Posted on April 13, 2001 at 4:10 p.m.
BIRMINGHAM, AL — The 2001 University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Roberta Long Medal will be awarded posthumously to children’s author Lorenz B. Graham, a man who has been called “a pioneer of African-American literature.”
The award ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, April 20, at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, 520 16th Street North.
The Roberta Long Medal for Distinguished Contributions to Literature celebrates the cultural diversity of children. It is awarded annually in honor of retired UAB professor of education Roberta Long, Ph.D., who encouraged teachers to use culturally diverse children’s literature. The award ceremony is held as part of the Young Authors’ Conference, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 21, at UAB.
Graham’s daughter, Ruth Graham Siegrist, is scheduled to accept the award on his behalf. The ceremony will include a musical performance by the Tuggle Elementary School Choir and a special tribute by illustrator and storyteller Ashley Bryan, the 1999 Roberta Long Medal winner.
Graham was born in 1902 in New Orleans. He grew up the son of an African Methodist Episcopal minister. While a student at the University of California at Los Angeles in the 1920s, he accepted a teaching position at a mission school in Monrovia, Liberia. While in Liberia, Graham developed an interest in writing.
Graham’s books How God Fix Jonah, [cq] published in 1946, and Every Man Heart Lay Down, published in 1970, have been reissued for a new generation of young readers. How God Fix Jonah, which was Graham’s first book, is a collection of biblical tales told in the Liberian dialect. The new issue includes two new stories never before published. Every Man Heart Lay Down is the story of Christ’s birth told in the English idiom of Liberia.
In 1966 Graham published I Momolu, a story told from the perspective of a young boy in Africa. The book was praised by critics for its realistic and positive portrayal of Africans in a time when few novels about blacks were available.
Graham experienced first hand the devastating effects of segregation and racism in America and in his Town series, which included, South Town, (1958); North Town, (1965); and Whose Town? (1969), he sought to portray these effects on one family. The series’ central character, David Williams, a young African-American who longs to be a doctor and finally achieves this goal, experiences racism and the changes that come with the Civil Rights movement.
Graham died September 11, 1989 in West Covina, California.
NOTE: Photos of Lorenz Graham are available upon request.