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2020 In the Margins Press Release

February 12, 2020

Contact:  Sabrina Carnesi, In the Margins Book Awards Committee Chair


NEWPORT NEWS, VA. – The In the Margins Book Awards (ITM) committee is pleased to announce their selection for overall top titles and Top Ten List for 2020.  In the Margins Book Award selections are inclusive of stories written for youth between the ages of 9 and 21, in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, and advocacy. Many books considered for this award are self-published and from smaller independent publishers.  The committee’s charge is inclusive of youth living a marginalized existance, with specific focus on narratives and informational text that address the disproportionality of injustices experienced by BIPOC youth from the historical impact of cultural irrelevance and structural exclusion which often finds them living in poverty, in the streets, in custody, or a cycle of all three.

In addition to reading and discussing a multitude of book titles published over the previous 18 months of the award year, a unique selection experience of the committee is the input received from young adults who have also read and directly shared their opinions on the same book titles.   Incorporating the enthusiastic response from youth who live the experiences of our charge is a vital component to generating this annual reading list which was originally intended as a selection tool for librarians who service youth in juvenile detention facilities throughout the North American continent, and has since spread to community outreach programs and schools throughout North America.

For the first time in its seven year history, the committee has not only selected a story that is representative of Indigenous voices as its top fiction title for two years consecutively, but have generated a Top Ten and Recommended List with an overall total of 4 titles with authentic Indigenous and First Nation representation. Another first for the 2020 lists is that both top nonfiction and advocacy titles shatter traditional format, with one book written as a memoir-in-spoken-word and the other written as a memoir-in-essay. Our top title selections in each category for 2020 are:

surviving city

Surviving the City written by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Natasha Donovan, published by Highwater Press (2018), won Top Title for Fiction (YA).

Milkwan and Dez are best friends.  Milkwan is Anishinaabe and Dez is Inninew.  When Dez disappears after finding out she might be sent to a group home because her grandmother is too sick to care for her, it brings back the memories of the disappearance of Milkwan’s mother.  The resilience, cultural, and spiritual support needed by Milkwan to overcome the resurging anguish is addressed in this haunting story that highlights the alarming numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. “The committee is very much aware of the crisis that surrounds missing and murdered Native women as one that has been disregarded by law enforcement and federal agencies for generations.  With the overwhelming response our committee received from the youth reviews gathered for this title, it is our hope that this novel in graphic form spotlights the disproportionalities of this critical issue to youth throughout the country who are seldom made aware of such injustices, and that it may be transformative in growing the community needed to abate such crises,” said Sabrina Carnesi, ITM committee chair.

Hip Hop

When Hip Hop Met Poetry: An Urban Love Story written by Tytianna Wells, cover design by Ashley Cathey, published by  Honey Tree Publishing (2019),  won Top Title for Nonfiction (YA and Older Teens).

In multiple formats of song lyrics, poetic verse, and journal entries author Tytianna Wells shares her passionate memoir from ages 13 to 19 which looks beneath the surface of a good-girl-bad-boy relationship where she becomes a teen mom who loses her baby to stillbirth before graduating from high school.  Tytianna plans to use proceeds from her memoir to fund the Nadia Michelle Scholarship Foundation, an educational support and personal development youth program named after her daughter.  After reading Tytianna’s memoir Carnesi shares the committee’s belief that this title can serve as “a catalyst for teen girls who find themselves in similar situations of despair and brokenness to overcome their barriers and continue on a path of healthy growth and development into adulthood.”


Solitary written by Albert Woodfox, published by Grove Press (2019), won Top Title for Advocacy and Social Justice.

This memoir covers the wrongful treatment the criminal justice system subjected Albert Woodfox to as a man who spent over four decades in Louisiana’s Angola prison, one of this nation’s most notoriously known state prisons. Woodfox spent most of these years in solidarity confinement as part of the Angola 3 who were wrongfully convicted for the murder of a CO (corrections officer) while in jail for lesser crimes. To keep from going insane, Woodfox credits the unwavering friendship with his two wrongly convicted Panther comrades Robert King and Herman Wallace and his ability to channel his anger into educating himself, which aided his transformation into a leader amongst the prisoners. The committee strongly believes ”this memoir serves as a strong tool of advocacy against an unjust criminal justice sentence that turns a blind eye to the disproportionality of solitary confinement in states such as Louisiana where 20 percent of more than 2700 inmates have been in solitary confinement for more than a year.”

This year’s Top Ten List highlights the 44 titles that comprise the fiction, nonfiction, and advocacy lists which are posted on the book award’s website.  In the Margins Official 2020 Top Ten titles are as follows:

  1. Harris, Johnathan and Gary Leach.  Colorblind: A Story on Racism.  April top102019.Zuiker Press.  Hardcover Paperback $12.99.  96 pages.   9781947378124.  Middle Grades.
  2. Laínez, René Colato and Fabricio Vanden Broeck.  My Shoes and I:  Crossing Three Borders / Mis Zapatos y Yo: Cruzando tres Fronteras (Bilingual). May 2019.  Arte Público Press.  Hardback  $17.95.  32 pages.  9781558858848. Middle Grades and Younger. 
  3. Mendoza, Jean, Debbie Reese, & Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People (ReVisioning American History for Young People). July 2019.  Beacon Press. Paperback $18.95.  272 pages.  9780807049396.  Middle Grades and Young Adults.
  4. Ogle, Rex. Free Lunch. September 2019.  Norton.  Hardback $16.95.  208 pages.  9781324003601.  Middle Grades.
  5. Patel, Sonia.  Bloody Seoul. August 2019.  Cinco Puntos Press.  Hardback $17.95.  224 pages.  9781947627208.  Young Adult.
  6. Spillett-Sumner, Tasha and Natasha Donovan. Surviving the City November 2018. Highwater Press. Paperback. $18.98.  56 pages.  9781553797562.  Middle Grades.
  7. Taylor, Annette D.  Dreams on Fire.  October 2018.  West 44.  Hardback $19.95.  200 pages.  9781538382486.  Paperback. $12.90.  200 pages.  9781538382479. Young Adult.
  8. Wells, Tytianna N. M. and Ashley Cathey. When Hip Hop Met Poetry: An Urban Love Story.  May 2019.  Honey Tree Publishing.  Paperback.  $12.95. 370 pages. 9780991031870.  Young Adult. 
  9. Wurth, Erika T.  You Who Enter Here. March 2019.  SUNY Press.  Paperback $19.95.  248 pages.  9781438473161.  Older Teens and New Adults.
  10. Young, Damon.  What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.  Ecco.  March 2019.   Hardback $27.99. 320 pages.  9780062684301.  Older Teens and Adults.

The 2020 committee is comprised of juried and nonjuried members who are librarians and library academics who currently work with youth who experience the challenging circumstances of marginalized issues represented in the selected titles. Members of the 2020 juried committee are:

  • Sabrina Carnesi, Portsmouth Public Schools, Portsmouth, VA;
  • Marvin DeBose, Philadelphia Free Libraries, Philadelphia, PA;
  • Raemona Little-Taylor, Marin County Free Libraries, San Anselmo, CA.
  • Dr. Rae Anne Montague, Chicago State University, Chicago, Illinois; and
  • Dr. Kerry Sutherland, Akron Summit County Public Library, Akron, OH.

The complete set of 3 lists is located on the Award Page for the book award website.  Click here for new book submissions and Committee Membership inquiry.

For additional information please contact the committee at

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