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 1921 & 1922

Thursday, February 17, 2022 at 6:30 pm
Hybrid: Boston Public Library's Rabb Hall and Virtually on Zoom

The Hundred Year Retroactive Book Award of 1921 and 1922 was held on Thursday, February 17, 2022 at 6:30 pm. This free hybrid event debated the the enduring literary merits of three bestsellers published in 1922. This year’s contenders were Claude McKay’s Harlem Shadows, Emily Post’s Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, and James Joyce’s Ulysses. The books were be championed by poet Porsha Olayiwola, Boston Globe columnist and author Meredith Goldstein, and Boston College professor Joseph Nugent, respectively. Boston DJ Kennedy Elsey moderated the lighthearted debate, after which the audience voted to determine the winner of the Retroactive Book Award of 1922.

In addition, theatre artist Allison Olivia Choat announced the winner from the online voting for the best book of 1921. The public selected from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Watch the event on YouTube to find out the 1921 and 1922 winners:

Meet the 1922 presenters

Porsha Olayiwola

Harlem Shadows

Porsha Olayiwola defended Claude McKay's Harlem Shadows. She is a writer, performer, educator, and curator who uses afro-futurism and surrealism to examine historical and current issues in Black, woman, and queer diasporas. She is an Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and the artistic director at MassLEAP, a literary youth organization. Olayiwola is an MFA Candidate at Emerson College and the author of i shimmer sometimes, too. She is the current poet laureate for the City of Boston.

Meredith Goldstein


Meredith Goldstein defended Emily Post's Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home. She is a reporter, podcast host, and writer of the long-running Boston Globe advice column Love Letters. Meredith also wrote the novels Things That Grow, Chemistry Lessons, and The Singles, as well as the memoir Can’t Help Myself: Lessons and Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist. Since 2020, Meredith has recorded her Globe podcast, also called Love Letters, in her basement, not far from her vintage collection of Sweet Valley High books. The show, which tells other people's love stories, is now in its 6th season.

Joseph Nugent


Professor Joseph Nugent defended James Joyce's Ulysses. He is the Professor of Practice at Boston College’s English Department. His interests lie at the confluence of Irish Studies, Joyce Studies, and the Digital Humanities. Each year, he devotes a semester to original explorations of James Joyce’s Ulysses. His articles have appeared in, among other publications, Victorian Studies, The Senses and Society, and Éire-Ireland. His devotion to Joyce is also reflected in Raidin the Wake, his “Finnegans Wake” reading group, and in the Boston Joyce Forum conferences which he runs annually.

the 1922 Candidates

Claude McKay’s Harlem Shadows

Harlem Shadows
Claude McKay's Harlem Shadows is considered the first influential book of poetry published during the Harlem Renaissance. This collection of poems explores McKay’s yearning for his Jamaican homeland and the plight of Black people in America.

Emily Post’s Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home

Originally published in 1922, Emily Post's Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home covers manners and other social rules. Post gives us thousands of tips on correspondence, wedding planning, party giving and conduct in every public or private setting. It has been frequently updated to reflect social changes and the last edition was published in 2017 by Post’s descendants.

James Joyce’s Ulysses 

James Joyce's Ulysses is generally considered one of the most important works for modernist literature. The novel is constructed as a parallel to Homer’s Odyssey. It chronicles a single day of Leopold Bloom’s life in Dublin at the beginning of the 20th century. The novel is highly allusive and uses the stream-of-consciences technique with its character’s inner monologues.

the 1921 Candidates

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We is an influential dystopian novel. The novel takes place in the One State, a civilization ruled by an authoritarian government. The story unfolds over journal entries from the narrator D-503. The novel marks the emergence of the dystopian genre and influenced George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is a significant philosophical work of the twentieth century and the only book published by Wittgenstein. The goal of the book is to identify the role of language as providing a picture of reality. Wittenstein wrote the notes for the book during World War I during his time as a soldier and completed the work during military leave in 1918. Originally published in German, it was published together with an English translation in 1922.

Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author

Six Characters
Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author premiered in 1921 at the Teatro Valle in Rome. In February 1922, the English translation premiered in the West End, and in October 1922 it premiered in New York. The play includes six characters who come to a theater and demand that the manager and actors stage their life stories. Pirandello’s device of “theater within a theater” and exploration of illusion and reality, greatly impacted later playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean-Paul Sartre.


Meet the 1921 presenter

Allison Olivia Choat

Allison Olivia Choat is an IRNE- and Elliot Norton award-winning theater artist who works at the intersection of directing, design, and physical storytelling. Allison is Associate Artistic Director and Founding Partner of Cambridge-based theater company Moonbox Productions, where their recent credits include 2021’s The Rocky Horror Show (Dramaturg) and 2019's Norton Award winner for Outstanding Musical, Parade (Associate Director/ Dramaturg). Other recent credits include Moonbox's Caroline, or Change (Director) and The Nora Theatre's Cloud 9 (Assistant Director/ Voice and Dialect Coach/ Set Design). Offstage, Allison works as an academic administrator at Harvard University, is a contributing voice actor with The Penumbra Podcast and Colonial Radio Theatre, and is a voice and movement coach for public speakers, performers, and athletes.

Meet the moderator

Kennedy Elsey

Kennedy Elsey moderated the event. 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 of the Boston Public Library's Hundred-Year Retroactive Book Award is now in its twenty-third year.

To read about the previous debates click below.