Nikole Hannah-Jones was a college student when she first subscribed to Time magazine.
She grabbed the new numbers as soon as they landed in her mailbox, leaning over the stories inside and reveling in the crisp white address label with her name on them. As she curled up in her home in Waterloo, the pages sent her all over the world, showing her its distant streets and beaches, introducing her to dictators, malcontents and the Dalai Lama.
One edition featured a profile of Nelson Mandela, detailing the horrors of the apartheid state. Another covered the fall of the Berlin Wall; this one, she remembers distinctly having read it from cover to cover, soaking up every word, every photo.
These volumes, and a handful of others, were so precious, so important, and so important, that Hannah-Jones hid them in the safe of her childhood, storing them next to all her most precious possessions.
Now a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author and professor, Hannah-Jones returned to that safe – rummaging through those magazines, feeling that this label was directly addressed to her – when she heard that the Des Moines Public Library Foundation had it. was selected as Iowa 2021. Author Award recipient. She wanted to see these issues, she said, as some kind of tangible way “to reflect on how blessed I have been and how far I’ve come.”
She can’t call the moment a ‘full round’ because, honestly, joining the ranks of previous winners like John Irving, Bill Bryson and Jane Smiley was not a reality she envisioned a year ago – and still is. less when she was a child.
âI never imagined I would be on this list,â she said. “It is completely shocking, and I am honored to be in the company of all of these amazing people and writers and to represent my home country.”
“You know,” she added, “I’m just a girl from Waterloo.”
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Hannah-Jones will accept the Iowa Author Award, deliver remarks and sign books at a gala dinner on November 22 in Des Moines. Funds raised from auction tickets and items will support the Des Moines Public Library Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises funds for programmatic and physical investments in the Des Moines library system.
The Iowa Authors Award, founded in 2000, “recognizes Iowa’s great literary tradition,” a legacy of which Hannah-Jones is now a part, said Dory Briles, executive director of the foundation.
âI think she’s pretty fierce,â Briles said.
Receiving this award in November will reinforce what promises to be an exciting fall for Hannah-Jones. His book, “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story”, an expansion of the series published in the New York Times Magazine in 2019, and his children’s book companion, “The 1619 Project: Born on the Water”, will be released less only a week before it appeared in Iowa.
Hannah-Jones, who won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 2017, will also be nearing the end of her first semester as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at the Howard University School of Communications. And 1619 Freedom School, a five-day-a-week literacy program in Waterloo that she co-founded, is expected to have started a month after its smooth opening.
If her subscription to Time magazine years before she even started high school wasn’t a sign, Hannah-Jones says she was a smart and nerdy kid, a self-proclaimed “weirdo” with a penchant for the news. .
She experienced first-hand the school desegregation initiatives of the 1980s – a period in which she studied and wrote extensively – when she traveled through town by bus to a richer neighborhood to enroll in a school. predominantly white primary school.
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Years later, while a student at Waterloo West High School, Hannah-Jones caught the journalism bug by telling the stories of other black children involved in this same voluntary desegregation program. These pieces earned her an Iowa High School Press Association Award, the first prize she won for a signing.
âWaterloo, Iowa, is the community that gave me the basics of becoming a journalist,â she said.
Waterloo West was also the place where, in an African-American studies course, Hannah-Jones first read in the year 1619. That summer, a ship of some 20 African slaves docked in Point Comfort, Virginia, marking the beginning of centuries of slavery in America. .
As the 400th anniversary approaches the first known arrival of slaves to American shores, Hannah-Jones designed and directed The New York Times Magazine’s Project 1619, a collection of over 30 works, including essays, podcasts , photos and poems, which examine how the institution of slavery shaped and continues to shape our nation.
Although Hannah-Jones has covered civil rights, racism, and social justice in multiple ways for decades, the series has propelled her name into mainstream public discourse.
In the year since its publication, The 1619 Project has grown into political football, a new front in the ongoing technicolor culture wars, and a talking point for some conservative talking heads.
Some historians have requested corrections to the work, particularly its reference to the protection of slavery as the basis of the American Revolution, and the Times edited sentences for clarification. But the vast majority of the pieces remain as published.
Encouraging debate and rigorously supporting free speech have been principles of the Des Moines Public Library since Director Forrest Spaulding created the Library Bill of Rights in the late 1930s. A rallying cry against censorship and discrimination, Spaulding’s credo was then in part adopted by the American Library Association and has been continually updated to reflect changing technologies.
By selecting Nikole Hannah-Jones as the Iowa 2021 author, the Des Moines Public Library Foundation believes she has helped spark critical conversations about our national history and identity, and we look forward to engaging in a conversation with her on those topics, âBriles said in a statement.
“Our role is to support the presentation of all points of view, not to prohibit them,” the statement continued.
In the last legislative session, Representative Skyler Wheeler of R-Orange City introduced a bill prohibiting the teaching of the curriculum arising from Bill 1619. Although the bill was never submitted to a vote in committee, effectively killing the proposal, Hannah-Jones called her introduction “disheartening.”
âI certainly didn’t think of Iowa as a state that would try to legislate against students learning journalism work from a native girl,â she said.
But, she added, âwhen I think of Iowa, I think of the people in Iowa where I come home when I come home to Waterloo and the people in my community who work to take care of them. from each other. These are the Iowans that I have known all my life.
For Hannah-Jones, there is special meaning in being honored by a library.
âI strongly believe in public institutions in general, but I truly believe that libraries and schools are among the most democratizing institutions in our country,â she says.
While her family home was filled with books and both of her parents were avid readers, Hannah-Jones was still at the library, carried away just as she was to the pages of those Time magazines.
As a child, she lived right across from the Waterloo Library, close enough to walk there on her own and take home the maximum number of books she was allowed to consult.
âGetting a library card has been the key to a whole world for me,â she says.
Often, Hannah-Jones would come up with specific books in mind, but the opportunity to explore, to peruse display tables and aisles, was exhilarating, she says.
âI loved every nook and cranny,â she says.
Even now, sitting in her Brooklyn, New York home, she can imagine in her mind her favorite reading spot: deep in the library, in the row just under the windows, sunlight flooding the tables.
Hannah-Jones may always have been “just a Waterloo girl” at heart, but now the woman this girl has become can be counted among the greatest in Iowa – writers she perhaps has. first saw the job as a nerdy kid browsing the library across the bridge.
Courtney Crowder travels through the state’s 99 counties, telling the stories of the people of Iowa. She is the first woman to be the Iowa columnist for the Register. Contact her at [email protected] or 515-284-8360. Follow her on Twitter @courtneycare.
The November 22 event features a live, silent reception, dinner, program and auction. Individual tickets cost $ 200. Sponsorships are available. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit dmpl.org/foundation, call the Des Moines Public Library Foundation at 515-412-0180, or email [email protected]