School Librarian Cicely Lewis Wins 2019 National Teacher Award for Lifelong Readers

Lewis, a Georgia high school librarian who challenges students to “Read Woke,” has been awarded the inaugural National Teacher Award for Lifelong Readers.

Cicely Lewis, a Georgia high school librarian who challenges students to “Read Woke,” has been awarded the 2019 National Teacher Award for Lifelong Readers. The inaugural honor is administered jointly by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and Penguin Random House (PRH)

Honoring a teacher who inspires their students to read all genres of writing, the award comes with a $10,000 grant, which will help support the expansion of Lewis’s Read Woke Community of Readers Challenge program.

The librarian at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, GA, Lewis stepped up to the dais at the opening of the NCTE Annual Convention in Baltimore last month, where she received the honor before several thousand attendees.

"I am so honored to stand before you today and accept the Penguin Random House and NCTE Teacher Award for Lifelong Readers Grant," said Lewis,  a 2019 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, Georgia Library Media Specialist of the Year, as well as SLJ’s “Read Woke” columnist. 

"Being an English teacher and a school librarian for 16 years has been an honor and privilege. I am here alone on this stage accepting this award but I stand on the shoulders of my family, my students, my colleagues, my principal, fellow librarians and the School Library Journal.  I issue this challenge to you today in the audience to support school libraries, collaborate with your SL, continue to fight for our students, continue to arm them with knowledge and most importantly continue to READ WOKE," she said.


Lewis created the Read Woke challenge in 2017 in response to growing concern among students about the shootings of unarmed Black boys, the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and the lack of diversity in young adult literature. The goal was to encourage students to read books that “challenge the social norm and give voice to the voiceless,” according to a release. The challenge has since spread to educators and students around the world, who are engaging “woke” books.

“The books Ms. Lewis’s students read through the Read Woke challenge act as windows and mirrors that allow young people to see themselves and the larger world in what they read,” says Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE executive director. “That’s how you develop lifelong readers. We’re thrilled to be able to support this educator’s vital work alongside Penguin Random House.”

The award selection committee, made up of teachers and PRH representatives, chose Lewis’s project based on its reach, its sustainability, and its strong connection to NCTE values and national conversations on critical issues in education and society. The grant will expand the Read Woke program with T-shirts, field trips to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, a poetry celebration, literacy kits, a bookmobile visit to students’ local libraries, and author visits.

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Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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