Hundred-Year Retroactive Book Award
Taking a look back in a light-hearted debate
Are books that were popular a hundred years ago still relevant today? That’s the question we ask every year at the Hundred-Year Retroactive Book Award, where three distinguished panelists make a strong case for their books. The audience chooses the winner. Learning from yesterday’s literature has never been this fun.

Hundred-Year Retroactive Book Award of 1924

Wednesday, March 6, 2024 at 6:00 pm
Hybrid: Boston Public Library's Rabb Hall and Virtually on Zoom

The Hundred Year Retroactive Book Award of 1924 was held on Wednesday, March 6, 2024 at 6:00 pm in the Boston Public Library's Rabb Hall. This free hybrid event debated the enduring literary merits of three bestsellers published in 1924. This year's contenders were E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, Herman Melville's Billy Budd, and W. E. B. Du Bois' The Gift of Black Folk. The books were championed by Brown Professor, Paul B. Armstrong; Yale Professor, Richard Deming; and Boston University Professor, Paula C. Austin, respectively. Boston DJ Kennedy Elsey moderated the lighthearted debate, after which the audience voted to determine the winner of the Retroactive Book Award of 1924. A reception with the panelists followed the debate in the Commonwealth Salon. Our winner (spoiler alert) was ... Herman Melville's Billy Budd.

If you missed the program, check out the recording (coming soon) on our YouTube page. The program booklet can be found here.

It is never too early to start planning for next year's debate. You are welcome to tell us about your favorite books published in 1925 by writing us here.

Meet the presenters

Paul B. Armstrong

Paul Armstrong

Paul B. Armstrong is Professor of English Emeritus at Brown University and the editor of the Norton Critical Edition of A Passage to India. He is the author of several books on modern fiction, literary theory, and neuroaesthetics. His most recent books are Stories and the Brain: The Neuroscience of Narrative, How Literature Plays with the Brain: The Neuroscience of Reading and Art, and Play and the Politics of Reading: The Social Uses of Modernist Form. He is also the editor of Norton Critical Editions of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and E. M. Forster's Howards End. Paul will defend E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India.

Richard Deming

Richard Deming

Richard Deminga poet, critic, and essayist, is the author of six books, including Touch of Evil, Day for Night and Art of the Ordinary. His newest book is This Exquisite Loneliness. He teaches at Yale University, where he is the Director of Creative Writing. Richard will defend Herman Melville’s Billy Budd.

Paula C. Austin

Paula C. Austin

Paula C. Austin is a U.S. historian with a focus on the history of race and racism, urban and women’s history, history of social science, and the history of childhood. Paula is currently the Associate Professor of History and African American & Black Diaspora Studies and Director of Graduate Studies at Boston University. Her book, Coming of Age in Jim Crow DC: Navigating the Politics of Everyday Life is a social and intellectual history of poor and working class young Black people. She is currently working on a history of police violence and police reform in Washington, DC. Paula will defend W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Gift of Black Folk.

the Candidates

E. M. Forster's A Passage to India

A Passage to India
A Passage to India (free download) by E. M. Forster explores the complex and often troubled relationships between Indians and British colonizers in India. Set against the backdrop of the British Raj, the novel delves into themes of race, colonialism, and the clash of cultures, culminating in a mysterious incident at the Marabar Caves that strains these relations further.

Herman Melville's Billy Budd

Billy Budd

Billy Budd by Herman Melville is a novella about a young, innocent sailor, Billy Budd, impressed into service on the HMS Bellipotent. His natural charisma and goodness incite the envy of Master-at-Arms John Claggart, leading to false accusations, a tragic confrontation, and a morally complex resolution involving duty, justice, and sacrifice.

W. E. B. Du Bois' The Gift of Black Folk

The Gift to Black Folk
The Gift of Black Folk (free download) by W. E. B. Du Bois examines the significant contributions of African Americans in shaping the United States. It explores their role in American history, highlighting their achievements in areas like democracy, economics, and culture, and counters the prevailing narrative (at the time) of African American inferiority.

Meet the moderator

Kennedy Elsey

Kennedy Elsey will moderate this debate for the third year in a row. She is the co-host of the popular morning radio program, Karson and Kennedy, on Mix 104.1. She grew up in suburban Chicago and graduated from Drake University with a double major in Theater and Psychology. Kennedy is deeply involved in community events and runs a program called Karson & Kennedy’s Cool Kids. Cool Kids brings amazing kids who have overcome adversity on fun adventures, at no cost to the kid or their families. She is also an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness serving on the board for Samaritans and raising funds with her program "Your Light Is Needed". Kennedy lives in Quincy with the most stable man in her life, her Lab, Elvis.


Previous Hundred-Year Retroactive Book Awards


The Associates' Hundred-Year Retroactive Book Award is now in its twenty-fifth year!

To read about the previous debates click below.