Lillian Smith Book Awards Celebrate 50 years

Submitted by cleveland on

Pulitzer-prize winner Hank Klibanoff is the featured speaker Sept. 25 at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Lillian Smith Book Awards.

This celebration will commemorate a half-century tradition, currently a collaboration of the Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries, Piedmont college, and the Georgia Center for the Book, of recognizing authors whose books represent outstanding achievements demonstrating through high literary merit and moral vision an honest representation of the South, its people, its problems, and its promise.

The program, open free to the public, begins at 6:30 p.m. at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. A reception will follow.

Klibanoff will speak on “Courage, Cowardice and, Now, Contrition,” which will draw on his book, The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation; the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases class Klibanoff leads at Emory University; and the podcast, Buried Truths, which he hosts and WABE produces.

 “The writings of Lillian Smith are as relevant today as they were more than 50 years ago when she was a surprising and surprisingly vocal champion of social justice and civil rights,” said Charles Johnson, chair of the Southern Regional Council, which began the annual book awards in 1968. “We are excited to have Mr. Klibanoff join us in this observance as his work ably continues ‘Miss Lil’s’ efforts to shine a light on injustice.”

The Race Beat won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and tells “the story of how America awakened to its race problem, of how a nation that longed for unity after World War II came instead to see, hear, and learn about the shocking indignities and injustices of racial segregation in the South--and the brutality used to enforce it.

“It is the story of how the nation's press, after decades of ignoring the problem, came to recognize the importance of the civil rights struggle and turn it into the most significant domestic news event of the 20th century,” according to the Pulitzer organization webpage.

Klibanoff is currently a professor in the creative writing/non-fiction program at Emory University. He directs the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project at Emory ( and is the creator and narrator of Buried Truths, a narrative history podcast available on

“We can learn, interpret and give life — and historical context and meaning — to their important stories. The stories of who they were are the stories of who we are,” Klibanoff said of the Cold Cases Project.

“Buried Truths” is a six-episode podcast allowing viewers to experience “what Klibanoff’s students have — the chance to revisit Georgia’s sordid racial and judicial past and see all of the white men and women in the pages of history who sat on the sidelines, watching it all happen and doing nothing.

“Who were we as a people that we allowed this to happen? That’s the question we always have to ask ourselves,” says Klibanoff. “That’s always worth asking. Can I be a bystander on this, or do I need to engage?”


WRITER/CONTACT: Jean Cleveland,, 706.542.8079