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Author Archives: Tara Jefferson

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 →

REVIEW: Tyehimba Jess’ “Olio” Puts Him In A Genre Of His Own

by Charles Ellenbogen Every once in a while, someone comes along – think Garrison Keillor, Richard Pryor, Spalding Gray – who defies any of our conventional notions of genre, so something has to be invented for them. Meet the newest member of the group – Tyehimba Jess. Jess, who this spring won both an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a Pulitzer for poetry, has definitely written a book that contains pieces that seem like poetry, but even that term, as expansive as it is, seems limiting here. This book also contains artwork, posters, interviews, music (the Fisk Jubilee Singers) and history. This book is so full of life that at more than 200 pages, I still never wanted it to end. Even Jess’ author notes are marvelous. We meet Scott Joplin, Henry “Box” Brown and Booker T... Read More →

Second Annual Cleveland Book Week Kicks Off September 5

For a second year, Cleveland becomes a national literary destination during Cleveland Book Week, an extended celebration of books and the people who love them. “Clevelanders will find all kinds of alluring on-ramps this year,” said Karen R. Long, manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. “We’ve aligned with MOCA’s Art Book & Zine Fair and renewed our partnerships with Cleveland Flea and Public Square. We’re heading into a memorable bibliophilic week.” From September 5-9, join us as we read, listen, gather to discuss books and ideas and hear from some of the best authors in the world, including all five 2017 Anisfield-Wolf award recipients, plus past winner Colson Whitehead. Cleveland Book Week Schedule Tuesday, September 5 Cleveland Book Week Launch Public... Read More →

Bringing Personal Authenticity To The Classroom

The Lavender Graduation is an annual celebration that occurs on numerous campuses across the country, where graduating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and allied students are formally recognized and celebrated for their accomplishments. Last month, Anisfield-Wolf SAGE Fellow Lisa Nielson was honored during Case Western Reserve University's ceremony with the Prizm Award, which honors faculty and staff members significant contribution to the LGBTQ+ community. Her acceptance speech is reprinted here with permission.  In thinking about what I wanted to say this evening, I naturally gravitated to my identity as a teacher and scholar. To be effective as both, one also needs to be a storyteller. We connect to information and one another through our own experiences and the shared... Read More →

Dance Performance Inspired By “Hidden Figures” Premiering In Cleveland

Photo by Robert Muller Attendees at the Cleveland Foundation's annual meeting May 10 got a colorful taste of literature in motion. The Tri-C Creative Arts Dance Academy previewed their work, "Hidden," a vibrant period piece inspired by Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures,” our 2017 Anisfield-Wolf Award winner for nonfiction.   Now this coming Friday and Saturday, the academy will present their 2017 Spring Dance Concert, performing “Hidden” in its entirety.    The Creative Arts Dance Academy is a year-round dance program for students ages 4 – 17, and it’s quickly becoming a premier center for dance education in Greater Cleveland. The Cleveland Foundation, our parent organization, supported the expansion of the dance academy’s programming with a $300,000 grant... Read More →

“Good Luck Soup” Documentary Earns National Broadcast For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

  Set a reminder for the national broadcast premiere of “Good Luck Soup,” a 2016 documentary which tracks the multigenerational story of the Hashiguchi family and the ramifications of the Japanese interment during World War II. The film features a mesmerizing Cleveland family and became a breakout hit at the Cleveland International Film Festival, where it was the Anisfield-Wolf featured movie last year. Filmmaker Matthew Hashiguchi centers “Good Luck Soup” on his grandmother, the 91-year-old matriarch Eva Hashiguchi, who spent three years in an Arkansas internment camp as a teen. Through interviews, historical footage and personal mementos, Hashiguchi chronicles three generations of Asian American life in the aftermath of that deprivation of liberty for some 140,000... Read More →

REVIEW: t’ai freedom ford’s “how to get over” Is An Urgent Reckoning With The Past

how to get over  -- the debut poetry collection from t’ai freedom ford -- is part instruction manual, part black culture guidebook and part handing the mic to everyone from Harriet Tubman to Rodney King. “Every single word I write is under the auspices of my ancestors,” ford declares.  The Cave Canem graduate gives them their say in 57 poems covering nearly 250 years of pain and beauty. ford, who teaches English in a New York City high school, leans into poetry with urgency—read this and read it now. She divides her book into four sections – Live, Lie, Love, and Die – each building on the architecture of the segment before. The 16 poems that comprise “Die” are the strongest of the collection. If you pick up how to get over, read “autopsy of a not dead father... Read More →
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