May has been an incredible month for Ms. Morrison. She released her latest novel, Home, to rave reviews and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday, May 29.

In the clip above, she discusses her novel and her intention to help us remember what the 50s were really like.

We were also treated to this incredible photo of President Obama and Ms. Morrison sharing a private moment after the awards ceremony. Wonder what they were talking about?

During the ceremony, President Obama remarked that this year’s honorees were also his personal heroes, adding a special note about Toni Morrison. “I remember reading Song of Solomon when I was a kid,” he said. “Not just trying to figure out how to write, but also how to be. And how to think.”

 

We’ve got a summer reading list a mile long and another title just got added to the pile. Stephen L. Carter, awarded the 2003 Anisfield-Wolf Award for fiction for his page-turner The Emperor of Ocean Park, is back with another title sure to be just as riveting.

In his summer release, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, Carter explores what could have happened if Lincoln survived his assassination attempt. In this quick video with USA Today, Carter talks about being a history buff, whether the research was fun, and whether he prefers print books or ebooks.

We don’t know what the weather is like where you live, but this weekend it’s going to hot and humid. Just the thought of 90-degree temperatures sends us scrambling inside for the air conditioning and a good book. 

Pakistan’s Express Tribune listed their top 10 books to re-read this summer and even if you’ve never read some of these books, we’d say they make for an excellent use of time. Among those listed were two Anisfield-Wolf winners: Kamila Shamsie (2010) and Mohsin Hamid (2008). 

Kamila Shamsie

Of Shamsie’s Kartography:

Kamila Shamsie is one of the few female authors of the 90s who managed to get Pakistan on the literary map. Shamsie’s Kartography is a literary masterpiece and her passion and love for her city Karachi is evident in her every sentence, page and chapter.

 

Mohsin Hamid

Of Hamid’s Moth Smoke: 

Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke told the story of a marijuana-smoking ex-banker in post-nuclear-test Lahore who falls in love with his best friend’s wife and becomes a heroin addict. It was published in 2000 and quickly became a hit in Pakistan and India.

It’s a short poem but it’s also one of Gwendolyn Brooks‘ (pardon the pun) coolest. “We Real Cool,” published in her 1960 book The Bean Eaters, is a 1959 poem by our 1969 winner for fiction. (Got all that?) In this quick clip she explains why she wrote it. 

“I wrote it because I was passing by a poll hall in my community one afternoon during school time and I saw therein a bunch of boys…and they were shooting pool,” Brooks said. “Instead of asking myself, “Why aren’t they in school?” I asked myself, I wonder how they feel about themselves.” 

Take a listen. 

In Geoffrey C. Ward’s Unforgivable Blackness: Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, we are treated to a front row seat to the racism and prejudice that tormented the man who was one of the best boxers the sport has ever known.

We honored Ward with the 2005 award for nonfiction for his gripping account of what happens when your talent is outshadowed by the color of your skin and the times you live in. In 2005, Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward teamed up to produce a documentary on Johnson’s life, which can be seen in its entirety below. Click here for a synopsis.

Part 1

Part 2

We know we highlighted him a few weeks ago, but is something to be said for a man who is so passionate, so prolific, so generous with his time, that he dedicates a significant portion of his time working with us here at Anisfield-Wolf as our jury chair. As he puts it, “Chairing the jury for the Anisfield Wolf Book Awards is one of the signal pleasures of my life. The thought that a poet—a white, female poet—had the foresight to endow a price to honor excellence and diversity, at the height of the Great Depression, is something of a miracle, isn’t it?”

Gates himself is a 1989 Anisfield-Wolf award winner, for his work, The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers. In the midst of churning out impressive tomes on African American history (or as he would put it, American history), filming PBS specials, his duties as the the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, and his role as the editor-in-chief of TheRoot.com, he is fully invested in his role as our jury chair. We are grateful to have Gates’ wit and deep intellect associated with this prize. We thought we’d have a little fun this Friday and share a clip of our friend on the Colbert Report, where he goes toe-to-toe with the funny man Stephen Colbert but also makes us learn a little something at the same time.

…you can hear about Mohsin Hamid’s role in getting the project to the big screen. Are you as excited for the adaptation as we are?

Often writers feel that urge to put their thoughts out in the world as young children. 2012 Anisfield-Wolf winner Esi Edugyan felt the bug as a pre-teen after she drafted a piece of poetry that was so good, her mother insisted she must have copied it from a book. From then on, being a writer was an ultimate goal of a young Ms. Edugyan. Check out this short video presentation put together for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize and learn more about her thoughts on the writing process, whether she’ll ever use social media to converse with fans, and how she feels when she completes a first draft.

We’ve been talking about Toni Morrison a lot lately, but we think it’s difficult to provide too much information on one of our greatest living writers. Bookriot named May 8 “Toni Morrison Day,” in honor of the release of her newest book, but we’re going to extend it one day and share one more video of the great Ms. Morrison. In it, she discusses the early part of her career and what she thought of the “Black is Beautiful” movement.

It’s not very likely to hear us expressing doubt about Ms. Toni Morrison‘s literary abilities. If anything, our appreciation for her craft only grows larger with the release of each new work. Her latest novel, Home, explores the homecoming of Frank Money, a Korean War vet who signed up for the service to get away from his hometown, only to return weary and disturbed and not sure of how welcome he will be. The reviews are in—is this still the Toni Morrison we all know and love?  

New York Daily News

Toni Morrison’s new novel “Home” is a slim volume. That alone excuses it from providing the sweeping exhilaration of “Beloved” or “Song of Solomon.” But “Home” is also a lesser novel — still powerful, still moving, but not her best work.

San Francisco Chronicle

In addition to her reputation for gorgeous sentences, Morrison is known for a certain brutality in her plotting, and this wrenching novel is no exception. But “Home” also brims with affection and optimism. The gains here are hard won, but honestly earned, and sweet as love.

Los Angeles Times

Ultimately, the impression with which “Home” leaves us is of a novel that, like the town it encircles, is “much less than enough.” Or maybe it’s that the book seems tired, as if it were something we’ve read before. Either way, it leaves us wanting, without the discovery, the recognition of how stories can enlarge us, that defines Morrison’s most vivid work.

Washington Post

At just 145 pages, this little book about a Korean War vet doesn’t boast the Gothic swell of her masterpiece, “Beloved” (1987), or the luxurious surrealism of her most recent novel, “A Mercy” (2008). But the diminutive size and straightforward style of “Home” are deceptive. This scarily quiet tale packs all the thundering themes Morrison has explored before. She’s never been more concise, though, and that restraint demonstrates the full range of her power.

Will you be reading her latest book?  

 

It’s so often repeated that it has lost most of its meaning, but the old saying is true: “You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.” Anisfield-Wolf jury chair Skip Gates’ latest PBS show, “Finding Your Roots” takes it one step further by connecting the past and the future. In the video above, he assists Newark mayor Cory Booker and Sen. John Lewis (1999 nonfiction winner) in exploring their past. Check out the video and let us know – what questions do you have about your past? What would you hope researchers could find out about your family? 

In anticipation for Toni Morrison’s latest novel, Home, following the story of a Korean War veteran and his return to America in the 1950s, New York magazine wrote one of the best pieces on Toni Morrison that we’ve ever read. In it, writer Boris Kachka examine her feelings on her pen name (Surprise! She hates it), whether she believes her writing is as good as other people say it is (she does) and much, much more. We’ve lifted some of the best excerpts and encourage you to read the full piece. It’s extraordinary: 

On whether she deserves to be listed among the all-time greats,
regardless of skin color:

But two decades after she won her Nobel, Toni Morrison’s place in the pantheon is hardly assured. A writer of smaller ambitions would live on contentedly in this plush purgatory, but Morrison writes—more and more consciously, it seems—for posterity. Having once spearheaded the elevation of black women in culture—Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Oprah—she now finds herself struggling to cut them loose, to admit at long last what she’s always believed: that she’s not only the first, but the best. That she belongs as much with Faulkner and Joyce and Roth as she does with that illustrious sisterhood. That she will pass the test that begins only after Chloe Wofford is gone, and Toni Morrison is all that’s left.

On how she managed to develop such a strong command of literature
and storytelling:

At night her parents told R-rated ghost stories, like one about a murdered wife who returned home holding her own severed head. The following evening, the kids had to retell the tales with variations: Maybe it was snowing, or there was blood dripping from the head. “This was all language,” she says now. There were also fifteen-minute plays on the radio, which “influenced me as much if not more,” she remembers. “If they said ‘green,’ you had to figure out in your head what shade that was. And you only heard voices. So everything else you had to build, imagine. Everything.”

On what writing represents to her:

“All of my life is doing something for somebody else,” she says—though her children are long grown and she’s been divorced for almost 50 years. “Whether I’m being a good daughter, a good mother, a good wife, a good lover, a good teacher—and that’s all that. The only thing I do for me is writing. That’s really the real free place where I don’t have to answer.”

Read the rest of the article here and tell us – did you come away with a different view of Ms. Morrison? What book of hers is your favorite?