“Brodak’s work stuns and haunts her readers,” says Jenny Sadre-Orafai, executive director of the Georgia Writers Association. “(She was) a champion of her fellow poets and writers and a generous professor and mentor. We know that her writing will endure.”
Novelist Tayari Jones, who won the 2019 Women’s Prize for “An American Marriage,” honored her former Spelman College professor, Cleage. “All of her work celebrates our communities, but she never coddles. She is critical, without rancor or self-righteousness,” says Jones. “She is a treasure. A gem. A brilliant gleaming Pearl.”
Sadre-Orafai describes Cleage as “a pillar of Atlanta for over 40 years … Her reach is far, and she unflinchingly and honestly tackles important issues in her work. She is, without a doubt, a vital voice in Georgia.”
Cleage and Brodak share more in common than a Lifetime Achievement Award from GAYA. They were both Atlanta transplants with roots in Detroit. And they have both written riveting memoirs.
In “Things I Should Have Told My Daughter,” Cleage provides a gutsy, unvarnished account of what it was like to be a Black woman finding her voice as an artist and an activist in Atlanta during the ’70s and ’80s. It is a vividly recounted slice of history told from the perspective of an emerging feminist.
In “Bandit,” Brodak tells the story of a chaotic childhood growing up with a father who was a compulsive gambler, a con man and a bank robber. The content is raw and disturbing, but the writing is poetic and contemplative. Just thinking about these books makes me want to go back and read them again. They are both that good.
The GAYA honors are well deserved. Kudos to the Georgia Writers Association for recognizing two such important writers. And congratulations to the rest of the 57th annual Georgia Author of the Year Award winners. They are:
Children’s Book: Malcolm Mitchell, illustrations by Michael Robertson, for “My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World”
Detective / mystery: Kimberly Belle for “Stranger in the Lake”
First novel: Ginger Eager for “The Nature of Remains”
History: Claudio Saunt for “Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory”
Inspirational: Kaitlin B. Curtice for “Native: Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering God”
Literary Fiction: Taylor Brown for “Pride of Eden”
Memoir: Natasha Trethewey for “Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir”
Poetry, full-length book: Carlos Andrés Gómez for “Fractures”
Romance: Colleen Oakley for “You Were There Too”
Specialty: Stephen Doster, photographs by Benjamin Galland, for “Cumberland Island: Footsteps in Time”
Young adult: Nic Stone for “Dear Justyce”
The awards presentation began with the announcement of a new annual John Lewis Writing Award created to “elevate, encourage and inspire the voices of Black writers in Georgia,” said Valerie Smith, president of the Georgia Writers Association. The award consists of three prizes given for fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Competition is open to emerging Black writers who are residents of Georgia or full-time students in a Georgia college or university. Submissions open Aug. 1.
For details about the John Lewis Writing Award, the 57th annual Georgia Author of the Year Award and to watch a video of the awards presentation, go to www.authoroftheyear.org.
Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. firstname.lastname@example.org.