H Is for Harlem: Dinah Johnson's 2023 BGHB Nonfiction Honor Speech

Greetings! I am so thrilled to accept this honor award from the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards Committee. It is an honor because there are so many beautiful books they could have recognized, so it’s thrilling that they’ve recognized this one. Harlem is a special place with special people and a special history, beginning with the Indigenous people who settled that land and lived on that land. But it also has a special place in the cultural history of Black America, and I hope that April and I have done it justice. We worked very hard on this book. We did a lot of research. Her art is extraordinary.

There are lots of people I want to thank: my wonderful agent, Allison Hellegers, and her team at Stimola Literary. And Christy Ottaviano, editor extraordinaire, and her team at Little, Brown. They paid attention to every single detail, so when you get the book in your hands, be sure to touch the front of it — there will be a surprise. Be sure to take the cover off — there will be yet another surprise.

I need to thank lots of other people. My daughter, Niani Feelings, is just my heart, along with the rest of my family. I have a writing family: my writers’ group is just the best, and of course they contributed to this book. I want to thank Jackson Creek Elementary School, who did an entire marvelous unit on H Is for Harlem, as well as the children and the teachers at St. Mark’s Day School in Harlem. They were the first school in Harlem to invite me to visit. And I always have to recognize my local library, the Richland Library, one of the best in the nation. If you’re ever in Columbia, South Carolina, do visit the Richland Library.

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

I do feel like this book is a special book and that Harlem is a special place, but I also want you to think about the ways in which the places where you live are special; the places that you love are special in so many ways. So that’s one thing I want you to take away from the book as well: that everybody’s home is special. Again, I want to thank the Boston Globe and the Horn Book for giving H Is for Harlem this recognition. Thanks very much.

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.

Dinah Johnson

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

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.