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My Anisfield-Wolf Awards Ceremony Experience

Hello everyone! My name is Kevin Ritter and I was the featured young artist at this year’s Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. This meant that I got to perform a poem that I wrote for the live audience, as well as the virtual audience on the internet. Over the summer, I participated in a summer arts job program through Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio called “ArtWorks.” For six weeks I ventured to University Circle’s Wade Oval and studied theater under teaching artist Jimmie Woody. Each day was a new adventure. We listened to guest speakers, took a tour of the Case Western Reserve University campus, and practiced the craft of acting every single day. During this time, I also focused a lot on my writing.

The past two years, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards had featured a young poet. The Cleveland Foundation wanted to continue the tradition for the 75th anniversary and contacted Young Audiences about finding a young artist for the occasion. They recommended me! Jay Albert asked me if I would be interested in performing at the awards ceremony. I was bouncing off the walls with excitement.

I went through every single poem I had written in the past few years, trying to find something suitable for the occasion. Eventually, I decided that a new piece was in order. During my college road trip the following week, I tried to think of what I wanted to say in my poem. We were looking at some schools in Boston, and as I walked around the city, I kept hearing people speaking in all different languages, some of which I couldn’t even identify. We also went to the Mary Baker Eddy Library and Museum, which features a giant Mapparium.

I walked into the room, which is a giant stained glass sphere with a political map of the world circa 1935. I thought about how fragile the world is. It’s a surreal experience to look at the world from the inside. As opposed to the pictures of the planet seen from space, which make you feel small and inconsequential, the Mapparium makes you feel a part of a big whole. There were several people speaking in different languages. I didn’t know exactly what they were saying; I still felt this connection to them. I was taken back to a time before the tower of Babel, when we all understood each other so easily. When I got home, the first thing I did was look up the story of Babel in the Bible. The poem ultimately took the title of the final verse in the story: “11:9.”

The day of the awards was very exciting. I met my supervisor, Kathleen Cerveny, in the lobby and she showed me backstage, where I was fitted for a small lavaliere microphone. I was told that I would be going on first thing. I was asked if I wanted to go meet the winners. Surprised at the fact that this was even a question, I agreed and was taken down a hallway to where Elizabeth Alexander, Kamila Shamsie, and William Julius Wilson were sitting and talking to each other. I had read all of their books in preparation for the event and told all three of the writers how much I enjoyed their work. Everyone there was so incredibly kind to me and supportive of me. They even signed the sheet of paper that my poem was printed on, which is now hanging in my room.

After Ronald Richard introduced me to the audience, I walked across the stage after shaking his hand. Nervously, I grasped onto the 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper and began to say my poem. As I went on, the hours I’d spent practicing my poem for Jimmie Woody, Kathleen Cerveny, and my dog kicked in and I was able to relax. But I finished it, and I felt great. Dr. Gates and Mr. Richard shook my hand again.

The rest of the awards ceremony was beautiful. All of the speakers were captivating. What I realized is that there is nothing more powerful than the written word in order to get a message across. It allows the reader to be introspective while also providing a clear message.

Afterwards, at the dessert reception, everyone was so complimentary of my work. Some people even said that they were looking forward to seeing me win the award in the future. I said that I didn’t want to get ahead of myself and that I was looking forward to graduating high school and going to college.

Performing at the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards was an amazing, inspiring experience. It made me realize that I really do love writing and that I want to continue to create things. I’m so grateful to have been afforded this opportunity and had an absolutely great time.

For more information about me, you can follow my blog, which I update very sporadically at

  • It IS about the Language — Kathleen Cerveny - Artist

    July 13, 2014

    […] can read about his experience and how he came to write the poem in his post on the Anisfield Wolf Book Award blog. It’s a great story. You can also see and hear Kevin deliver his poem to the Severance Hall […]

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