: The Saint of Loneliness,” just won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Nomadic Press will publish it fall of 2022.

I talked with Cagney, now 53 and living in East Oakland, about his experience writing and publishing “Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory.” We also talked a little bit about “Martian: The Saint of Loneliness,” which, in taking a turn away from autobiography, expands his poetics. I edited our conversation for readability and brevity.

Zack: It’s been over three years since “Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory” was published. How has the book’s publication and its reception affected your process of dealing with the difficult experiences the book addresses?

Cagney: More than anything it allowed me closure. Up until the time I decided to publish all that material, I was feeling that my story was so personal it didn’t feel like it was necessary or a goal to share it. I didn’t think a lot of other people would have empathy for my sort of weird, broken family thing. I didn’t feel like my story had enough drama to attract a lot of attention. My family was not nasty. I mention alcoholism in the book but it’s not like my father was a maniac. I was very fortunate and blessed. So, the book was mostly just me trying to sort out my own identity in the wake of all that confusing craziness.

I decided to publish the book just to provide what I would have liked to have seen in the world when I was younger. I wanted to communicate to people who have had similar weird family experiences. I also wanted to acknowledge the love and respect a lot of people in the poetry community have paid me over the years. Many people have been very respectful and responsive to the poems that I’ve done. And especially with the proximity and the newness of Nomadic Press, I decided to go forward, publish all that stuff, and just get it out of my head.

The most important part was claiming space for myself in poetry by validating my own life through these pieces that represented who I was and where I came from. I gambled on the love other people had shared with me by sending it out into the world to see what would happen.

But to be honest, Zack, nothing has shifted (laughter) because especially with the pandemic and being under house arrest for a year, the alienation has never gone away. When I think of the disconnection that made the poems exist, I guess I could confess to you that feeling persists. I’ve just gotten used to the weight and tension of it. It’s sort of like walking a dog that wants to pull you as opposed to walk with you is what my issues feel like sometimes. I still feel like I’m wrestling and settling with that.

I wish I could tell you something has changed, or a new sun has risen over a different land. But the way I felt writing those poems, I unfortunately still feel that way. I just feel a little bit better about it. I feel I’ve matured with it. I feel I’ve accepted more of it instead of fighting and whining against the way things just happen to be. I also feel really grateful for the response the book has gotten. I feel good closing a particular chapter of my life. I guess that book represents the first third of my life: my childhood and early adulthood. What that book does is validate I was here, and I survived. And maybe that’s enough.

Zack: To me, Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory reads like poetic autobiography in the present tense by continually addressing the past as it relates to the now. But since the book took about 20 years to write, you and that now shift dramatically in different poems. What does 20 years do? How did that duration affect how the book took shape?

Cagney: It’s interesting for me to take a look at the book as a whole and see the poems that were started in the mid-’90s and poems that I wrote in the year before it got published, to see that conversation and growth. I guess those are like two different Jameses. The earlier James was still trying to figure things out and was maybe overwriting and working too hard to create poetic images and stuff like that. When I was in high school, I studied journalism and almost took that up as a career. What that platform gave me, in those early years, was a sense of trying to interrogate the truth as I had been taught to find it through journalism to then create a structure and framework for that truth that I was gradually learning from open mics and reading books. The more current James has been introduced to experimentation and gotten the point of compression. I push the story into a smaller space and am able to be more experimental by making strange, unusual decisions; and I don’t feel I have to be so strict with the truth.

The book represents a serious, huge growth period for me as much as it does negotiating of family. I can see the old and new James in conversation and trying to balance themselves. It’s finding a balance between my older mindse,t which is more much raw in trying to figure myself out and what poetry is and can do, and now me, many years later, having gone through this process of family and identity and poetry and applying much stricter edits and purpose in the kind of poems I’m trying to create.

Often “Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory” feels palpably unresolved to me, like the pain of holding one’s breath. I like that because it helps me relate to what’s happening in the book, which often seems to be about not being able to find peace or finding incomplete peace. It makes me curious about your forthcoming book, “Martian: The Saint of Loneliness.” Is that book a continuation of the themes of its predecessor? How is it different from its predecessor? What would you like to share with readers about it?

I told my editor, Michaela Mullin, who worked on both books, that “Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory” is who I am, and “Martian: The Saint of Loneliness” represents what I do as a poet. There are themes in “Martian” that absolutely converse with what happens in the first book, but this collection is very different. I guess I just wanted to get all my biographical stuff out of the way in “Black Steel Magnolias”In “Martian,” I address a lot of race issues, the history of America, Black Lives Matter, as well as love poems and meditations on my feelings of isolation nonetheless.

Part of the image I’m looking at for “Martian” is that there’s a lot of families who have lost people to gun violence and racial violence. We often call the names and talk about those who are lost. One thing the book does, in an indirect way, is it pays attention to the people who are still here and have to hold that loss. What questions would you have for Trayvon Martin’s best friend? What is the story of the feelings people have about the disappearance that their friend or brother or sister leaves after being murdered by police or dying through COVID?

I’m familiar with grief from the last book. Maybe this next book tries to look into the hole that grief has left and ask: what do we do now with this space, this darkness, with what’s left by this person’s invisibility? What happens now?


The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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