Clarence Page, the longtime columnist from the Chicago Tribune, connected with the audience in a folksy conversation by pointing out that he was reared in Middletown and that he had his first journalism job with the Dayton Journal Herald. In an aside, he chuckled as he told Dayton Mayor Jeff Mims who was attending the ceremony that his first assignment was to check in with Dayton’s Mayor every morning so he would not miss anything going on in the city. Mayor Mims just smiled.
The evening was filled with winners from the tall cotton. Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, the fiction winner as the author of “The Songs of W. E. DuBois,” cited her family upbringing, and assured us that she would speak her piece. And she did, forcefully, but poetically, as she spoke about fighting discrimination throughout her life and yet crafted her novel to bring peace through the written word. Like Honorée, Clint Smith, the nonfiction winner, is a poet who had a forceful message in “How the Word is Passed,” but presented it in lyrical verse, as in “The sky above the Mississippi River stretched out like a song.”