Zadie Smith Will Be Awarded the 2017 Langston Hughes Medal

She’ll be presented with the award at the free, public Langston Hughes Festival on November 16

Novelist, critic, and essayist Zadie Smith, winner of the Orange Prize, James Tait Memorial Prize, and Betty Trask Award among others, can now add the Langston Hughes Medal to the list. Smith will be presented this medal on November 16th during the annual Langston Hughes Festival at The City College of New York (CCNY) in Harlem. The event is free and open to the public.

Smith joins an array of legendary authors of the African Diaspora who have been previous recipients, including the first ever honoree in 1978 James Baldwin, playwright Ntozake Shange (2016), National Book Critics Circle Award winner Edwidge Danticat (2011), National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson (2015), Lucille Clifton (2003), Chinua Achebe (1993), Octavia Butler (2005), and Ralph Ellison (1984) to name a few.

Langston Hughes Festival director and CCNY publishing certificate program assistant director Retha Powers says that the Langston Hughes Festival and the medal is considered a cornerstone event of CCNY. With regards to this year’s honoree, Powers mentions that Zadie Smith is an “excellent example of a writer who stands in the tradition of [Langston] Hughes.”

She adds, “[Smith] writes about identity, race, class, the life of the city and of relationships that intersect on all of these levels. She is also a prolific critic and essayist with a passion for music so her work intersects with just about every form Hughes wrote in.”

Langston Hughes remains an iconic name not only in the literary field but also in New York City history, specifically Historic Harlem. Last year the I, Too Arts Collective formed to extend his legacy by renting his brownstone as a space for the larger artist community. Hughes’ poem, “I, Too” has served as a rallying cry, published and quoted regularly in the midst of a consistently tense political climate in the United States. His poetry, commentary, and influence is rooted deeply in the criticism and analysis of the existence of Blacks in America as well as a reflection to the specificity and universality of our experiences during his lifetime. #LangstonsLegacy continues to have an effect on artists of all ages. The Langston Hughes Festival also encourages and awards essays on Hughes’ influence through a contest open to City College students to read and reflect on his work and how it applies today.

The Festival begins with a symposium on the legacy of Zadie Smith’s work with speakers Kaitlyn Greenidge, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Tracey L. Walters, and Vanessa K. Valdés and others at 12:30pm in Aaron Davis Hall on Thursday, November 16th. The celebration will conclude at 6:30pm when Smith will be in conversation with Emily Raboteau, after which she will be awarded her medal.


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