"Carmen Tafolla has been a constant presence on the Texas literary scene for over forty years—foremost as a writer of both poetry and fiction, but also as someone who works hard to promote literature and literacy."
Author Carmen Tafolla has been named the winner of the Texas Institute of Letters’ prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. This is the highest honor given by the TIL, which was established in 1936 to recognize distinctive literary achievement. The award will be presented to Tafolla in The Woodlands at TIL’s annual banquet on May 4, 2024 with a prize of $7,000.
From TIL president, Diana López: “Carmen Tafolla has been a constant presence on the Texas literary scene for over forty years—foremost as a writer of both poetry and fiction, but also as someone who works hard to promote literature and literacy. She has been an active member of TIL since her induction in 2009 and was the first Latina to serve as its president. She has also cultivated and defended Texas literature by teaching, visiting communities and schools as Poet Laureate, advocating for Mexican American Studies programs and the freedom to read alongside los librotraficantes, and organizing events like the National Latinx Children's Literature Conference. It's fitting that she is being honored right after the publication of her novel-in-verse, Warrior Girl, the story of a young person using her voice as a vehicle for private reflection and for calling attention to social injustices. What I've always admired about Carmen is her connection to community. For her, writing is a public act, a gift for others, and I'm thrilled that we get to return her generosity by presenting her with this year's Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Tafolla has worked and published in the fields of Mexican-American Studies, Women’s Studies, Bilingual Education, and History, but it is in the fields of creative writing that she has become most renowned. Named by Mayor Julian Castro in 2012 as the first City Poet Laureate of San Antonio (and the first of any major city in Texas), Tafolla worked with a wide variety of audiences from schoolchildren to scholars, from musical composers to visual artists, to capture the beauty and the diversity of the people of Texas. She has written poetry, pieces for dramatic performance, coffee table books, historical reviews, books of folklore, picture books, short stories, essays, scholarly articles, and a novel-in-verse. In 2010, the Fred Rogers Corporation recognized her picture book, Fiesta Babies, as one of the Top Ten Books for Babies. Tafolla also served as the 2015 State Poet Laureate of Texas, and in 2019, she was named Professor Emeritus of Transformative Children’s Literature at UTSA.
Other distinctions include six International Latino Book Awards, two Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Awards, the Américas Award, the Charlotte Zolotow Award for Best Children’s Picture Book Writing, three A.L.A. Notable Books, a Junior Library Guild Selection, the Tejas Star, and the Texas 2x2 Award. Tafolla has been recognized by the National Association for Chicana & Chicano Studies for work which "gives voice to the peoples and cultures of this land." Her latest book, Warrior Girl, has been selected as one of eleven finalists for the 2024 Jane Addams Children's Book Award, which is given to works that encourage young readers to think about issues of peace, social justice, global community, and equity for all people.
Tafolla's work has also reached an international audience. She has presented her onewoman show, Las Voces de mi Gente, throughout the nation, and in England, Spain, Germany, Norway, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, France and New Zealand, and her works have been published in English, Spanish, French, German, Korean, and Bengali.
When notified about being named the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Tafolla said, “I was very surprised and deeply humbled to be chosen to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. There are so many writers doing heroic and significant work in this struggling and conflicted world of bannings and silencings, soundbites and artificial fabrications, that it’s truly a very significant honor to be recognized by this group of accomplished and dedicated writers. I feel it is a recognition of the power of the printed word, the spoken word, and the performed word. As a writer who has chosen not to stay within the borders of one genre or one language or even one target age audience, I feel it is a recognition of those who choose to go beyond borders and to empower readers of all ages and all backgrounds to hear their voices and their realities reflected in the universality of the human story.”
The Texas Institute of Letters is a non-profit Honor Society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and to recognize distinctive literary achievement. The TIL’s elected membership consists of the state’s most respected writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism, songwriting, drama, and scholarship. The membership includes winners of the Pulitzer Prizes in drama, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as prizes by PEN, fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts, and awards from dozens of other regional and national institutions.