With all the destruction being felt on the East Coast from Hurricane Sandy, we felt the need to keep the mood light on the blog today. 

And with that, we bring you this poem from Lucille Clifton, arguably one of the best poets we’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. She is a 2001 Lifetime Achievement winner, and her poem, “Homage to My Hips” is short, sassy and powerful – just like she was. Perfect for today. Enjoy. 

Lucille Clifton Reads ‘homage to my hips from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

1993 winner Kwame Anthony Appiah is well-known for his musings on race, culture, and identity. Born to a European mother and a Ghanaian father, he has been conscious of the way those three notions intersect in society. In this BigThink video, he shares his personal philosophy on life. Check it out and let us know what you think! 

We talk about all things dealing with race and diversity here at Anisfield-Wolf but there is one subject we haven’t explored much — the rise of hip hop. In this quick video from Big Think (one of favorite sources of videos of all the people you’d want to hear from), 2012 winner Elizabeth Alexander talks about the nuances of African American poetry and the link to hip-hop music. Check it out and let us know what you think. 

We found this piece of art by local artist John Sokol fascinating. In it, he uses words to fill in the visage of Ms. Toni Morrison (perhaps words from her own works?).

Visit the link to see more of his “word portraits,” including those of James Joyce, Dante, and more.

Mr. Hamad’s latest book will hit stores in March. He recently sat down with The New Yorker for a brief Q&A about the book. Check it out here.

How do you write a novel about some of our society’s least sympathetic members? Russell Banks found out just how hard it might be when he wrote his book, Lost Memory of Skin, about a colony of homeless sex offenders. In the video above, he describes his writing process and how he is able to craft characters that readers might not necessarily feel drawn to at the onset of the book: 

He says: 

While writing the book, I was just simply following my own deep personal curiosity and need to understand a life very, very different from my own. Once the book enters the public world, of course, then I have to consider the fact, well, probably not everybody has the same curiosity and interest and desire to understand that I do. And you hope the Kid is sympathetic. And, you know, he’s funny. He’s honest. He’s basically honest and decent, and he wants to be a good person—and is trying very hard. He’s also ashamed and guilty. And a good deal of his effort in the earlier parts of the book is to try to separate out shame and guilt, because he’s internalized society’s view of him as someone who is beneath any kind of civil or personal consideration.

View the entire interview below. 

For all the words we could pick to describe this election cycle, one word that most of us would agree on would be overwhelming. We’ve seen a record number of campaign contributions, more ads, and more news stories than any other election in recent memory. 

One major topic has been the practice of voter suppression, long thought to be a relic of the 1950s. 2012 winner David W. Blight tackled the issue in a recent op-ed in the New York Times, giving us the example of Frederick Douglass’ attempts to vote as a fugitive man—not quite free, not quite a slave:

In 1840, and again in 1841, the former Frederick Bailey, now Frederick Douglass, walked a few blocks from his rented apartment on Ray Street in New Bedford, Mass., to the town hall, where he paid a local tax of $1.50 to register to vote. Born a slave on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1818, Douglass escaped in an epic journey on trains and ferry boats, first to New York City, and then to the whaling port of New Bedford in 1838.

By the mid-1840s, he had emerged as one of the greatest orators and writers in American history. But legally, Douglass began his public life by committing what today we would consider voter fraud, using an assumed name.

It was a necessary step: when he registered to vote under his new identity, “Douglass,” a name he took from Sir Walter Scott’s 1810 epic poem “Lady of the Lake,” this fugitive slave was effectively an illegal immigrant in Massachusetts. He was still the legal “property” of Thomas Auld, his owner in St. Michaels, Md., and susceptible, under the federal fugitive slave law, to capture and return to slavery at any time.

Read the rest of Blight’s op-ed here and read his interesting take on current voter suppression laws. 

A full two years after her acclaimed book, The Warmth of Other Suns, was published, Isabel Wilkerson continues to work hard on the promotion trail, working to raise awareness of the Great Migration and its impact on today’s culture. “They changed American culture as we know it,” Wilkerson says in this short interview during the 2012 Leimert Park Book Fesitval. “So much of what we think of as American culture is actually the culture of the people who did this (migrated). We’re talking about Toni Morrison, who became a Nobel Laureate; we’re talking about people like August Wilson, the playwright; Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote The Raisin in the Sun…we’re also talking about music. Motown wouldn’t have existed at all. Rock ‘n’ roll, as we know it, would not have existed.” Let us know if you’ve read The Warmth of Other Suns!

In this TED talk, Chimamanda Adichie discusses the danger of the single story—that is, how powerful individual stories about a country can warp our minds as to what life in those places is really like. Check out her story and let us know: How has literature impacted the way you see the world?

We keep on telling you how terrific 2012 is shaping up for Junot Diaz and the accolades keep coming. Today, he and fellow Anisfield-Wolf award winner Louise Erdrich were named as 2012 National Book Awards finalists.

Sometimes we see a longer video on YouTube and we consider passing on promoting it here because honestly, who wants to watch a 40+ minute video? People generally don’t have that kind of time. But we really like this video of 2003 winner Stephen L. Carter at the 2012 National Book Festival presented by the Library of Congress. Just from the introduction, we’re reminded that this guy is pretty spectacular.

Check out the video (just pieces of it – we know you’re busy!) and let us know if you’ve read his latest book, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln.

In an extremely heated election season, sometimes it’s worth taking a moment to breathe. With millions being spent in ads on both sides, it’s clear that messaging is powerful in terms of getting people to vote for your side. But has the rhetoric gotten nastier? Are we seeing a new “low” in campaign ads or is this just the nature of politics?

Historian Jill Lepore (2006 Anisfield-Wolf award winner) explored the history of presidential campaigns at the 2012 New Yorker festival. In the short clip, she compares an ad from the 2008 election to a campaign ad from 1800. Can you name a few differences? Watch the clip and see. 

Everything today is social. From watching the Emmys, All this social media has given rise to Twitter chats (the 2012 version of the 90s chat rooms. In a Twitter chat, different users send messages to the group using a previously agreed-upon phrase preceded by a hashtag (for example, #reading). By using that hashtag, it creates a link to all the messages sent by those members.(Here’s a more thorough explanation here).

If you’ve got a lot to say about books and literature in general, give an online chat a try. You’ll be able to meet other people with the same taste in books as you and will learn more about your favorite authors. If you’re shy about joining in the conversation, it’s perfectly fine to simply sit back and listen to what other people are saying until you are more comfortable.

If this sounds interesting to you, here are a few online chats for book lovers. If you’re on Twitter, join in – maybe you’ll find some recommendations and discover your new favorite book. If you do not have a Twitter account, you can sign up for one here.

#Litchat – Brings readers and writers together for fun and fast 1-hour Twitter chats, M-W-F, 4 pm EST.

#FridayReads – Each Friday, readers all over Twitter share what’s on their nightstand.

#poetry – Poetry lovers meet up for a discussion on their favorite poets and poems at 8 p.m. CST on Thursdays.

#BlackLitChat – A monthly chat about works from multicultural authors (open to everyone) Sundays at 9 p.m. EST

We think it’s safe to say that 2012 is a great year for Junot Diaz.

He just released his third book to critical acclaim (and outright gratitude from the readers who wait years for new material). Now he can add being a MacArthur “genius” to his list of accomplishments.

Each year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awards “genius grants” to individuals whose creativity and potential lends themselves to an investment in their future work. Each MacArthur Fellow (the formal name of the awards) receives $500,000 ($100,000 each year, spread over five years) to spend as they wish, in the pursuit of a new project.

Diaz was surprised with the award last month in Chicago and once the award was made public he wrote on his Facebook page to show his gratitude:

“Thanks to everyone who wrote a letter to make this happen. Thanks to all the teachers and librarians and booksellers who kept me in circulation through the long silences. Thanks to the beautiful readers who did the same. This honor belongs to my community, whose sacrifices and courage and yes genius made me possible. Gratitude without end.”

Diaz joins other Anisfield-Wolf award winners who have also been named MacArthur Fellow, including Annette Gordon-Reed, Arnold Rampersad, William Julius Wilson, and John Edgar Wideman.

Please join us in congratulating him on a job well done! 

Yale professor David W. Blight spoke at the esteemed City Club the day after our Anisfield-Wolf ceremony to speak about his latest work, American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era. Watch the video and let us know if you’ve had a chance to read his work. We welcome your comments.