On Sept. 3 from 9 a.m to 8 p.m, the Library of Congress brought us the most celebrated literary event of the year – the National Book Festival. This Labor day weekend at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. the festival brought people together for one reason, the shared love of books. However, this occasions’ aftermath had disappointing undertones since Howard University was silent about the three Howard alumni featured on this event’s main stage.
Several big names were at the #NatBookFest this year, like singer Janelle Monae, and actors Leslie Jordan and Nick Offerman. But most notably, three Howard University alumni Candice Iloh (they/them), Tiffany D. Jackson (she/her) and Ebony LaDelle (she/her).
Recognizing alumni is not foreign to the university. From social media posts to frequent emails, HU celebrates alumni so much that they’ve dedicated this year’s homecoming theme to past Bison. In fact, this year’s homecoming theme, ‘The Meecaverse’, was chosen in honor of the alumni that make Howard iconic. Yet, the university was noticeably mute about sharing accomplishments of these three Howard alumni killing it in their industry. Many speculate whether the ‘shade’ is a result of their gender, sexual orientations, or a flat out disregard for how big of a deal this truly is.
This event, while trying to modernize and catch up with current times, has historically been white. Most of the marketed guests and featured authors have not been representative of the diverse races, ethnicities, sexualities and perspectives of book lovers. This year, as the festival returned in person, several Black women and individuals were given a main stage. The 14th Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, tweeted about one of the momentous events.
Many readers and students on Howard’s campus first learned about the university’s oversight when featured author, IIoh, tweeted about the event on Sept. 5 at about 11:15 a.m. Gaining the attention of current students, the tweet sparked a conversation surrounding the university’s tendency to prioritize “high profile” alumni.
Iloh spoke to 101 Magazine about this situation. “I was shocked that we were so close to campus and nobody knew about it…how is nobody knowing about this? It’s strange to me.” they said. “It would be wonderful to feel it [recognition from Howard], talk about it and encourage more Howard students that want to be authors.”
They also expanded on the oversight being due to their lack of celebrity and the intersections of their identity. “There have been alums who have been highlighted and it was specifically those that were bigger names…We’re [Iloh and LaDelle] not any less remarkable we’re just newer”, they said. “The people that have been highlighted don’t have those [Black and queer] identities, they’re usually Black cis men…I’m discouraged by the fact that our campus still feels a little behind.”
“We gotta stop acting like there’s only 5 or 10 of us”, said Iloh.
But even with these feelings, Iloh went on to give a little grace to all those involved. “I have a lot of compassion for the fact that the last few years have been hell for a lot of us and it’s really hard to keep up with all the things going on,” they added. “That’s part of who or what I place the blame on, life is a lot for a lot of us…there’s so many of us…a lot of Howard students go off to do great things.”
LaDelle also shared some sentiments about Howard’s oversight. She mentioned a need for uplifting each other at different stages, not just after the big break. “There needs to be something that allows these alums to be seen…it was a missed opportunity, one of many,” she said.
101 Magazine would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Iloh, Jackson and LaDelle. Their work deserves a shining light given their successes in this competitive and historically discriminatory field.
And the following is just that:
Tiffany D. Jackson, author of The Weight of Blood is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. Her newest book and her bestselling collection of genius has gotten rave reviews from peers and critics including the Walter Dean Myers Honor and Coretta Scott King Award. Jackson’s book can be found at Politics and Prose, an independent bookstore in D.C, and wherever you get your books!
Jackson was on the main stage with five other Black authors participating in the All Stars of Blackout panel.
Ebony LaDelle and Candice Iloh were invited on the main stage as well by DMV native Jason Reynolds, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Together they had the opportunity to touch prospective young writers and even share advice. The tweet below shares a morsel of their impact on young writers at this festival.
Ebony LaDelle, author of Love Radio is native of Michigan. Her newest book, within the young adult genre, is about a self-professed love doctor having three dates to prove that he is worth falling for. The reviews of this book have made this a ‘must read’ for any young adult. LaDelle’s book can be found at Politics and Prose and wherever you get your books!
Candice Iloh, author of Break This House is a first generation Nigerian-American writer, teaching artist and educator. Their newest work is about a teenager tussling with family and home town secrets, a story a lot of us know all too well. They have also gotten rave reviews from peers and critics, and have been awarded a Michael L. Printz Honor. Iloh’s newest book will be available at Politics and Prose and wherever you get your books!
Howard prides themselves on the saying, “there’s always a Bison in the room,”yet there were three in one and nary a word was spoken.