In 1978, I was among those who received a $5,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to begin a project whose aim was to distribute little magazines edited by Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans and African Americans. Thus The Before Columbus Foundation, named for Ivan van Sertima’s book, “They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America,” was founded. It was required that I name a partner. I chose poet Victor Hernández Cruz, one of the Puerto Rican writers whom I met on the Lower East Side.
Before Columbus became more than a distribution project.It became a service organization for writers, sponsoring symposiums, panels and readings throughout the country.The late Bob Callahan, the Irish American Langston Hughes as a result of his contacts with writers of different cultures, requested that white ethnics be let in. Bob was one of those who was responsible for the Zora Neale Hurston Renaissance,when he published her book, “Tell My Horse.” We added Irish, Italian and Jewish American writers to our board. In 1979, noticing that the major awards recognized only tokens from our literary cultures, B.C. began the American Book Awards to begin a more expansive look at American storytelling traditions and to present a more inclusive reading of American story telling.