SIU literary works nominated for 50th annual NAACP Imagery Awards

By Emily Cooper, Staff Reporter

Two SIU literary works are nominated for the 50th annual NAACP Imagery Awards, the ceremony for which will be held March 29 and 30 at Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, California. 

Allison Joseph’s “Confessions of a Bare Faced Woman” and Cyrus Cassells’ “The Gospel According to Wild Indigo” are two nominees with connections to Southern.

“The NAACP Imagery Awards are similar to the Oscars, except there are literature categories,” Joseph said. “There’s a category for books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and instructional work. It’s really fascinating.”

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Joseph, who is also the director of the creative writing department at SIU, said the university community is going to be represented on one of the biggest entertainment stages there is.

“The interesting thing as opposed to other entertainment awards this one is put on by an American institution,” Joseph said. “The NAACP is all about the quality and fairness.”

Confessions of a Bare Faced Woman

Joseph said her book,‘Confessions of a Bare Faced Woman,’ is about growing up black and female. She takes on issues of feminism, body image, family and the complex relationships between mothers and daughters. The title of the book is actually in reference to not wearing makeup.

“I have been very lucky,” Joseph said. “I have published books for over 20 years and for some reason, [this book] has struck a chord. It’s great to publish a book and particularly something is as obscure as poetry.”

Joseph’s book was published by Red Hen Press in Pasadena, California. She said usually poetry collections are expected to sell maybe a couple hundred copies, but sales for her book which was published around this time last year, have continued to climb.

“It has been reviewed more than any other book I have written,” Joseph said. “I’m really grateful and pleased.”

She said her book was rejected at first and students and anyone looking to be a writer should know they will face rejection.

“I was venting on Facebook, as one does, about having that book rejected and the publisher at Red Hen Press, who was a friend of mine, Kate Gale, contacted me about sending her my manuscripts,” Joseph said. “I sent her several manuscripts and the one she really like was the ‘Confessions of a Bare Faced Woman.’”

“The Gospel According to Wild Indigo”

Cassells, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, is a professor of creative writing at Texas State University in San Marcos and his book, “The Gospel According to Wild Indigo,” was recently published by SIU Press.

“My book is a sequence of poems about Gullah culture and that’s the culture in Charleston South Carolina in the Sea Islands,” Cassells said.

The Gullah people are the descendants of the indigo planting slaves who lived on plantations in that part of the south, according to Cassells.

“One of the other things that make them distinct from the rest of the African American population is that they were left to kind of supervise things in the plantation,” he said.

Their culture is a little bit more independent and Gullah is a dialect which seems to be a descendent of African language from Angola, according to Cassells.

“The book is a sequence of lyrical poems celebrating the area in that particular culture, that’s the first half of the book,” he said. “The second half of the book takes place mostly in Europe and it’s related to a period when I was traveling in mostly France and Spain. There are two psalms that open the book and the title ‘The Gospel According to Wild Indigo,’ is the Gullah cycle.”

Cassells said it is especially exciting for him to be nominated for this award because he comes from a very distinguished, trailblazing African-American family.

“The book took 15 years from its conception to getting published last year,” he said. “I went to Charleston, as an actor, to work on a role for a play called ‘Yellow Man,’ and the production got canceled. Then these poems started coming to me, so there were a lot of ups and downs enfolded in it, but I think the result has been one that I’ve been really, really happy with.”

Learning about the nominations

Joseph said she found out she she was nominated when she went on the NAACP website to keep voting for Regina King, one of her favorite actresses.

“When I was on the website, people on Facebook were saying ‘Allison, you were nominated for the NAACP Image Award in Poetry,’” she said. “As a writer, you enter a lot of [competitions] and you just never know.”

Cassells said Jon Tribble, managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and the person who chose his book to be published, told him he was nominated for the award.

“It came out the middle of February and then I got the message from the organization,” he said.

Joseph said it is a once and a lifetime experience to see these two books in this category.

“I know they received so many submissions, but to have connections to our university is quite remarkable,” Joseph said.

2019 Entertainer of the Year

Before recognizing the nominees in the eight unique categories, the NAACP will announce The 2019 Entertainer of the Year, according to a university press release. The five nominees for this award are: Beyoncé, Chadwick Boseman, Ryan Coogler, Regina King and LeBron James.

A variety of notable celebrities attends the renowned event each year, with stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, John Legend, Kevin Hart, Will Smith, Halle Berry, Mandy Moore, Viola Davis and many others making appearances.

Voting for the Entertainer of the Year is open until March 4 on the NAACP Image Awards website.

Staff reporter Emily Cooper can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @ECooper212.

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