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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Chang-rae Lee’s Literature Remains A “Sensorial Immersion” For Readers

Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellow Lisa Nielson had the honor of introducing Chang-Rae Lee to the packed audience at the 2015 Writers Center Stage series, sponsored by the Cuyahoga County Public Library and Case Western Reserve University. Her remarks, reprinted here, remind us why these conversations—about strong books and the authors that birth them—matter.  by Lisa Nielson  Cleveland has a long history of celebrating literature and the arts. As many of you know, we are the home of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, now about to celebrate her 80th year, which is one of the most important and inspiring book awards in the country. They were started by Cleveland philanthropist and poet Edith Anisfield Wolf in 1935 to honor books focused on what was then called “race relations.” Today... Read More →

Why I Teach Feminism At An Urban High School

by Sarah Marcus Like many of my days spent teaching, today feels hard, but important. By 10 a.m. I've already had some awesome, small victories. A student ran upstairs 10 minutes before class to make sure that he understood what the word "vixen" meant and wanted to discuss if he could use it in a feminist context within his "Be A Man" poem. He told me that this felt like the biggest and most important question that he had all year. He caught the bus early so that he could be at school early to talk to me about it. The "Be A Man/Woman" poem assignment originated from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender and masculinity. In my 12th Grade Creative Writing Class, largely due to the influence and materials of one of my incredible mentors, Daniel Gray Kontar, we have... Read More →

Activist and Author Bryan Stevenson Offers Four-Point Prescription For Tackling Injustice

Photo credit: Donn R.Nottage Bryan Stevenson needs no notes. Not for his TED Talk, not for his Daily Show appearance, and not for his 40 minutes on stage in Cleveland. Some 800 people made reservations to hear him—so many that his host, Facing History and Ourselves, moved the event to a larger auditorium at Cleveland State University. As Stevenson entered, the assembly was on its feet, prompting Felton Thomas, executive director of the Cleveland Public Library, to raise his eyebrows: “A standing ovation before he even speaks?” The bald, soft-spoken lawyer—who wore the same suit and tie as he did for Jon Stewart—promised “we can create greater justice in Cleveland” and offered four organizing principles to accomplish this. But he began with bad news: “We are in a very... Read More →

Dancer Pioneer Judith Jamison On Persistence And The Arts: “If The Door Won’t Open, Make Your Own Door”

Famed dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison warned a recent audience that she has a tendency to ramble: "I will be reading my remarks. Otherwise I'll be totally scattered. It's kind of like when I dance."  Over 40 minutes at Baldwin Wallace University near Cleveland, Jamison still strayed, but her colorful asides drew an intimate portrait of 50 years with the storied Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Elegant in a sleek black shirt and pants, covered with a multicolored shawl, she sauntered from point to point, at ease in front of a near-capacity crowd.  Jamison, 71, joined the company in 1965 at the request of Alvin Ailey himself, who founded the dance troupe out of frustration over the lack of opportunity for black dancers. She marveled at Ailey's physicality: "He moved his whole... Read More →

Four Things We Learned About Director Ava DuVernay From Her Keynote At SWSW

"They're going to throw me in director's jail," director Ava DuVernay remembered thinking before premiering "Selma" at the American Film Institute in November. Sweating buckets in the bathroom before the screening, she was so stressed she recalled devising a back-up plan if the film bombed: "Maybe Ben [my agent] can help me get another $200,000. I've still got stories. I was freaking out."   It was one of the delightfully transparent anecdotes DuVernay shared during her one-hour keynote at South by Southwest, one of the country's biggest tech and culture conferences, held every March in Austin, Texas. Equal parts laidback and constructive, her talk veered from screening her film at the White House for the First Family, her strategy for staying rooted while filming "Selma," and her... Read More →

Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land” Headed To HBO In New Documentary

HBO will turn Ari Shavit's My Promised Land into a television documentary, CEO and chairman Richard Pleper announced at the 2015 INTV media conference in Jerusalem. "The book left me awestruck and as moved as I’ve been maybe ever," Pleper told the crowd. "When I first approached him, I said to Ari that I’ve waited my whole adult life to find this book.” Published in 2014, "My Promised Land" is a carefully crafted narrative history, weaving family memoir, documents and hundreds of interviews with Arabs and Jews. The book, Shavit's first, took home the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction. No release date has been set, but Israeli filmmaker Dan Setton, whose previous work has centered on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been tapped to direct.  Here, Ari Shavit addresses... Read More →

Rita Dove’s Love Letter To Toni Morrison At NBCC: “No Words Can Fully Express What You’ve Meant To Me”

Photo credit: Fred Viebahn Poet Rita Dove introduced Toni Morrison—the only living American Nobel recipient in literature—with joy and grace and poetry at the New School in Manhattan, where Morrison received the National Book Critics Circle's Ivan Sandrof award—its lifetime achievement prize. The NBCC stressed that Morrison the editor, the essayist, the critic, the mentor and professor had made enormous contributions to American letters, in addition to her luminous books. But it was the eloquent Dove, a Pulitzer winner, a former U.S. poet laureate and long-serving juror of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, who made a case for the ages. Dove remembered herself as a searching young woman, the only African American graduate student at the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop:"One day... Read More →

“By Blood” Documentary Explores The Legal Battle Waging Between American Indians And Descendants Of Their Slaves

Just who is an American Indian? For hundreds of years, this riddle of identity has vexed the federal government and the tribes alike, writes Marcos Barbery, an investigative reporter and documentary filmmaker. He and his co-director, Samuel Z. Russell, worked for four years to craft a concise 64-minute movie to explore it.  “By Blood,” sponsored by the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards at the 2015 Cleveland International Film Festival, takes up a contentious case moving through the federal courts now: Descendants of slaves once owned by the Cherokee and Seminole nations, made members of the tribe by treaty at the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War, are fighting to continue to be counted as Indians. And leaders of the tribes are opposing them, having disenfranchised some 30,000... Read More →

VIDEO: Arnold Rampersad On The Selected Letters Of Langston Hughes

Longtime biographer Arnold Rampersad said his new volume, The Selected Letters of Langston Hughes, reveals a "deeper, more complicated" man than the public has ever known. Sitting comfortably on stage at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture, co-editors Rampersad and David Roessel, professor at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, spoke on the complexities of the man called the voice of "Negro America."  Rampersad, who has twice been honored with an Anisfield-Wolf award for his work on Langston Hughes, said that the writer's calling came to him early in life. "He was going to take on one of the most extraordinary challenges that anyone could take on—that is to be an African-American in the 1920s and decide, 'I want to be a writer. And oh, by the way, I want to write... Read More →
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