I’m stealing a lot of verbiage below from the Sisters in Crime website, which has even more detail about The Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award than I’ve got here. You may know that I lived awhile in and around Chicago. That was where I joined my first Sisters in Crime chapter. And Eleanor Taylor Bland was one of our members from Waukegan, a town outside Chicago. If you’ve ever been there, you soon realize that the tentacles of semi-connected towns crawl north, from the heart of the Loop, up the lakefront to the Wisconsin border (near where Eleanor lived). They also creep down south around the bottom curve of the lake Michigan to bump into Gary, Indiana. The population also sprawls west along the prairie (and I-80/88), not quite to Iowa, but by now, there are probably people in the Mississippi River-hugging Quad Cities who describe themselves as living in a Chicago suburb.
Geographical digressions aside, I met Eleanor when I hadn’t even written a crime short story, and I was only playing with the idea of a manuscript. (My first MS, true closet-fodder, was eventually about a Chicago fixer and institutionalized corruption–where do I come up with this stuff?) I have this title of hers as a signed hardcover, and it was already the 10th in her series! Eleanor’s procedurals about a female homicide cop juggling cases and family life in a disguised Waukegan called Lincoln Prairie were an inspiration. Detective Marti McAlister had to get assertive at times, but I have no idea if Eleanor ever raised her voice, because in my witness, she was always refined and self-possessed. Relentlessly kind and encouraging, too, just the thing a desperately insecure new writer needs and craves. Besides her service and support to the SinC chapter, I know she took a strong interest in mentoring young writers in other venues, and it’s wonderful that there’s an award in her honor that continues helping to support new writers in their work. Now, onto the cash!
The Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award is an annual grant of $1,500 for an emerging writer of color. An unpublished writer is preferred, although publication of one work of short fiction or academic work will not disqualify an applicant. This grant is intended to support the recipient in activities related to crime fiction writing and career development. She or he may choose from activities that include workshops, seminars, conferences, and retreats; online courses; and research activities required for completion of the work….
Eleanor Taylor Bland was a pioneer in crime fiction. In 1992 the first in a series of crime fiction novels that feature Marti MacAlister, an African American female police detective who works and resides in a Midwestern American town that closely resembles Bland’s own adopted home town, Waukegan, Illinois, was published. Bland also published several works of short crime fiction and edited a collection titled Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors (2004). When she passed away in 2010, she was one of the most prolific African American authors in the genre. With Marti MacAlister, Bland created an enduring and much beloved heroine who went against the grain of perpetuated stereotypes related to African American women in much of U.S. popular culture.
Although Bland focused primarily in her work on stories about African American characters and their lives, bringing both complexities and comforts of familiarity to her readership, she also included in-depth interactions with other kinds of characters that reflect the broad spectrum of identities that is U.S. society. Bland saw crime fiction as an especially accessible literary vehicle for bringing into the genre characters that before her work had been peripheral to or simply missing from the genre. She understood that crime fiction could continue over time broadening its appeal to new reading audiences by opening its doors to the kinds of characters, societal situations and perspectives, and potential for creativity that authors of color would bring.
Deadline for applications: July 5, 2015. The winner will be selected and announced in the fall of 2015. They’re looking for “writers of color with an unpublished work of crime fiction, written with an adult (rather than YA or children) audience in mind, which may be a short story or first chapter(s) of a manuscript in-progress, 2,500 to 10,000 words.” If that’s you, please check out the details and apply!