Buki Papillon is the winner of the second annual Maya Angelou Book Award for her acclaimed first novel An Ordinary Wonder. She was named Wednesday, November 16, 2022, during the Writers for Readers literary event co-sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library and the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s MFA Program in Creative Writing.
Video of her emotional reaction to her selection can be accessed here.
Papillon says the honor feels profound because of all Maya Angelou stood for. “So many of the themes that fill her work resonate in my own book: societal oppression, the longing for escape and freedom, the fight to overcome adversity and express your full humanity, the complexity of family bonds,” she says.
An Ordinary Wonder tells the story of an intersex Nigerian teen, Oto, who’s been raised a boy and hopes to escape family judgement about their clear knowledge of being female by going to boarding school.
At boarding school, however, they continue to be labeled a boy and must hide their feelings of love for their roommate. Oto fosters a belief that a new life and freedom hinge on getting to the United States.
Papillon, who was born in Nigeria, has a law degree from Hull University in the United Kingdom and an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Maya Angelou Book Award reading committee selected Papillon from four finalists who emerged from a field of more than 100 submissions: Percival Everett for The Trees, Jason Mott for Hell of a Book, Kirstin Valdez Quade for The Five Wounds, and Papillon.
The award includes a $10,000 stipend, and Papillon will conduct a book tour of the six participating universities. Named for revered Missouri-born memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, the prize celebrates contemporary writers whose work demonstrates their commitment to social justice. It alternates annually between poetry and fiction, going this year to the author of a work of fiction.
The award was established in 2020 by the Kansas City Public Library, UMKC, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri State University, and Northwest Missouri State, Truman State, and Southeast Missouri State universities.