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Getting Closer To A New Home For Cleveland’s Anisfield-Wolf Book Collection

Design concept courtesy of SO-IL + Kurtz

Works by Langston Hughes, Zadie Smith and Toni Morrison will soon have a new place to call home.

All three authors have books housed in the Anisfield-Wolf collection at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library, tucked away in the recesses of the second-floor special collections room. Now the collection, the only complete assemblage of all 83 years of Anisfield-Wolf-winning books, will be a showpiece of the new $10 million Martin Luther King Jr branch in University Circle. The canon contains almost 200 books and grows each year.

The New York-based firm SO-IL + Kurtz won the months-long design competition, funded by the Cleveland Foundation, to create a stylish, culturally significant proposal for a 21st-century branch of the Cleveland Public Library. The new 20,000-square-foot building will rise around the corner from the current location, a well-used community hub that was constructed just months after the assassination of the Civil Rights leader nearly 50 years ago.

The library would occupy the ground floor of a multi-story apartment building as part of the $300 million Circle Square development project, which will bring more retail and housing to the southern section of University Circle.

Each of the competing firms was instructed to incorporate King’s legacy into their proposals. SO-IL + Kurtz weaved elements from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, crafting the center of the branch to create a raised “table of brotherhood.” The large, raised platform could be divided into areas for reading, homework and performances. The exterior adds a lush perimeter of greenery with bright columns abetting the natural light.

The Anisfield-Wolf collection will be a focal point at the top of a grand staircase, with the firm’s architects likening it to a “sculptural forest of ideas.” For the library patron, the hope is to mimic King’s notion of reaching “the mountaintop.”

“I am in awe of the three final designs for the Martin Luther King Jr. branch library, and captivated by the plans the library board chose — giving the neighborhood, the memory of Dr. King and the Anisfield-Wolf winning books a home unlike any other,” said Karen R. Long, manager of the book awards. “This new branch is suffused with beauty and innovation. May it be a destination for generations of readers.”

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