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Culture

Maria Smilios Honored with a Christopher Award for Her Book ‘The Black Angels’

NEW YORK – Greek-American author Maria Smilios has been honored with a Christopher Award for her book, The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Random House). It is one of 12 books for adults and young people honored this year as the Christopher Awards program marks its 75th year.

Smilios relates the untold story of the African-American nurses from the South who moved to New York during the Great Depression to care for tuberculosis patients and help find a cure for the disease. Before antibiotics, TB, a contagious disease, killed one out of every seven people. Seaview Hospital in Staten Island, NY, cared for these patients, but its white nurses began quitting because their lives were being put at risk. Desperate to avert a public health crisis, city officials summoned Black southern nurses, luring them with promises of good pay, a career, and an escape from the strictures of Jim Crow laws. The book recovers the voices of these extraordinary women whose insights helped doctors find a cure and puts them at the center of this riveting story, celebrating their legacy and spirit of survival.

The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses who Helped Cure Tuberculosis by Maria Smilios. (Photo: Penguin Random House)

Maria Smilios was born and raised in New York City. In 2016, while working as a developmental editor for Springer Science she learned about this extraordinary story and became determined to tell it. She holds a Master of Arts in American literature and religion from Boston University where she was a Luce scholar and taught in the religion and writing program. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Narratively, The Forward, Lit Hub, Writers Digest, Dame Magazine, The Rumpus, and other publications.

The city and State of New York recently recognized her for “outstanding service” and “positive contribution” to the people of New York. The book also inspired the Staten Island Museum to curate the exhibit ‘Taking Care: The Black Angels of Sea View,’ which is on display through November of 2024.

Christopher Awards were also given to creators of 11 TV/Cable shows and feature films. The Awards celebrate authors and illustrators as well as writers, producers, and directors whose work “affirms the highest values of the human spirit” and reflects the Christopher motto, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Christopher Awards were also given to the creators of 10 TV/Cable shows and feature films, including Greek-American filmmaker Alexander Payne’s award-winning film ‘The Holdovers.’

Tony Rossi, The Christophers’ Director of Communications, said: “We’re often told that we can better understand a person if we walk a mile in their shoes. While that may not be physically possible, our book, film, and TV winners allow us to do that through engagingly told stories that introduce us to people and places different from our own, yet relatable in a variety of ways.”

The Christophers, a nonprofit founded in 1945 by Maryknoll Father James Keller, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of service to God and humanity. The ancient Chinese proverb— “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”— guides its publishing, radio, and awards programs. More information about The Christophers is available at www.christophers.org.

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