Excerpts from the 1988 Lillian Smith Awards Presentations

By RJN

Vol. 11, No. 2, 1989, pp. 20-22

In 1966 the Southern Regional Council established the Lillian Smith Book Award in honor of a life member of the council who had made great contributions to improving human relations in the South. Lillian Smith, a native of Clayton, Ga., wrote a number of very important works on the subject of race and gender relations. Among the most widely read and appreciated were Strange Fruit, a novel set in a small Southern town that dealt with an interracial love affair; and Killers of the Dream, a psychological analysis of the Southern system of racial separation. Killers of the Dream became a classic of sectional understanding and a ringing demand for liberation of white and black Southerners from the bonds of segregation.

Lillian Smith also devoted much of her time to practical concerns. She wrote tracts and speeches; she participated in seminars on human relations; she walked picket lines; she served on the boards of national human rights organizations; and she worked in her own little town to help her friends and relatives cope with their lives. All these labors of love and duty interrupted her writing, but they also rounded out her experience and made her the great humanitarian we honor by this award.

One purpose of the Lillian Smith Book Award is to keep alive the memory of Lillian Smith. We want to keep it alive so that people will read her books, take courage from her crusade for human rights, and translate her struggle in terms appropriate to our own lives. A second purpose is to honor authors like her, who have written books, that in one way or another, help us to understand--perhaps give us the courage to join--the enduring struggle for human rights. We want to honor the authors not so much for their own sakes, although that is appropriate and pleasant, but so that others will, because of the award, learn about and read their books.

In selecting the winners of the Lillian Smith Award, the SRC tries to choose works that reflect the spirit of Lillian Smith. We look for serious works, with artistic and/or scholarly integrity, and we also look for high craftsmanship. We want books that contribute to an understanding of the human problems which concerned Lillian Smith, and are also central to the concerns of the Southern Regional Council. This year's awards were made at the SRC Annual Meeting in Atlanta in November 1988.

Since 1968 thirty-five books have been honored with the Lillian Smith Award. The winners have included a few major best sellers and many minor classics; every one has made its own powerful statement for the ideals of justice and human dignity that Lillian Smith herself struggled to uphold.

This year we considered more than fifty books, and most of them, in one way or another, were worthy of Lillian Smith's ideals. It was not an easy task to make a choice of two winners but neither was it an onerous task to read some remarkably good books. I should note that, while we received a number of very good books to consider, we had relatively little difficulty in deciding on our two award winners. The judges were, in fact, all of one mind about the best choice in each category.

Robert J. Norrell is author of Reaping the Whirlwind and director of the Center for Southern History and Culture at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. Anne Jones is an associate professor of English at the University of Florida. Serving with them on the 1988 Lillian Smith Award Committee were Mary Frances Derfner of Charleston, S. C.; Paul Gaston, a professor of history at the University of Virginia; and Anthony Dunbar, of New Orleans, La., a writer and lawyer, as well as the 1971 winner of the Lillian Smith Award for his book, Our Land, Too.

Robert J. Norrell is author of Reaping the Whirlwind and director of the Center for Southern History and Culture at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. Anne Jones is an associate professor of English at the University of Florida. Serving with them on the 1988 Lillian Smith Award Committee were Mary Frances Derfner of Charleston, S. C.; Paul Gaston, a professor of history at the University of Virginia; and Anthony Dunbar, of New Orleans, La., a writer and lawyer, as well as the 1971 winner of the Lillian Smith Award for his book, Our Land, Too.