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Jessica B Harris on longlist for PEN America Literary Award

Dr Jessica B Harris, Patron of the Oxford Cultural Collective, has received a very welcome early Christmas present: a place on the longlist for a prestigious PEN America Literary Award for her recent memoir, My Soul looks Back. She has been recognised in the ‘Open Book’ category which covers fiction, literary nonfiction, memoir and poetry. Formed by PEN America Center’s Open Book Committee, this award is dedicated to encouraging racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing worlds.

Formed in 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards, which have honoured some of the most talented voices in literature across numerous genres, are now regarded as amongst the most significant literary awards in the US. The PEN America Center exists to protect free expression and to foster international literary collaboration.

To view the full longlist for 2018, follow this link. The winners will be announced at a ceremony at New York University on 20th February 2018.


In the Technicolor glow of the early 70s, Jessica B. Harris debated, celebrated, and danced her way from the jazz clubs of Manhattan’s West Side to the restaurants of the Village, living out her buoyant youth alongside the great minds of the day – luminaries like Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison. My Soul Looks Back is her paean to that fascinating social circle and the depth of their shared commitment to activism, intellectual engagement, and each other.

Harris paints evocative portraits of her illustrious friends: Baldwin as he read aloud an early draft of If Beale Street Could Talk, Angelou cooking in her California kitchen, and Morrison relaxing at Baldwin’s house in Provence. Harris describes her role as theater critic for the New York Amsterdam News and editor at then burgeoning Essence magazine; star-studded parties in the South of France; drinks at Mikell’s, a hip West Side club; and the simple joy these extraordinary people took in each other’s company. The book is framed by Harris’ relationship with Sam Floyd, a fellow professor at Queens College, who introduced her to Baldwin. More than a memoir of friendship and first love, My Soul Looks Back is a carefully crafted, intimately understood homage to a bygone era and the people that made it so remarkable.


To buy a copy of My Soul Looks Back, follow this link.

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