Maya Angelou Prize Winner to be Announced at UMKC Creative Writing Performance

The Kansas City Public Library, in partnership with UMKC and five other Missouri colleges, will announce the winner of the new Maya Angelou Book Award at this year’s Writers for Readers fundraising event, held tonight.

The Maya Angelou Book Award is a national literary award with a prize of $ 10,000 and a reading tour. It celebrates contemporary works committed to social justice and alternates poetic works and fictions.

“It’s incredibly exciting that UMKC is involved in creating a national award that honors writers for their literary contributions to social justice,” said Lydia Fultz, second year MFA student at UMKC and treasurer of the English Graduate Students Association.

This year’s Writers for Readers event will feature ‘Empire of Pain’ author Patrick Radden Keefe and will be virtual due to COVID-19. The event is used to raise funds so that UMKC MFA Creative Writing students can be paid as interns at the KC Public Library, where they teach free creative writing classes to the public.

The finalists for this year’s award are “Pilgrim Bell Poems” by Iranian-American Kaveh Akbar, “Wild Fox of Yemen” by Yemeni-American Threa Almontaser, “Postcolonial Love Poems” by Latina and Mojave-American Natalie Diaz, “Sometimes I Never Suffered” by Shane McCrae, and “Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry” by John Murillo.

Each of the award sponsors selected two people to judge the submissions. These judges narrowed the field from about 100 submissions to five finalists. Author and poet DaMaris Hill will be the final judge and choose the winner.

The KC Public Library and the UMKC Creative Writing Program have been hosting the fundraiser together for three years, but the award wasn’t established until 2020.

“We had talked about doing a national award with the library as part of the Writers for Readers event,” said Whitney Terrell, professor at UMKC.

The process of creating the award, however, did not begin until Phong Nguyen, professor of English at the University of Missouri-Columbia, addressed Terrell about an award involving several universities in Missouri. Nguyen and Terrell decided to merge their ideas.

They wanted the award to be national and specific, and they also wanted to name it after a writer from Missouri, but they struggled to decide on the name.

“One day I found out that Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, and we thought, ‘Oh my God!’ Said Terrell. “When we found her, we realized that was it. This is what we are going to do.

The award is sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library, UMKC, University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri State University, Northwest Missouri State University, Southeast Missouri State University, and Truman State University.

The winner will be announced tonight at the Writers for Readers virtual event, and tickets are still available for purchase here.

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