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Harper Lee Award

Alabama Writers Awards

The presentations of the Alabama Writers Awards is a highlight of the Monroeville Literary Festival.  The recipient of the Harper Lee Award (named after the author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird) is chosen by a committee selected by the Festival leadership. The award is funded by the generous sponsorship of Harper Lee LLC. The Truman Capote Prize for Alabama's Distinguished Writer of Literary Non-Fiction or the Short Story is awarded by a selection committee chaired by Dr. Don Noble of Tuscaloosa. This award is made possible by the generous sponsorship of Ms. Dianne Lawson Baker.

The Harper Lee Award
For Alabama's Distinguished Writer

The Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer is awarded each year at the Monroeville Literary Festival, a project of the Monroe County Museum in Monroeville. The annual award recognizes the lifetime achievement of a writer who was born in Alabama or whose literary career developed in the state. The recipient is chosen by a committee selected by the Festival leadership

2023 - Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She served three terms as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2019-2022. Winner of the 2022 Academy of American Poets Leadership Award, she examines the power of words and how poetry summons us toward justice and healing.

"Joy Harjo is one of the great American writers of our time. All of this artistry has deep ties, familial and spiritual, to the state of Alabama," said selection committee member Frye Gaillard. "Ms. Harjo is a member of the Muskogee Nation - and celebrates a connection to her Alabama homeland that was broken, but not erased, by the Trail of Tears. We are honored to celebrate that tie by naming Ms. Harjo the 2023 winner of the Harper Lee Award. If Miss Lee’s masterwork, To Kill a Mockingbird, was, as she said, a novel of empathy and justice, Joy Harjo’s writings are a powerful heir to that tradition."

    The author of nine books of poetry, including the highly acclaimed An American Sunrise, several plays and children’s books, and two memoirs, Crazy Brave and Poet Warrior, her many honors include the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, two NEA fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. As a musician and performer, Harjo has produced seven award-winning music albums including her newest, I Pray for My Enemies. She is exec­u­tive edi­tor of the anthol­o­gy When the Light of the World was Sub­dued, Our Songs Came Through – A Nor­ton Anthol­o­gy of Native Nations Poet­ry and the editor of Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry, the companion anthology to her signature Poet Laureate project. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Board of Directors Chair of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, and is the first Artist-in-Residence for Tulsa’s Bob Dylan Center. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Cynthia Tucker

        Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist. Her weekly column, which appears in newspapers around the country, focuses on political and cultural issues, including income inequality, social justice and reform of the public education system.

Tucker has spent most of her career in newspapers, working as a reporter and editor. For seventeen years, she served as editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, overseeing the newspaper’s editorial policies on everything from local elections to foreign affairs. She also worked as a Washington-based political columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

        After leaving the newspaper, Tucker spent three years as a visiting professor at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, where she was also a Charlayne Hunter-Gault writer-in-residence. She is currently the journalist-in-residence at the University of South Alabama, where she teaches in the English and Political Science departments.  Cynthia’s first published book, The Southernization of America: A Story of Democracy in the Balance (NewSouth Books, 2/15/2022), co-authored with Frye Gaillard, is a compelling series of linked essays considering the role of the South in shaping America’s current political and cultural landscape. 

Angela Johnson

Born in Tuskegee, Angela Johnson is a nationally recognized children’s author and poet. Since her first publication in 1989, the Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award-winning Tell Me a Story, Mama, she has published more than 40 books. Her works include pre-school and picture books, young adult novels, poetry and short stories. She has been recognized with three Coretta Scott King Author Awards, the Printz Award and numerous recognitions from the American and Alabama Library Associations, among others. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2003.

Patti Callahan Henry

A New York Times bestselling author of fifteen novels including the critically-acclaimed historical novel, Becoming Mrs. Lewis – The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis, Patti Callahan Henry is also a USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and the Globe and Mail bestseller. Henry hosts the popular seven-part original "Behind the Scenes of Becoming Mrs. Lewis Podcast Series" launched in October 2019. She is also the recipient of The Christy Award — A 2019 Winner "Best Book of the Year."


Henry’s novels include Losing the Moon; Where the River Runs; When Light Breaks; Between the Tides; The Art of Keeping Secrets; Driftwood Summer; The Perfect Love Song: A Holiday Story; Coming Up for Air; And Then I Found You; The Stories We Tell; The Idea of Love, The Bookshop at Water’s End, Becoming Mrs. Lewis (written as Patty Callahan), and The Favorite Daughter. In March of 2021, a new historical fiction novel based on the true story of the Steamship Pulaski wreck will be released.


Other awards for her fiction include a finalist in the Townsend Prize for Fiction, an Indie Next Pick, an OKRA pick, and a multiple nominee for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Novel of the Year.

Harper Lee Award Winners

1998 - Albert Murray
1999 - Madison Jones
2000 - Helen Norris
2001 - Sena Jeter Naslund
2002 - Mary Ward Brown
2003 - Rodney Jones
2004 - Sonia Sanchez
2005 - Andrew Hudgins
2006 - Wayne Greenhaw
2007 - William "Bill" Cobb
2008 - Rebecca Gilman
2009 - Rick Bragg

2010 - Carolyn Haines
2011 - Winston Groom
2012 - Fannie Flagg
2013 - Gay Talese
2014 - Mark Childress
2015 - Hank Lazer
2016 - E.O. Wilson
2017 - Brad Watson
2018 - Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
2019 - Daniel Wallace
2020 - Patti Callahan Henry
2021 - Angela Johnson

The Truman Capote Prize 
For Distinguished Work in the
Short Story or Literary Non-Fiction

Truman Capote Prize

2023 - Michael Martone

       Michael Martone is a widely published writer of short fiction, known for his humor and skillful word play.  Born in Fort Wayne, Ind., he is the author of nearly 30 books and chapbooks. He was a professor at the Program in Creative Writing at the University of Alabama, where he taught from 1996 until his retirement in 2020. He also taught at Iowa State University, Harvard University and Syracuse University.

    "Martone's most recent book, Plain Air, is a strange, creative tour-de-force," said Don Noble, chairman of the prize selection committee. "Many fiction writers strive to create fiction that seems real. Martone writes stories that seem, truly, real, but are not at all. Over the decades in Alabama, he has written hundreds of stories set in Indiana, not the real one – the imagined one. Martone in Tuscaloosa writes with great verve and imagination of his native Indiana. He has no need to remember details. He makes them up as he goes along."

    Michael Martone’s fiction books include Plain Air; Art Smith; The Moon Over Wapakoneta; Winesburg, Indiana; Four For A Quarter;  Double-wide; Michael Martone; The Blue Guide to Indiana; Seeing Eye; Pensées; Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler’s List; Safety Patrol and Alive and Dead in Indiana.

    Martone has won two NEA Fellowships and a grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation. His stories and essays have appeared and been cited in the Pushcart Prize, The Best American Stories and The Best American Essays anthologies.

    His stories have won awards in the Italian Americana fiction contest, the Florida Review Short Story Contest, the Story magazine Short, Short Story Contest, the Margaret Jones Fiction Prize of Black Ice Magazine, and the first World’s Best Short, Short Story Contest. He was awarded the Mark Twain Award by The Society for the Study  of Midwestern Literature. He is the winner of the Indiana Author’s Award in 2013.

2022 Winner
Rheta Grimley Johnson

      Rheta Grimsley Johnson is an award-winning reporter, columnist, and travelogue and memoir writer whose subject matter includes seemingly average southern people whose stories she elevates to the universal. Johnson writes compassionately about the often overlooked and rapidly disappearing contemporary rural South.

       Born in Colquitt, Georgia; she grew up in Montgomery. She attended Auburn University, where she won the National Pacemaker Award, an award for excellence in student journalism, in 1974, while editor of The Auburn Plainsman. She moved to Monroeville in 1975 to work at The Monroe Journal – a launching pad for a career at some of the South’s largest papers: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, and Scripps Howard News Service. 

       One of the longest-running female syndicated columnists in the nation, Rheta Grimsley Johnson wrote a weekly essay for King Features Syndicate of New York that was distributed to about 50 newspapers nationwide. Her words are, in turn, fiery or poignant, touching on people, places and life predicaments, often on subjects not found elsewhere.

        Johnson has made her home and creative home base in a remote hollow near the Tennessee River in Northeast Mississippi. From this unlikely perch – and front porch – she has written about politics, Paris, people and two donkeys that one day wandered into the yard. Her latest creative venture was a play about the childhood of Hank Williams, Hiram Becoming Hank, produced in 2016 by the Pell City (Alabama) Players and at the Monroe County Museum in Monroeville by a local cast in 2021.


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2021 Winner
Allen Wier

Allen Wier has published four novels: Tehano (Southern Methodist University Press, 2006), A Place for Outlaws (Harper & Row, 1989), Departing as Air (Simon & Schuster, 1983), and Blanco (LSU Press, 1978, Avon/Bard 1980, and Harper & Row 1989), and two collections of stories: Late Night, Early Morning (University of Tennessee Press, 2017) and Things About to Disappear (LSU Press, 1978 and Avon/Bard, 1980). He's edited an anthology, Walking on Water and Other Stories (University of Alabama Press, 1996), and co-edited Voicelust, a collection of essays ‘on style in contemporary fiction’ (University of Nebraska Press, 1985). Wier’s fiction, essays, and reviews appear in such publications as The Southern Review, Five Points, The Georgia Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, and the New York Times. He was named Travel Writer of the Year 1994 by the Alabama Bureau of Travel.

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2020 Winner
Charles Gaines

Charles Gaines was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and at the age of ten moved with his family to Birmingham. He received his undergraduate degree from Birmingham-Southern College. His first novel, Stay Hungry, was published in 1972 and focused on the subculture of bodybuilding during the early 1970s. The book was made into a motion picture in 1976 starring Jeff Bridges, Sally Field and, Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his first film). An award-winning writer across multiple genres, Gaines has written other produced screenplays and adaptations, other fiction and numerous articles about fishing and outdoor life in magazines including Outside and Garden and Gun. In 1980, with his friend Hayes Noel, he became a co-creator of the game of paintball. Gaines is a 2018 inductee of the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame.

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Truman Capote
Prize Winners

2016 - Marlin Barton

2017 - Michael Knight

2018 - Michelle Richmond
2019 - BJ Hollars

2020 - Charles Gaines
2021 - Allen Wier

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