LARRY NEAL WRITERS AWARD
Celebrating the Winners of the Larry Neal Writers’ Award
The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH)
May 27, 2015
There was a definite air of excitement just before the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities was to announce the winners of the 32nd Annual Larry Neal Writers’ Awards. Musicians tuned up, mikes were tested and actors, Chris Wilson and Fatima Quander, practiced reading from the winning entries. There were 100 entries in seven award categories in this competition for young writers, teens and adults. Kay Kendall, Chair of the Commission, her fellow commissioners and dedicated DCCAH staff clearly considered all participants and all finalists along with the winners as deserving of recognition. Family members, teachers, friends, and writers—all added to the festive mood.
Master of Ceremony Derrick Weston Brown, the poet-in-residence of Busboys and Poets, Alice McDermott, a highly honored novelist and Karen Zacarias, playwright-in-residence at Arena Stage, all clearly felt kinship to the participants in this contest as they presented awards. Alice McDermott put it this way: “To write a story is an act of defiance, an act of hope. It is a sign that it matters.” As Lisa Richards Toney, Interim Director of DCCAH, said in her closing remarks, “We are a city of writers.”
My favorite line of the evening came from Adult Poetry winner Caitlin Reid’s poem Indelible, was “please be alive.” Something we all wish for when we write to long lost or distant friends. The Fiction Award for Adults was won by John Copenhaver for The Fledgling, a vivid account of his life with his father. The Adult Award for Dramatic Writing was won by Stephen Spotswood, for his play, The Gantry Girls Come Home. The Teen Fiction Award was given to Eva Shapiro for Adam 500. The Teen Poetry Award went to Sophia Diggs-Galligan, her second Larry Neal Award, for We Eat Well Now. Two Youth Poetry Awards went to Kayla Rosemond for Crimson Blues and to Jaymir Wise for My Storm. The Youth Fiction Award went to Ellida Parker for Rising. I wish I could read them all.
I remember Larry Neal. He died far too young in 1981. This competition honors his artistic legacy, wit, and vision. Larry Neal wrote poetry, taught, and even more, encouraged and ardently participated in the very active literary community of the District of Columbia. He was a writer first, and then an activist in the many worlds of Afro-American arts and literature. He served as a director of the DCCAH.
I think Larry Neal would have agreed with President Barrack Obama when he said, “If you want to understand America, you had better read Langston Hughes.” He also said “Poetry matters,” and that ultimately a nation will be judged by its culture. Michele Obama spoke that day and said, “Here at the White House, we’re guided by the belief that the arts can be the key to success in school and in life.” She noted that when they have renowned artists at the White House, they ask them to host a workshop for students.
The occasion was the White House Workshop on Poetry on April 17, 2015. It celebrated young poets from across the country and honored Washington’s own Elizabeth Alexander who read from her new memoir, The Light of the World.
We should acknowledge and honor the warriors for the arts. It is not easy to win the budget wars. It is wonderful that DC has a Commission on the Arts and Humanities and that the National Endowment for the Arts helps to fund it. In a city often seen as not quite real, hard hearted and overwhelmed with politics, it throws a spotlight upon the artists and writers of the District of Columbia
The message of the evening was clear: keep writing. As Alice McDermott said, “writing is an act of defiance, an act of hope.”
John Copenhaver for The Fledgling
Adult Dramatic Writing
Stephen Spotswood for The Gantry Girls Come Home
Sophia Diggs-Galligan for We Eat Well Now
Eva Shapiro for Adam 500
Kayla Rosemond for Crimson Blues
Jaymir Wise for My Storm
Ellida Parker for Rising