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Author Archives: Tara Jefferson

REVIEW: “Sing Unburied Sing” Fits Perfectly Into Jesmyn Ward’s Canon Of Southern Literature

The pages of Jesmyn Ward's third novel, "Sing, Unburied, Sing," smell of Mississippi. Set in the same fictional town, Bois Sauvage, as her 2011 National Book Award-winning novel, “Salvage the Bones,” her latest fiction returns to tell again of family bonds, tested by unresolved trauma and unrelenting Southern poverty. She undergirds the sense of place with a seven-line epigraph from Derek Walcott’s “The Gulf.” At the heart of “Sing” is Jojo, a 13-year-old narrator focusing on his budding manhood. His role model? Pop, whose days are spent taking care of his cancer-stricken wife, Mam, Jojo’s toddler sister Kayla, and to a lesser extent, his daughter Leonie, Jojo’s mother. Ward, a Mississippian and Tulane University professor, excels with a narrative that knits... Read More →

Cleveland Book Week Highlights: Isabel Allende Speaks At The City Club Of Cleveland

During Cleveland Book Week, the incomparable Isabel Allende joked at age 75 about her new boyfriend, and about her approach to literature: "I've been writing for 35 years and I have no idea how I do it. I don't have an idea of what the book is about until it's published and I read the reviews," she quipped in a talk on life and literature at the City Club of Cleveland. She begins each book on January 8, commemorating the day she sat down at her kitchen table -- a stymied 40-year-old exile -- to begin a letter to her century-old grandfather. That letter poured out of her until it became The House of the Spirits, which launched Allende onto a global stage. It led to her being named this year’s Anisfield-Wolf recipient for lifetime achievement. "Having a sacred day to start... Read More →

Cleveland Book Week Highlights: Tyehimba Jess At Karamu House For A Poetry “Clapback”

Tyehimba Jess came home to Karamu House to lift up “Olio,” his magnificently engineered collection of poems that explore black voices in the decades from Civil War times to the start of World War I. Many of the poems can be read from back to front, at a slant and via every other line, in a welter of sense-making and sensibility. A sold-out crowd flocked to the historic theater during Cleveland Book Week to hear Jess showcase the historic voices that flow through every page of "Olio,"  which won both an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize.  He used a screen projector to show how the works unfold multiple meanings in varied directions. As preamble, two artists from Twelve Literary and Performative Arts  -- Mary Barrett and Damien McClendon -- recited their explosive... Read More →

Cleveland Book Week Highlights: “Hidden Figures” Author Margot Lee Shetterly In Conversation With Cleveland Students

Students from the Tri-C Creative Arts Academy perform "Hidden," under the portraits of the women who inspired the dance: Mary Jackson, Kathleen Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn. Hundreds of Cleveland students joined author Margot Lee Shetterly at Cleveland State University in early September for a student-centric discussion of “Hidden Figures,” which took home the 2017 Anisfield-Wolf prize for nonfiction.  The gathering began with an original, soul-stirring interpretation of “Hidden Figures” in dance from the Tri-C Creative Arts Dance Academy. High school students, most enrolled in the Cleveland School of the Arts, performed "Hidden," a vibrant period piece, choreographed by Terence Greene.  Shetterly then came onto the stage, thanking the students for carrying the work forward in a... Read More →

Grant Opportunity For Ohio Libraries Brings Regional Literature To Readers

The State Library of Ohio is making it easier for residents to read excellent books with ties to our region, including those from the Anisfield-Wolf canon. From now until October 31, the State Library is calling on libraries to apply to its Celebrating Ohio Book Awards & Authors program, which offers up to $1,000 to purchase books from any Ohio-based award program. In addition to titles from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the grant is available for books that have won the Buckeye Children’s and Teen Book Award, James Cook Book Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Ohioana Book Award, or the Norman A. Sugarman Children’s Biography Award. Grant funds can also go toward the purchase of any book from the Choose to Read Ohio list, which builds two-year community conversations... Read More →

That’s A Wrap! Cleveland Book Week 2017, From Cover To Cover

From left to right: Cleveland Foundation President Ronn Richard, Peter Ho Davies, Tyehimba Jess, Isabel Allende, Ansfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove, Margot Lee Shetterly, Karan Mahajan, Anisfield-Wolf Jury chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. Photo by Robert Muller. Last week we celebrated Cleveland Book Week, a series of book and literacy-themed events surrounding the 82nd annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. From September 5-9, community events across Greater Cleveland honored this year’s Anisfield-Wolf winners and celebrated all things literary in our community. Sept. 5 – We kicked Book Week off with a launch celebration on Public Square, featuring free children’s and young adult books from the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, free ice cream from Mitchell’s, and live music from Roots of American... Read More →

Finding Common Ground On Literacy

Two of every three Clevelanders read at the seventh-grade level or below – making 66 percent of adult Clevelanders functionally illiterate. This means it is hard to find employment, read a prescription bottle or discern a bus schedule. At the nonprofit Seeds of Literacy, 920 people last year walked through the doors – and only 48 people, or five percent, had a ninth-grade proficiency or better. Ninth-grade-proficiency is the minimum education required for almost all job-training programs. Cleveland exists in a literacy desert. As the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards expands its footprint into the community, are there opportunities to disrupt this grim landscape? To ponder this question, members of the Anisfield-Wolf community shared a table with Seeds of Literacy staff and volunteers as... Read More →

LISTEN IN: Novelist Colson Whitehead Interviewed On Professional Book Nerds Podcast

This month, Adam Sockel and Jill Grunenwald, hosts of the "Professional Book Nerds" podcast, snagged a few moments with Colson Whitehead to discuss his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Underground Railroad.  Their conversation covered the origins of his book, how Whitehead views his book in relation to the incredible success it has achieved, race relations throughout American history and a dive into the music he listens to while writing. Whitehead, who won the 2002 Anisfield-Wolf prize for John Henry Days, is coming off one of his most successful years. The Underground Railroad was also selected as the winner of the National Book Award and Carnegie Medal. Oprah named it her book club pick for 2016 and "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins is pursuing an adaptation for... Read More →

REVIEW: Zinzi Clemmons Is A Strong Voice To Watch With “What We Lose”

Viking, 207 pp, $22 In Zinzi Clemmons’ debut novel, “What We Lose,” grief shadows every page. But like Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Light of the World,” another examination of life amid a death, it is compelling.     A loosely autobiographical story, this book is about the pain of losing a mother. Like her protagonist Thandi, Clemmons, 32, is the child of a South African mother and African-American father, born and raised in Philadelphia with summers and long vacations spent in Johannesburg. And just like Thandi, Clemmons left college to help with her mother’s care in her remaining days.  “What We Lose” explores grief, cultural identity, politics, colorism, and love through stream-of-consciousness vignettes. A creative writing professor at Los Angeles’ Colburn... Read More →

In “Surpassing Certainty” Janet Mock Pays The Lessons Of Her Twenties Forward

Simon & Schuster, 256 pp. $24.99 In the midst of the book tour for her second memoir, "Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me," Janet Mock spoke of the pitfalls of being labeled a transgender activist. “There’s a burden of responsibility for me to show up correct — in my head, if I don’t do it right, then I’ll get shut out, and then other trans women of color will be shut out,” she told the New York Times. “I’m still grappling with all of that.” If her second book is any indication, Mock, 34, is working out how to be the face of a movement wider than one lane. The New York City transplant has been near the front of the LGBTQ movement since 2011, when she published a landmark essay for Marie Claire depicting herself as a young, biracial transgender... Read More →
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