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A. Van Jordan

M•A•C•N•O•L•I•A

W.W. Norton & Co.

2005 Nonfiction

M•A•C•N•O•L•I•A
A. Van Jordan combines the tragic poignancy of the blues with the cinematic sweep of a documentary in his deeply humane and highly imaginative second book, M·A·C·N·O·L·I·A, which focuses on the life of MacNolia Cox, a spunky 13-year-old girl who won the Akron District Spelling Bee in 1936. Cox was the first African American to advance to the final round of the national competition, but it is generally thought -- and Jordan clearly believes -- that the Southern judges kept her from winning by deviously tripping her up on the word “nemesis,” which was not on the official list. That stolen opportunity marked her for life, and she was never afterwards the same.

Jordan comes from Akron, and he stumbled upon Cox’s haunting story, as he says, “while researching the lifestyles of African Americans in Ohio during the ’20s and ’30s.” It is for him an emblematic tale -- the word “macnolia,” he tellingly suggests, means “a Negro who spells and reads as well as [if not better than] any white” -- and it gives him a convincing way to concentrate on an individual life while also exploring social attitudes and racial prejudices of Depression-era America.

Jordan’s primary strategy is to interweave voices to create a dramatic overall portrait of MacNolia’s life. MacNolia speaks often, savoring words (“So many words hover around my head”), and we hear often from her less verbal husband, John Montiere, who exclaims on their wedding night: “let’s strip off our words/ to speak without our tongues. let’s/ try to tongue without/ saying a word. let’s turn speech/ back into struggle tonight.”

Born in Akron, Ohio, A. Van Jordan received his Masters of Fine Arts from the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. He is also a graduate of the Cave Canem Workshop. His first book, Rise, won the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award and was a selection of the Academy of American Poets book club. In 2004, he received a Whiting Writers Award and the Gilbert-Chappelle Distinguished Poet Award. Earlier this year he won a Pushcart Prize.

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Blog Posts about A. Van Jordan

Public Art Inspired By Anisfield-Wolf Canon Makes A Splash Across Cleveland

Riders heading to downtown Cleveland on the RTA’s Red Line may have noticed quite a few more pops of color adorning the city landscape over the past two weeks. The colors have a story, and each story comes from a work or writer in the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award canon.Inter|Urban, the collaboration among the City of Cleveland, the Cleveland Foundation, North East Ohio Area Coordinating Agency, RTA and LAND studio, has filled the 19-mile stretch from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and into downtown Cleveland with bright, vibrant... Read More →

VIDEO: A. Van Jordan On Winning An Anisfield-Wolf Award

A. Van Jordan made an October appearance at Market Garden Brewery's Brews & Prose event, sharing snippets from his latest work, "The Cineaste," in front of a packed crowd. We caught up with the Akron native for a brief chat on the personal significance of winning the 2005 Anisfield-Wolf award:   2005 A Van Jordan from Anisfield Wolf on Vimeo. Read More →

A. Van Jordan Remixes Film And Poetry For Latest Work, "The Cineaste"

Photo courtesy of Brews & Prose When the starter failed Tuesday in A. Van Jordan’s car, the poet leased a rental and made a deadline dash from Ann Arbor to Cleveland. He arrived in good time to read five poems for “Brews and Prose,” a monthly literary series at Market Garden Brewery that uses beer to try to ease art away from its academic moorings.  Jordan, 48, a University of Michigan professor, won an Anisfield-Wolf prize in 2005 for “M*A*C*N*O*L*I*A,” which explores the life of MacNolia Cox, the first black child finalist of... Read More →
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