H is for Harlem: April Harrison's 2023 BGHB Nonfiction Honor Speech

This book taught me things that I didn’t know about Harlem. Dinah’s words took me on a journey of discovery. I not only discovered the history behind some of Harlem’s legendary buildings; it made me dive deeper into the actual people who made these buildings so special.

When I started illustrating, I decided to divide the book up. I decided to do all of the buildings from A to Z — yes, all of the buildings from A to Z! I would do those first, and then I followed with all of the special people, the legendary people that made those buildings what they are. It was a journey — I’ll say it was a journey, but it was so worth it. I discovered so many amazing things. It made me want to go back to Harlem. I’m from Greenville, South Carolina, but when I first stepped foot in Harlem, it was just like I fell in love with it.

I was familiar with some of the people and places, but I learned a lot about the others. The very first finished page was W, and that’s Madam C. J. Walker — because I didn’t want to keep the Madam waiting! She deserved her spot in the spotlight.

As with each book I create, I also include personal hidden gems. In H Is for Harlem, there are a few, but I’ll give you a clue to one, and it starts with M: the Studio Museum in Harlem. As a fine artist, I have never had the opportunity to showcase my work at this prestigious museum of Harlem. So I decided to take my shot! I included three images of my actual artwork. Yeah, I thought, why not? You know, one day someone will look at this book and say, “Hey, April showed in the Studio Museum in Harlem, right?” Yes, right.

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2023 BGHB Nonfiction winners.]

In closing, I’d like to thank God for making my golden years so special. I’d like to thank my family and friends for all of their love and support; all of the wonderful people at Little, Brown; and a special shoutout to Christy Ottaviano and Saho Fujii — they were amazing people to work with. To my wonderful agent, Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency, she makes everything run smoothly for me. I’d like to thank the amazing judges of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards Committee for selecting H Is for Harlem. This is an award I will not take for granted. You had so many choices, and I really thank you for choosing H Is for Harlem.

May Harlem and H Is for Harlem serve as catalysts to discover all the hidden gems that are in your own backyard. Thank you.

From the January/February 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB23. Read more from The Horn Book by and about April Harrison.

April Harrison

April Harrison received a 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Award for Nonfiction for H Is for Harlem (Ottaviano/Little, Brown), written by Dinah Johnson.

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