English Faculty Member Wins National Literary Prize for Book on Henry Dumas

UNC Charlotte English professor Jeffrey Leak has won the top award for a nonfiction book from The Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc. for his critically acclaimed work, Visible Man: The Life of Henry Dumas (University of Georgia Press).

The 2015 BCALA Literary Awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction for adult audiences by African American authors published in 2014. The recipients will receive the awards during the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco in June 2015.

First presented at the Second National Conference of African American Librarians in 1994, the award recognizes authors who offer outstanding depictions of the cultural, historical or sociopolitical aspects of the Black Diaspora and embody the highest quality of writing style and research methodology, if applicable.

The awards seek to encourage the artistic expression of the African American experience via literature and scholarly research including biographical, historical and social history treatments by African Americans.

The nonfiction award honors cultural, historical, political, or social criticism or academic and/or professional research which significantly advances the body of knowledge currently associated with the people and the legacy of the Black Diaspora. Categories could include the humanities, science and technology, social and behavioral sciences and reference.

Leak’s book previously had won praise from a noted national writer for “shining a piercing light” on the elusive Dumas, who has remained a mystery even to fans of his work.

Jeffrey LeakThrough interviews with friends, family and writers who knew Dumas, along with unprecedented access to materials from the Dumas archives, Leak fully examined the author’s life and his writing. Leak is an associate professor of English and the director of the Center for the Study of the New South at UNC Charlotte.

“Visible Man enacts a straightforward deconstruction of the life and time of the poet and writer,” said Yusef Komunyakaa, Pulitizer Prize-winning author of books, poetry and other works, including Testimony, A Tribute to Charlie Parker.

“Leak shines a piercing light on the mystery of the artist who possessed ‘moments of brilliance’; the names and cities, the spiritual and intellectual quests, the poems and short stories, the facts, it all adds up, page by page,” Komunyakaa said. “The reader, who journeys all the crooked paths side by side with Dumas, isn’t surprised by his violent death. But still we are left saddened and disheartened by the man’s downfall and anguish, his inability to master promise, his demise on that subway platform in New York City, mainly because Leak’s blunt clarity has transported us to a place of reckoning where we are also left gazing into the collective mirror.”

Some of Leak’s research interests include 20th and 21st Century African American Novel, Gender and Cultural Studies, and Biography. Stemming from his interests, he has also written the book Racial Myths and Masculinity in African American Literature, and is the editor of Rac(e)ing to the Right: Selected Essays of George S. Schuyler. A native Charlottean, Leak earned his Ph.D. at Emory University.

The jury also named other winners.

  • The winner of the 1st Novelist Award is Forty Acres: A Thriller by Dwayne Alexander Smith (Atria Books).
  • The Fiction category winner is Citizens Creek: A Novel by Lalita Tademy (Atria Books).
  • The Honor Books for Fiction are Saint Monkey: A Novel by Jacinda Townsend (W. W. Norton & Company); ‘Til the Well Runs Dry: A Novel by Lauren Francis-Sharma (Henry Holt & Company); and Ruby by Cynthia Bond (Crown Publishing Group).
  • Honor Books for Nonfiction are Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland (Touchstone); Dorothy Porter Wesley at Howard University: Building a Legacy of Black History by Janet Sims-Wood (The History Press); and The Oxford Handbook of African American Theology, edited by Anthony B. Pinn and Katie G. Cannon (Oxford University Press).
  • The winner for BCALA’s Best Poetry Award is Books of Hours: Poems by Kevin Young (Knopf).
  • The BCALA Literary Awards Committee presented the Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation to Regina Anderson Andrews, Harlem Renaissance Librarian by Ethelene Whitmire (University of Illinois Press).
  • The Jury also selected Virginia Stanley, Director of Library Marketing, HarperCollins Publisher, for a Special Publishing Citation Award.