SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA, February 26, 2017 – The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library is pleased to announce Lou Bellamy, founder of Penumbra Theatre, teacher, mentor, and tireless promoter of African American literature, as the winner of the 2017 Kay Sexton Award. The award is presented annually to an individual or organization in recognition of long-standing dedication and outstanding work in fostering books, reading, and literary activity in Minnesota and is part of the 29th Annual Minnesota Book Awards, presented this year by sponsor Education Minnesota.
For more than four decades, Lou Bellamy has been a champion of African American literature, bringing to light works by African American playwrights, enabling artists to find their voice, and inspiring understanding of the vital role these stories play in our community and history. Bellamy founded Penumbra Theatre in 1976, which for 40 years has provided a platform for the promotion of African American dramatic literature, honoring and telling the stories of the African American experience. In the words of Neal Cuthbert, former Vice President of Programs at the McKnight Foundation, Penumbra has, through its acclaimed stage productions, educational programming, and new play development efforts, “had an impact on the creative lives of generations of African American and other writers and has frankly altered the course of artistic expression and development in this community and across the country.” In addition to promoting works on stage at Penumbra, Bellamy has inspired and touched the lives of thousands of youth, cultivating the production of new dramatic literature, poetry, and spoken word. Bellamy’s work has consistently provided a community for new writers, ensuring they have valuable resources and support.
For 38 years, Bellamy was an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, fostering appreciation for and understanding of African American dramatic literature and its context within historical civil rights initiatives. His commitment to connecting students and the larger public with the many voices in African American literature inspired the founding of the Lou Bellamy Rare Book Collection in 2011, a premier collection in the Givens Collection of African American Literature donated anonymously in Bellamy’s honor. This is a growing collection of more than 850 rare volumes, some of which pre-date the Emancipation Proclamation. This collection, combined with the Penumbra Theatre Archives, entrusted to the Givens Collection in 2006, are evidence of Bellamy’s impact in the world of literature, history, and archives. “The archive of Penumbra Theatre presents an enduring record of hundreds of voices, perspectives, and experiences that are critical to our collective understanding of what American life and literature is – what it sounds like, and who gets to tell it,” states Cecily Marcus, Curator of the Givens Collection of African American Literature.
Bellamy is an OBIE Award-winning director and accomplished actor, and under his leadership, Penumbra has grown to be the largest theater of its kind in America and has produced 39 world premieres, including August Wilson’s first professional production. Penumbra also has the distinction of having produced more of Wilson’s plays than any other theater in the world.
Lou Bellamy will be honored on Saturday, April 8, at the 29th annual Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony at InterContinental Hotel Saint Paul Riverfront. Awards will be presented in nine book categories, as well as the annual Book Artist Award. Tickets are on sale now and are available by visiting www.thefriends.org/ceremony or calling 651-222-3242.
Originally created in 1988, the Minnesota Book Awards is now a year-long program that fosters our statewide literary arts community. The process begins in the fall with book submissions and continues through winter with two rounds of judging. Winners are announced at the Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony. Woven throughout the season are various engagement activities and events that promote the authors and connect the world of Minnesota books – writers, artists, illustrators, publishers, editors, and more – to readers throughout the state. In recognition of this and its other statewide programs and services, the Library of Congress has recognized The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library as the state’s designated Center for the Book.
For additional information on the 29th Annual Minnesota Book Awards, the Awards Ceremony, or the Minnesota Center for the Book, please visit www.thefriends.org or call 651-222-3242. The Minnesota Book Awards is a program of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library. Generous support for the Book Awards has been provided by the Harlan Boss Foundation for the Arts; The Katherine B. Andersen Fund of The Saint Paul Foundation; and The McKnight Foundation. Media sponsors include Minnesota Public Radio and the Star Tribune. Outreach partners and supporting organizations include Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Augsburg College, The Loft Literary Center, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, Minnesota State Arts Board, and Twin Cities Public Television.