Houston, TX, October 7, 2020 – The Second Annual Houston Literary Awards honored Houston’s acclaimed authors on October 3, 2020, presented by the Houston Public Library Foundation. The virtual event began at 7:30 p.m. on the Socio Event platform with the live stream at 8:00 p.m.

In preparation for an evening of literary celebrations, guests received author- inspired cocktail recipes and the HPL Foundation’s signature dark chocolate “book” to enjoy while bidding on silent auction items within the event platform.

The Houston Literary Awards program began at 8:00 p.m., and each Literary Excellence Award-winning author shared insights into their exceptional literary works with the Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Roger Leslie, who was an awarded author last year. His literary wit and film repartee kept the virtual program lively.

The 2020 Literary Excellence awardees included science-fiction novelist Justin Cronin, Houston’s first Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda, teen novelist Andrea White, children’s writer Varsha Bajaj, and inspirational author ReShonda Tate Billingsley. These exceptional authors answered questions about their literary process and shared their response to being an awarded author.

While transitioning the author groups, Dr. Leslie shared his expertise of the film industry and the authors who make the screen come alive. He playfully attributed a famous actor to “play” each of the awardees.

The 2020 Reader’s Choice Award authors joined the presentation, and Roger Leslie kept everyone in suspense as he unsealed the golden envelope to announce the winner, Nkem Denchukwu. The Reader’s Choice contest started with public nominations in August and concluded with voting for the five accomplished finalists: Joel Edward Goza, Michael Swanson, Phuc Luu, S.C. Perkins, and Nkem Denchukwu. Unfortunately, Ms. Denchukwu had connectivity issues, and Dr. Leslie graciously accepted the award on her behalf.

The silent auction and instabuy will remain active through October 10, 2020, on under “events” or directly on https://

The Houston Public Library Foundation scheduled next year’s Awards as an in-person gala on October 15, 2021, at the Hilton Americas Hotel in downtown Houston. Sponsorships and early bird registration will open in April 2021.

The Houston Literary Awards is a signature fundraiser benefiting the Houston Public Library Foundation whose mission unites partners who value lifelong learning.

To access the recorded event for public or private use, please contact the Houston Public Library Foundation at 832.393.1524.


Justin Cronin is the New York Times bestselling author of The Passage Trilogy (The Passage, The Twelve, The City of Mirrors), Mary and O’Neil (which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Stephen Crane Prize), and The Summer Guest. Other honors for his writing include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Whiting Writers’ Award. A Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Rice University, he divides his time between Houston, Texas, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Gwendolyn Zepeda was born in Houston, Texas in 1971 and attended the University of Texas at Austin. She was the first Latina blogger and began her writing career on the Web in 1997 as one of the founding writers of entertainment site Television Without Pity. Since that time, Zepeda has published three critically acclaimed novels through Hachette and five award-winning children’s books, a short-story collection, and two books of poems through Arte Publico Press. She also edited Houston Noir for Akashic Books. She was Houston’s first poet laureate, serving a two-year term from 2013 to 2015.

Varsha Bajaj grew up in Mumbai, India, and when she came to the United States to obtain her master’s degree, her adjustment to the county was aided by her awareness of the culture through books. In addition to her previous picture books, she wrote the middle-grade novel Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood, which was shortlisted for the Cybils Award and included on the Spirit of Texas Reading Program.

Andrea White is the author of five books of middle-grade fiction. She lives in Houston, TX with her husband, former Mayor Bill White. She’s grateful to her readers and fellow authors at all times, but she’s especially grateful to other authors for their great stories during the pandemic.

ReShonda Tate Billingsley is the national bestselling author of 50 books. She writes both adult and teen fiction, as well as nonfiction. Considered one of the top African American authors in the country, her books remain a staple on bestseller’s lists.

The 2020 Readers’ Choice Award winner, Nkem Denchukwu, is a creative writer, filmmaker, and a mother of 4. She has published 12 inspirational books and 13 Independent Films since 2012.

Houston Public Library Foundation Board of Directors

Licia A. Green-Ellis

Zarine Boyce
Vice Chairperson

Tina Arias Peterman

Neil Thomas

Rachel Cevallos

Melinda Little

Adan Vega

Alia Vinson

Mary Jane Wakefield

Carme Williams, CFRE

Mayor Sylvester Turner
City of Houston

HISD Superintendent

Rhea Brown Lawson, Ph.D.
HPL Director

Sally Swanson, CFRE
HPL Foundation Director


Sally Swanson, Executive Director
[email protected]