BCALA Literary Award

Fresh, diverse literary voices being discovered by librarians.

The Black Caucus of The American Library Association first introduced the BCALA Literary Awards in 1994 at The Second National Conference of African American Librarians. The awards acknowledge outstanding works in fiction and nonfiction by African American authors.

In 2015, an opportunity was realized for a new award: one that would expand the BCALA’s dedication to African American authors by way of growing interest in digital content and self-publishing. The BCALA Literary Awards were officially launched that year, accepting submissions in the genres of fiction and poetry. Judged by a panel of librarians, this new award marked a milestone for diverse voices in publishing, while also being the first award from an ALA affiliate to recognize both digital content and self-publishing.

“For many years, BCALA had self-published authors who wanted to participate in the literary awards, but we really didn’t have a good process,” said BCALA executive board member Kelvin Watson.

That was until BCALA partnered with BiblioBoard, a hybrid media/software company located in Charleston, SC, that works with hundreds of public and school libraries across North America. While the BCALA Literary Awards are open to all self-published African American authors, the BiblioBoard partnership was the launchpad that instantly created a means to reach existing self-published authors and create new ones.

“BiblioBoard became a perfect partner to leverage a self-publishing format [and] to highlight self-published authors,” said Watson. Meanwhile, the new self-publishing award “provides the opportunity to highlight diverse voices in the indie author world and coincided with the creation of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.”

Interested authors can learn more about the award and submit here.

The BCALA Literary Award also created a credible accolade for indie authors, which served to elevate their careers. L. Penelope originally submitted her book Song of Blood & Stone through her home library in Maryland, then later to the BCALA Awards. After being named the inaugural winner of the fiction category, Penelope caught the eye of St. Martin’s Press, which will release her 4-book fantasy/paranormal series in May 2018.

“Winning the first BCALA Literary Award was an incredible honor,” said Penelope. “All writers seek an audience to resonate with their work and recognition from a group of librarians is immensely meaningful.”

For St. Martin’s, publishing the book of an author whom librarians have already endorsed with such a prestigious award means an increase in confidence that they have chosen an author librarians will support.

“The BCALA Literary Award definitely caught my eye and impressed me when I came across Leslye’s amazing book,” said Monique Patterson, Editorial Director & Executive Editor of St. Martin’s Press. “[The designation] helped it to stand out even more. I think this is a wonderful award.”

Readers can learn more about Penelope’s upcoming May release from St. Martin’s Press here.

Awards like the BCALA Literary Awards have created a pathway for libraries and literary organizations to create similar contests, a means for libraries to continue to be both community and literary leaders in the digital age of the book.

“We are a software company, and our job is to create the systems that make all of this innovation happen quietly and easily for everyone involved. As libraries redefine and transform themselves in the digital age, we want to make sure their expertise around recognizing great books can shine through and elevate the entire industry,” says BiblioBoard CEO Mitchell Davis. “We are so thrilled St. Martin’s is a modern publisher with the ability to see these connections and are so supportive of the work being done by libraries around the discovery of great indie books, giving those authors a path to a bigger literary impact. The potential of libraries and publishers to create new models that help each other reach more readers to mutual benefit is largely untapped, and we are excited to be working on the edge of that potential.”

Authors interested in the BCALA Literary Award can submit here. Even if you do not qualify, your book can be submitted directly to the SELF-e program.

Libraries can learn more about creating their own self-publishing awards by contacting libraryrelations@bibliolabs.com.


  • February 27, 2018, 11:27 pm  Reply

    I was unable to choose the opt-in option at the end of the submission. The site apparently has a number of problems with the submissions page. I was forced to use 3 different browsers to submit my novel because the succeeding pages refused to load correctly.

    • biblio_admin
      February 27, 2018, 11:42 pm

      Hi Jason,

      I apologize for the issues you were having. I just did a quick test in Google Chrome and didn’t have any issues. We did have a SELF-e terms issue earlier today but it is all fixed now. If you need any assistance, please email author_relations@biblioboard.com.

      Thank you

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