We are honored to have these literary icons as guest judges to help us select up to 30 finalists!
Mahogany L. Browne
Mahogany L. Browne, selected as Kennedy Center's Next 50 and Wesleyan's 2022-23 Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, the Executive Director of JustMedia, Artistic Director of Urban Word, is a writer, playwright, organizer, & educator. Browne has received fellowships from All Arts, Arts for Justice, Air Serenbe, Baldwin for the Arts, Cave Canem, Poets House, Mellon Research, & Rauschenberg. She is the author of recent works: Vinyl Moon, Chlorine Sky (optioned for Steppenwolf Theater), Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice, Woke Baby, & Black Girl Magic. Founder of the diverse lit initiative Woke Baby Book Fair, Browne is currently touring her latest poetry collection, Chrome Valley, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was highlighted in the New York Times.
She is the first-ever poet-in-residence at the Lincoln Center and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Ava Chin is the author of Eating Wildly, winner of the Les Dames d’Escoffier International M.F.K. Fisher Book Prize. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, and Saveur. She is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York Institute for the Humanities, and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. She is an associate professor of creative nonfiction at the City University of New York.
Novella Ford is the Associate Director of Public Programs and Exhibitions at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research division of The New York Public Library. In her role, she has launched the annual Schomburg Center Literary Festival and has organized hundreds of public programs at the intersection of scholarship and popular culture. She connects diverse audiences to the archives and engages history through dialogue, performance, literature, and visual arts. Most recently she served as the guest editor of Pen + Brush Gallery’s literary magazine, In Print No. 5 and serves on the board of Cave Canem Foundation, a home for the many voices of Black poetry.
Sidik Fofana is a public school teacher in Brooklyn and graduate of NYU’s MFA in Creative Writing. He is a recipient of the 2023 Whiting Award and was also named an Emerging Writer Fellow at the Center for Fiction in 2018. His work has appeared in the Sewanee Review and Granta. He is the author of Stories from the Tenants Downstairs, published by Scribner in 2022.
Xochitl Gonzalez is the New York Times bestselling author of Olga Dies Dreaming. Named a Best of 2022 by The New York Times, TIME, Kirkus, Washington Post, and NPR, Olga Dies Dreaming was the winner of the Brooklyn Public Library Book Prize in Fiction and The New York City Book Awards. Gonzalez is a 2021 M.F.A. graduate from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her non-fiction work has been published in Elle Decor, Allure, Vogue, Real Simple, and The Cut. Her commentary writing for The Atlantic was recognized as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A native Brooklynite and proud public school graduate, Gonzalez holds a BA from Brown University and lives in her hometown of Brooklyn with her dog, Hectah Lavoe.
Alvin Hall is an award-winning television and radio broadcaster, author, political activist, and renowned financial educator. His numerous radio programs include The Tulsa Tragedy That Shamed America (2021, BBC Radio 4), The Green Book (2016, BBC Radio 4), and Jay-Z: From Brooklyn to the Board Room (BBC Radio 4). For five years on the BBC, he hosted the highly rated and award-winning series, Your Money or Your Life, on which he offered both practical financial and psychological advice.
Erika L. Sánchez
Erika L. Sánchez is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion, was published by Graywolf in July 2017, and was a finalist for the PEN America Open Book Award. Her debut young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, published in October 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers, was a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Awards finalist, and Tomás Rivera Award winner. It is now is being made into a film directed by America Ferrera. Most recently Sánchez published a critically acclaimed memoir-in-essays titled Crying in the Bathroom with Viking Books. Sánchez was a Fulbright Scholar, a 2015 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent fellow from the Poetry Foundation, a 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow, a 2018 recipient of the 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library Foundation, and a 2019 recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She was the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz chair at DePaul University in Chicago from 2019-2023, until her contract was not renewed due to "budget cuts,” or what she likes to call “systemic racism.”
Ashley Woodfolk has loved reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She graduated from Rutgers University and worked in children's book publishing for over a decade. Now a full-time mom and writer, Ashley lives in a sunny Brooklyn apartment with her cute husband, her cuter dog, and the cutest kid in the world. Her books include The Beauty That Remains, When You Were Everything, Blackout, Nothing Burns As Bright As You and the Flyy Girls Series.
Judy Zuckerman is Director of Youth and Family Services at Brooklyn Public Library, overseeing the team that supports programs and services for children, teens, and their caring adults in the 61 BPL locations. Before joining BPL in 2003 Judy worked as a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library in Manhattan and the Bronx. She has been active in the American Library Association for over 35 years, serving as Chair of the 2011 Caldecott Award Committee and as a member of the Newbery Award Committee and several other youth media award committees. She has an essay included in the Harriet the Spy 50th Anniversary Edition (Delacorte, 2014). She holds an undergraduate degree in English from Cornell University and a Master of Arts degree in Library Science from the University of Chicago.