Eleanor Taylor Bland Award Honors Emerging Mystery Writers of Color

Author Jessica Ellis Laine

Eleanor Taylor Bland’s 1992 debut mystery, Dead Time, broke new ground in crime fiction by introducing one of the genre’s first female African American police detectives, Marti MacAlister. Over the course of 14 books, Bland overturned stereotypes and paved the way for other mystery writers of color. Although the author died in 2010, her influence remains strong, and in 2014, a bequest from her estate created the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award. Presented by Sisters in Crime, the honor includes a $1,500 grant to an emerging writer of color, male or female, who has not yet published a full-length work, to participate in workshops, conferences, retreats, online courses, and research required to complete their manuscript.

This year’s winner, the fourth overall, is Jessica Ellis Laine, whose novel-in-progress won the 2016 Mystery Writers of America-Midwest Hugh Holton Award. Tentatively titled The Sundowner, Laine’s mystery is about a down-on-her-luck Latina PI named Margarita O’Neill who investigates the disappearances of women last seen at a pub in St. Paul. Naomi Hirahara, a member of the Sisters in Crime judging panel, announced the prize, praising Laine’s humor and authentic characterization of her Latina protagonist. “We are excited to see mysteries written by Laine and other applicants fulfill our genre’s potential to reflect the wide range of human experiences.”

Having applied twice for the award, Laine was thrilled when the third time was the charm. “Winning it this year was amazing and well worth the wait,” she noted in an email. “As a Peruvian American with indigenous roots, there is something especially moving about winning an award for crime writers of color during this tumultuous time in the United States and more specifically in Minneapolis where I currently live. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ As crime writers, it is very satisfying to shorten that moral arc by righting societal wrongs between the pages of a book.”

The award also has personal relevance for Laine, as Bland had spent most of her life in Chicago, where Laine was born, and wrote a fictionalized version of Waukegan, IL, where Laine’s father worked as the director of a Latino nonprofit organization.

“Toni Morrison once said, ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.'” “I am currently attempting to write that book,” said Laine. “Fingers crossed.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Wilda Williams About Wilda Williams

Wilda "Willy" Williams (wwilliams@mediasourceinc.com) is LJ's Fiction Editor. She specializes in popular fiction and edits the Mystery, Science Fiction, Christian Fiction, and Word on Street Lit columns.

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