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Dr. Shannen Dee Williams wins Wesley-Logan Prize for book on Black nuns

Williams also won the 2022 Letitia Woods Brown Award for Best Book in African American Women's History from the Association of Black Women Historians.

(Dr. Shannen Dee Williams/Instagram)

Dr. Shannen Dee Williams has won the 2023 Wesley-Logan Prize in African diaspora history for her book “Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle,” the American Historical Association (AHA) has announced.

The book, released last year, was among several honored by the organization in its annual prize listing, announced on October 23.

“Since 1896, the Association has conferred over 1,000 awards. This year’s finalists were selected from a field of over 1,300 entries by nearly 150 dedicated prize committee members,” the AHA said.

“The names, publications, and projects of those who received these awards are a catalog of the best work produced in the historical discipline.”

“Subversive Habits” is the first release from Williams, who serves as an associate professor of history at the University of Dayton. She is a graduate of Agnes Scott College and received an M.A. in Afro-American Studies from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She earned her Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University in 2013 with the dissertation that would later become her award-winning book.

On social media, Williams called her triumph this year “a win for Black Catholic women’s history.”

“It [is] also a win for the nation's historically Black Roman Catholic sisterhoods and for those #Blacknuns who dared to come together to form the National Black Sisters' Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in wake of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. As Dr. King said, ‘no lie can live forever.’”

Since the release of “Subversive Habits” last year, Williams has been touring the country promoting the book and lecturing on the history of Black Catholic nuns in America—including the erasure of much of their history within and outside of the Church.

This fall’s news is only the latest accolade for Williams, who also received the 2022 Letitia Woods Brown Award for Best Book in African American Women's History from the Association of Black Women Historians. According to the University of Dayton, Publisher’s Weekly also named “Subversive Habits” a top-five book published in religion last year.

The Wesley-Logan Prize, established in the early 1990s and jointly sponsored by the AHA and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, each year fetes “an outstanding book on some aspect of the history of the dispersion, settlement, and adjustment, and the return of peoples originally from Africa.” The prize also comes with a $1,000 cash award.

Past winners have included Dr. Jessica Marie Johnson for her 2021 book, “Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World”; Sylviane Douf for “Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America” in 2007; and Dr. Philip D. Morgan for his 1998 text “Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry.”

For her win this year, Williams will be honored at the AHA’s 137th annual meeting, scheduled to take place at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square from January 4-7, 2024.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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