Gordon Reed Becomes the First African American Woman to Receive National Book Award

November 20, 2008

Annette Gordon Reed(ChattahBox) — Annette Gordon Reed, author of ‘The Hemingses of Monticello’ became the first African American Woman to receive the National Book Award. She received the $10,000 National Book Award for the non-fiction written about a history of the family of Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s slave and the mother of several of his children. The book is a sweeping, prodigiously researched biography of three generations of a slave family owned by Thomas Jefferson.

“Her book is at once a painstaking history of slavery,” the judges said, “an unflinching gaze at the ways it has defined us, and a humane exploration of lives — grand and simple.” While Scott McLemme commented in the Bloomberg review that Gordon-Reed offers a bold shift of perspective in her book. “For the firs ttime, Jefferson is one part of the Hemingses’ story, rather than vice versa,” he said.

Gordon Reed celebrated her 50th birthday on the night of awards. “I can’t say what a wonderful November this has been,” she said. “It’s sort of wonderful to have the book come out at this time. People ask me if I planned it this way; I didn’t. All of America — we’re on a great journey now and I look forward to the years to come.” The book was published by W. W. Norton.

The fiction award went to Peter Matthiessen’s ‘Shadow Country’ telling a story about a Florida sugarcane farmer and murderer in a one-volume version of trilogy. The judges considered the book as an “an epic of American rise and descent — poetic, mythic, devastating.”


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