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The James Beard Foundation has named Jessica B. Harris as recipient of the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award. 

An author, journalist, historian, and culinary expert, Harris has penned 12 books over an illustrious career, documenting the complicated foodways of the African diaspora. Her work has earned her ranking authority on the subject as well as a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance and a 2010 James Beard Foundation special award honoree.

The annual award is bestowed upon a person in the industry whose body of work has had a positive and long-lasting impact on the way we eat, cook, and think about food in America. Previous recipients include Leah Chase, Wolfgang Puck, and Cecilia Chiang. 

JBAJames Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards AnnouncedAmong Harris’ many influential works on African foodways are “Hot Stuff: A Cookbook in Praise of the Piquant,” “Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons: Africa’s Gifts to New World Cooking,” “Beyond Gumbo: Creole Fusion Food from the Atlantic Rim,” and “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America.” Other works include “My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir” and the forthcoming “Vintage Postcards from the African World,” a work presenting images of the foodways and celebrations of the African Atlantic World.

A native of New York City, Harris is currently Professor Emerita at Queens College/CUNY in New York City, where she has taught for fifty years. She has also previously served as travel editor and books review editor for Essence magazine.

“I am humbled, honored, and more than a little astonished to receive this singular award,” Harris said in a statement. “I am mindful that while my name is on it, it is also meant for those African Americans in the hospitality world in the past who labored unheralded, un-thanked, and for too many centuries unpaid or underpaid. I hope that this extraordinary honor heralds the beginning of a new era when all Americans can sit down and fully participate at the nation’s table and none of us are strangers at the feast.”

In addition to the Lifetime Achievement Award, the James Beard Foundation announced that Zero Foodprint, a nonprofit organization working to build a carbon-neutral, renewable food system, was named Humanitarian of the Year Award. This honor is given to an individual or organization whose work has improved the lives of others and benefited society at large.

Tickets for the James Beard Awards Gala’s 30th anniversary in Chicago go on sale Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at 12:00 PM EST, and the Awards will be broadcast live via the James Beard Foundation’s Twitter feed.

If you’d like to help, you can donate to Zero Foodprint here, and find some of Jessica B. Harris’ seminal works below.

Vintage Postcards from the African World, $35 on Amazon

Harris’ latest features her own collection of postcards documenting Africans and their descendants in the American diaspora.Buy Now

Beyond Gumbo, $24.99 on Amazon


Yes, gumbo is great but in this book, Harris looks at the entirety of the iconic Louisiana food with all its African, European, and Caribbean influence.Buy Now

My Soul Looks Back, $10.92 on Amazon


In Harris’ memoir, she recalls her youth surrounded by important influences like Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison.Buy Now

The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent, $13.22 on Amazon


From the savory stews of the western savannah to the curries and chutneys of the Swahili coasts, Harris has assembled a collection of recipes that reflects the modern innovations and rich heritage of kitchens across Africa.Buy Now

Header image courtesy of James Beard Foundation.

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