The Anisfield-Wolf book prize turns 75 this year. Quite an accomplishment from a shy poet and philanthropist in Cleveland, who in 1935 had the insight to see race relations as the nation’s critical issue; one that could continue to eat away and destroy us if progress wasn’t made.
Edith Anisfield Wolf was passionate in her belief that we could break down stereotypes that arise from fear, myth, and ignorance. She wanted to encourage people to think beyond what they knew and what was familiar; to read works that open new worlds and ideas; and debate these critical issues to open and challenge our ways of thinking. It was her desire that through these conversations, participants and future generations would gain better understanding of others and appreciate the richness in our differences.
That’s why she created the Anisfield-Wolf book prize. Thanks to her vision, some of the world’s greatest literary voices are known and respected for their contributions to our nation’s cultural identity. Familiar authors, including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Thurston, Ralph Ellison and Gwendolyn Brooks, weren’t always as well received as they are today due to the color of their skin or the subject matter of the works. That level of respect changed with the Anisfield-Wolf book prize, often referred to as the “Black Pulitzer” in its early years.
In today’s ever-more-global society, issues of race and cultural identity continue to both unite and divide us. Thanks to efforts such as the Anisfield-Wolf book prize, a greater number of diverse voices are participating in the conversation, opening and challenging our minds.
What works and writers have influenced you?
Are we closer to achieving Edith Anisfield Wolf’s vision of gaining a greater understanding and appreciation for others?
Tell us what you think.