Q&A with Pamela Waterman, director of the MAAH Stone Book Award

For the past two years, it’s been wonderful to collaborate with the Museum of African American History and the MAAH Stone Book Award on a BBF session featuring the scholarship of award winners and nominees. This year’s session, set for Saturday, October 17 at 3pm ET, features four notable historians—Vincent Brown, Jelani M. Favors, Garrett Felber, and Kerri Greenidge—in conversation about their work with one of last year’s finalists, Kelli Carter Jackson. This discussion follows the award ceremony, set this year for Thursday, October 15, with free registration available now. We sat down with Pamela Waterman, director of the MAAH Stone Book Award, to talk about the background of the award and its place within the larger work of the museum.

What does the MAAH Stone Book Award mean at the Museum of African American History, and how do you select your winners?

The book award is an opportunity for the museum to inspire future scholarship in the field of African American history and culture in a very focused way. Each year we award $25,000 to the winner and $5,000 to two finalists for exceptional new nonfiction writing in the field. In addition to expanding the existing literature, our hope is that the winning books also engage the community and spark dialogue within and between different groups. Our winner and finalists are selected each year by an amazing panel of three jurors who read all of the submitted books, select a short list of nine, and then chose the winner and two finalists from there.

Tell us a little more about the 2020 award winner, Shelter in a Time of Storm: How Black Colleges Fostered Generations of Leadership and Activism by Jelani M. Favors.

Jelani Favors is a brilliant young scholar on the faculty at Clayton State University in Georgia. His book is a history of historically black colleges (HBCUs) from 1837 to the present with a focus on how these institutions shaped generations of politicians, community leaders, reformers, and activists. One shining example of this is Kamala Harris who is a very proud graduate of Howard University.

What does working with the BBF mean to the MAAH?

We’re thrilled to be able to sponsor a session at the BBF where we can feature our authors and their work and share them with a larger audience! Each year, our session includes at least one of our winners from the prior year. This year, our panel comprises last year’s finalist Kellie Carter Jackson, this year’s winner Jelani M. Favors, and three other dynamic authors whose works were also nominated for the prize this year. 

How can the Boston community get involved with the MAAH Stone Book Award?

We only have room for about 200 when we hold the event in-person at the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill, however since we’re virtual this year, everyone can come! Register for the event, which will be on October 15th @ 6:30pm here: bit.ly/maahstonebookaward2020. We also sponsor an author talk with our winning author at the Boston Public Library the day after our event — October 16th @ 3pm — and you can register for that on the BPL website (www.bpl.org). Also, feel free to visit the museum at 46 Joy Street when it reopens to check out our latest exhibit. You can buy all of our winning books at the gift shop too!

Are there any other BBF events you are particularly excited about?

Lucky us—we have Callie Crossley as host and discussant at our award event on October 15th, so of course we’re very excited about her under the radar book club session with Natasha Tretheway on October 4th!

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