Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith’s Wash Day Diaries (Chronicle Books) and Alex Segura’s comics industry-inspired novel Secret Identity (Flatiron Books) won best Graphic Novel/Comics and best Mystery/Thriller categories at the 2023 LA Times Book Awards over the weekend. Rowser and Smith potentially the first Black women to be nominated and win the LA Times Book Prize Graphic Novel category.

Jamila Rowser holding the Graphic Novel LA Times Book Award with Robyn Smith (not in attendance) drawn in

Rowser and Smith’s Wash Day Diaries was the arguable underdog in a category that was dominated by work from major arthouse, international and literary graphic novel publishers Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, and Abrams ComicArts. Chronicle Books published Wash Day Diaries is a graphic novel that focuses on the lives and hair routines of four Black femme characters in the Bronx, which itself had evolved from their Kickstarter-funded 2018 minicomic Wash Day.

Wash Day Diaries Cover

Rowser who accepted the award on behalf of herself and co-author Robyn Smith believed that they were likely the first Black women to even be nominated for this award and hoped that it would pave the way for more comics and graphic novel work looking at the lives of Black women. 

Rowser later adapted her 2023 LA Times Book Prize award speech into a Twitter thread:

“Thank you to the judges and [LA Times Festival of Books] for this award and to Chronicle Books for believing in our story.

“When me and [Robyn] released the Wash Day mini-comic in 2018 (the very first comic I wrote), we couldn’t have imagined the beautiful journey it would take us on.

Wash Day Diaries celebrates Black women, hair, sisterhood, and beauty in the mundanity of Black femme life in the Bronx. We are so proud that our 27-page comic grew into a 192-page graphic novel that people of all backgrounds love. 

“Me & [Robyn] are the FIRST Black women to not only become finalists for the [LA Times Festival of Books Prize] Graphic Novels category but now to win it as well.

“We know we shouldn’t have to prove graphic novels like Wash Day Diaries are worth publishing, so me and [Robyn] hope this award helps open the door for many more comics like ours.”

Segura’s novel Secret Identity drew inspiration from the history of comics production, setting the story in a 1970s comics publishing house where its Latinx protagonist stumbles into a mystery as she fights to retain ownership of a character she helped to create.

Segura said about his Mystery/Thriller win:

“When I first started this book I thought, ‘Oh, this’ll be easy, I know comics,’” Segura said, before adding that this was the most intense journalistic endeavor of his life.

To check out the other nominees in the comics category, you can check out our previous post.