Last night Walidah Imarisha won the Oregon Book Award creative nonfiction award for her book Angels with Dirty Faces.
This is her acceptance speech:
Thank you very much for this award.
Angels with Dirty Faces tells the story of three people: Jimmy Mac, my adopted brother Kakamia, and myself. I am here tonight, obviously, dressed up with all of you, accepting this award. Unfortunately, Jimmy Mac died in prison, far from his family. And Kakamia currently sits in a prison cell, with only the bunk and the bars he has known for 27 years. Since he was 16 years old. And tomorrow morning at 8:30 am, he will go before a parole board, and these people will decide whether or not this brilliant talented sweet hilarious human being gets to walk through those gates, or if he will spend years more entombed. Buried alive.
But then I think of the protest sign I have seen at rallies around the world: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
This book exists only because of the resilience and determination of those behind prison walls, of those rebellious seeds who survived in the most hostile of soil and against all odds, took root. And like sunflowers, they always turn their faces towards the sun, towards the light of hope.
So I appreciate and am honored by this award, and I know it’s not really mine -- because this book would not exist, I would not exist as I am, this struggle for justice would not exist as it is, without prisoners. Without those who breathe light brighter than a thousand suns from the midnight of their prison cells.
So thank you, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, and all our other political prisoners (we gotta free em all). Thank you to all incarcerated organizers and visionaries I’ve had the honor of knowing, and all those holding what a world beyond prisons and punishment, what a world truly rooted in justice and healing, could look like.
I hope that this book helps to spread their radiant light just a little bit further.