The NAACP nominated Professor of African American Studies Kali Nicole Gross for the organization’s 52nd Image Awards in the “Outstanding Literary Work – Nonfiction” category on Feb. 4 for her book “A Black Women’s History of the United States.” Gross co-wrote the novel with Chair of the History Department at The University of Texas at Austin Daina Ramey Berry.
Created in 1927, the awards aim to celebrate African American individuals for their contributions in film, television, music and literature. Previous winners in Gross’ category include novelist Toni Morrison in 2020 and poet Maya Angelou in 2005 and 2009.
This year, Gross’ fellow nominees include prominent figures like former U.S. President Barack Obama for his memoir “A Promised Land” and former U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) for “We’re Better Than This,” among others. The awards this year will take place virtually on March 27 at 8 p.m. ET.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Gross said. “Honestly, all the nominated books are phenomenal. I feel incredibly blessed and humbled, and I am excited that so many people are learning about Black women’s history.”
Their novel details Black womanhood through the history of the U.S., from the first African woman who arrived to contemporary African American women. The novel takes a holistic approach, including the voices of both enslaved and freed women along with artists, queer women, religious leaders, activists and others.
Gross said “A Black Women’s History of the United States” aims to inspire people to engage with and learn more about Black women’s history. She hopes readers “understand just how hard Black women have fought for liberty, equality and democracy — not solely for themselves but in a manner that benefits everyone.”
She attributed her interest in her areas of expertise to her personal experiences, saying she “grew up in multiple Americas.”
“In my world at home, my hardworking, single mother built a life for us that was filled with laughter, love, good food, music, reading and Black literature and the arts,” Gross said. “The world outside was often hostile, filled with unspoken and spoken threats. … I knew much of that unfairness was about race and about gender even though I didn’t have the vocabulary to give it a name.”
In the face of racism, Gross persevered and is currently serving as the Publications Director for the Association of Black Women Historians and is also a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.
“Black women are forced to navigate a web of interlocking systems of oppression … that impact their quality of life in myriad ways; from unequal justice, to a lack of access to adequate healthcare and education, to pay equity issues, to the widespread myths that depict Black women as untrustworthy, domineering and extractive,” Gross explained.
“A Black Women’s History of the United States” has also been nominated for Goodreads Best of History and Biography 2020 and named in the African American Intellectual History Society’s best Black history books of 2020, Kirkus Best Books of 2020: Black Life in America, Kirkus Best-Big Picture History Books of 2020 and Ms. Magazine’s Best of the Rest 2020.
Gross is no stranger to high notoriety. Her first book, “Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910,” won the 2006 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize and her second book, “Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex and Violece in America,” won the 2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction.
Her prolific research of Black women’s experiences in the United States’ criminal justice system has been published in Vanity Fair, TIME, BBC News, The Washington Post and other outlets.
There are “no easy answers” to the problems Gross mentioned, such as unequal justice and a lack of access to adequate healthcare; however, she continues to work in education and conduct research to advocate for racial injustices and spread awareness.