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Maya Angelou Award winner to be announced at UMKC creative writing benefit

The five finalists for the Maya Angelou Book Award (KCPL)

Updated as of 10/21: Threa Almontaser has been selected to be the inaugural recipient of the Maya Angelou Book Award.

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

The Maya Angelou Book Award is a national literary award with a $10,000 prize and a reading tour. It celebrates contemporary works that are committed to social justice, and it alternates between works of poetry and fiction.

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

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

The award finalists for this year 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’s sponsors selected two people to judge the submissions. These judges narrowed the field of roughly 100 submissions down to five finalists. Author and poet DaMaris Hill will serve as the final judge and choose the winner. 

The KC Public Library and UMKC Creative Writing Program have held the fundraiser together for three years, but the award was only created in 2020. 

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

The process of creating the award didn’t get started, however, until Phong Nguyen, an English professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, approached Terrell about an award involving multiple Missouri universities. 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 Missouri writer, but they had a hard time deciding on the name. 

“One day I found out that Maya Angelou had been born in St. Louis, and we thought, ‘Oh my God!’” Terrell said. “When we found her, we realized that’s it. That’s what we are going to do.” 

The award is sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library, UMKC, the 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 virtual Writers for Readers event, and tickets are still available to purchase here.

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