First Black woman to win Harper Lee Prize – author Deborah Johnson

Deborah Johnson

Deborah Johnson

Deborah Johnson recently made history in the literature and writing world.

GoodBlackNews.com reports that the Missouri native was selected to receive the 2015 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, administered by the University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal. Not only is Johnson the first African American to win the prize, but she is also the first woman.

“I am thrilled and I thank the University of Alabama, the ABA Journal, and the judges so very much for this wonderful honor,” Johnson said.

The Harper Lee Prize will be presented to Johnson at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. on September 3. The name of her award-winning book is called The Secret of Magic (Putnam & Sons 2014). The story takes place in 1946, focusing on a young woman attorney working for Thurgood Marshall. After discovering the murder of a young Black war hero in Mississippi, she is asked to undergo an investigation.

The Secret of Magic was chosen by a Selection Committee composed of a panel of distinguished judges: Wayne Flynt, author and Alabama historian; Mary McDonagh Murphy, independent film and television writer and producer; and Michele Norris, NPR host and special correspondent. The Selection Committee allegedly compared Johnson’s novel to the caliber of author Harper Lee’s How to Kill a Mockingbird.

“Unforgettable characters, suspense that builds straight to the last pages and straight plain prose,” said Mary McDonagh Murphy. “All the necessary ingredients to win a prize named for Harper Lee. Deborah Johnson does a lovely job.”

It’s one thing to be the first woman to accomplish any challenge. But to be the first woman and first Black person is nothing less than impressive. Johnson has opened the door for any other woman and person of color who inspires to be as talented a writer as she is.