A biography about a groundbreaking judge and a nonfiction narrative of how Black patients experience racism in the health care system have been named the year’s best books dedicated to issues of social justice, as winners of the 2023 winners of the Lillian Smith Book Awards, presented by the University of Georgia Libraries.
This year’s winners are Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality, by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, and Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on Health in America, by Linda Villarosa. Both books were published by Penguin Random House.
The authors will be honored in a Sept. 21 ceremony at the Georgia Center for the Book at the DeKalb County Public Library, which co-sponsors the awards along with the Southern Regional Council, Piedmont College and UGA’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library. For more information about the free event, visit the UGA Libraries website.
“This year’s recipients of the Lillian Smith Book Awards tell stories that inspire and encourage dialog about ongoing social inequities. Tomiko Brown-Nagin’s biography of Constance Baker Motley reminds us of the courage of the groundbreaking leaders of the Civil Rights Era, and Linda Villarosa’s painstaking reporting emboldens readers to continue the fight for equality today,” said Kat Stein, director of the Hargrett Library. “We look forward to celebrating these literary achievements next month.”
In Civil Rights Queen, Brown-Nagin recounts the life and career of Constance Baker Motley, including her work as a civil rights lawyer defending Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham and the first Black woman to argue in front of the Supreme Court, before becoming the first Black woman appointed to the federal judiciary. The book has also been named a New Yorker and Time Best Book of the Year.
Brown-Nagin is dean of Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a professor of history and the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School. Her previous book Courage to Dissent won the Bancroft Prize in 2011.
Villarosa, a professor at the City University of New York and a contributing writer, continues her award-winning journalistic work with Under the Skin, uncovering the systemic issues in the health care system that contribute to poor health outcomes in Black communities. Villarosa’s 2018 New York Times Magazine article on maternal and infant mortality was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. She has also served as executive editor at Essence and as a science editor at The New York Times and is a contributor to The 1619 Project.
The Lillian Smith Book Awards recognize works that examine issues of race, social justice, civil and human rights, the education and socialization of young people, breaking silence among repressed groups and matters that are significant to the changing South. Named after the acclaimed author of the controversial 1944 novel Strange Fruit and other works, the awards were established by the Southern Regional Council and have been administered by The University of Georgia’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library since 2004.
Since 1968, the awards have recognized a range of literary and academic works from leading academics such as Henry Louis Gates Jr., activists like John Lewis, novelists from Tayari Jones to Eudora Welty, and other writers, such as poet Natasha Trethewey. For more information about the Lillian Smith Book Awards, visit libs.uga.edu/hargrett/lillian-smith.