The Before Columbus Foundation announced the winners of the 39th annual American Book Awards on Monday. And Bojan Louis's "Currents," a debut poetry collection published by BkMk Press at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is on the list.
"I'm celebrating!" Ben Furnish, managing editor of BkMk Press, wrote to KCUR in an email.
Louis, a member of the Navajo Nation, tells stories in "Currents" in three languages: English, Diné and Spanish.
"Inspired by his work as an electrician, enriched by his love for the Navajo and Spanish languages, and marked by his fearless look at how the big cultural questions affect our daily lives, Bojan Louis has given us a stunning debut book," Furnish said.
When the book was released in 2017, critics described the poems as "fierce and sublime," and said Louis was a "new, original voice" who "not only sustains, but builds, the way, say, a young Sonny Rollins might shape and vary a singular solo that flows through song after song."
The opening poem, "Breach," starts like this:
It's years I've been recovered.
Parents gone the way of worms
— Mom alone, her own decision.
Dad, how he was always
asphyxiated until rolled over.
The frontier I'm abandoned to,
exposed root ribcages above ground,
rained on so much there's no dust,
no blow-away — traceless surfaces.
Louis teaches composition and writing classes in the English department at Arizona State University. An essayist and fiction writer, he also serves as poetry editor of RED INK: An International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Arts, & Humanities.
The Before Columbus Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 1976 by poet, essayist and playwright Ishmael Reed.
According to the Foundation, the American Book Awards program "respects and honors excellence in American literature without restriction or bias with regard to race, sex, creed, cultural origin, size of press or ad budget, or even genre."
Louis's collection of poetry, Furnish said, "is in great company with the American Book Awards. Its winners represent some of the greatest written explorations of the full American experience."
The winners will be recognized at a ceremony in October in San Francisco, California.
Check here for a complete list of American Book Award winners.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.