Before Columbus Foundation
The Before Columbus Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 1976 by Ishmael Reed.
Adhering to its founding grant's requirement that he have a partner, Reed chose poet Victor Hernández Cruz, now a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Next to become directors were Shawn Wong, novelist and former chair of the English Department at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Presidential medal recipient Rudolfo Anaya. The foundation, named after Ivan van Sertima's book They Came Before Columbus (1976), began as a multi-cultural distribution project, but evolved into a service organization devoted to the recognition of Hispanic, African-American, Native American, and white authors whose literature of quality might be neglected by the literary mainstream, which, according to the directors, continues to be segregated and fifty years behind the south in terms of diversity - a mainstream that limits its inclusion of minorities to tokenism. Through classrooms, poetry readings, symposia, and publications the foundation has met this goal.
In 1980, Ishmael Reed suggested that there be an American Book Awards to challenge the lack of diversity in the Pulitzer Prizes and the National Book Awards. The first awards ceremony was held at The West Side Community Center. In the following year, Public Theater director Joseph Papp hosted the American Book Awards in New York. The master of ceremonies was Quincy Troupe. Among the presenters were Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and writer Donald Barthelme. The American Book Awards have been held in Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Miami, and Washington, D.C., where they were held at The National Press Club, an arranged by the late Daniel Shore. As a result of The American Book Awards, hundreds of authors have received longer shelf lives for their books and the academics among them have brought prestige to their institutions. Awards are given annually for books published in the US during the previous year that make contributions to American multicultural literature.
In 1992, the Foundation published two anthologies of award-winning selections (one poetry and one fiction. Though severely underfunded and having survived through what Executive Director Gundars Strads called "blind persistence", the American Book Awards are now ranked[by whom?] with the Pulitzer Prizes and the National Book Award. Its directors are drawn from the black, Hispanic, Italian, Irish and Jewish communities. One of the current directors is Juan Fillipe Herra, the current Poet Laureate of California. Such is the honor accompanying the receiving of an American Book Award that great writers such as John A. Williams, Don DeLillo, Edwidge Danticat, and Gloria Naylor have traveled to the site of the awards at their own expense.
- "Before Columbus Foundation, American Book Awards", Poets & Writers.
- Before Columbus Foundation website
- American Booksellers Association (2013). "The American Book Awards / Before Columbus Foundation [1980–2012]". BookWeb. Archived from the original on March 13, 2013. Retrieved September 25, 2013.