The answer, as 2010 winner Isabel Wilkerson would like you to know, is that they are all products of the Great Migration. Over the past few months, Wilkerson has been sharing the stories of influential African Americans on her Facebook page, connecting the dots between the past and the present. 

Take a moment to browse the stories and let us know: Did you know about this piece of history? Have you read The Warmth of Other Suns? Is it a book you’d recommend to others? 

Also take a look at Wilkerson’s “Democracy Now” segment, where she talks about the influences of the Great Migration, including it’s impact on jazz music and Motown.

This excerpt from author Joe Queenan’s new book, “One for the Books,” was published in the Huffington Post Books section and it has us thinking about the future of e-books and physical books. Our favorite part:

The tangible reality of books defines us, just as the handwritten scrolls of the Middle Ages defined the monks who concealed them from barbarians. We believe that the objects themselves have magical powers. People who prefer e-books may find this baffling or silly. They think that books merely take up space. This is true, but so do your children and Prague and the Sistine Chapel.

He goes on to talk about his father’s last years and what he found when he went to clean out his father’s apartment after his death: 

As his life wound down, he had shed all the trifles one does not need in this world. There was nothing on television that could possibly mean anything to him. There was nothing he could hang on the walls that would make any difference now. But his books still mattered to him, just as they had mattered when he was young and full of hope, before alcohol got its hooks into him. His books still held out the hope of doing a far, far better thing than he had ever done, of going to a far, far better rest than any he had ever known. His books allowed him to cling to dreams that would never materialize. Books had not enabled him to succeed. But they had mitigated the pain of failure.

Powerful. Read the whole excerpt here and let us know: do you, just as Queenan does, believe in the power of physical books, or does the convenience of e-books soothe you just as much? 

 

In our rush to get to Thanksgiving dinner, we missed the anniversary of August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.” 2011 winner Isabel Wilkerson reminded us through a post on her Facebook page (she’s just FULL of wonderful factoids about African American history), including a rare photo of Samuel L. Jackson (third from left), who starred in the play as Boy Willie.

Wilkerson writes:

It was 25 years ago today, Nov. 23, 1987, that the August Wilson play, The Piano Lesson, made its world premiere, starring Samuel L. Jackson (3rd from left) as Boy Willie, at the Yale Repertory Theatre. The play would win the Pulitzer Prize. In its scenes play out the legacy of slavery and the Great Migration…. Boy Willie arrives in Pittsburgh from Mississippi in 1936 and clashes with his sister, Berniece, who had migrated north.

The conflict is over an upright piano, which held the history and secrets of the family’s hardships in the South. Boy Willie wants to sell the piano to buy the land where their ancestors had toiled as slaves and sharecroppers. The sister wants to keep the piano because of the sacrifice at which it had come and the memory it contains.

The playwright August Wilson was a product of the Great Migration — his grandmother walked from Spears, N.C. to Pittsburgh. The play was inspired by a collage called “Piano Lesson” by another child of the Migration, the artist Romare Bearden….

Isabel Wilkerson posted the above photo and the following message on her Facebook page – seems she has a superfan out there!

Deepest gratitude at this special time to every person who has embraced this book and the inspiring message of the Great Migration. Filled with joy for whoever created what is shown in this picture: an edible edition of The Warmth of Other Suns created with love and care by an anonymous fan. This greeted me in my room at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, where I was to speak in the City Arts and Lectures series.

Neither the event organizers nor the hotel said they knew how it got there or who had gone to such trouble to create or commission it. However it got there, this was the work of a professional: a 4×6 piece of white chocolate covered with a filmed copy of the book’s cover. Thank you to whoever created this and delivered it to me. There are angels out there! Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

We are thankful for books, wonderful books. Thankful for the worlds they create, the minds they challenge, the stories that stick with long after you’ve read the last page. 

We are thankful for Edith Anisfield-Wolf, who, in 1935, established the book prize in honor of her father and husband to bring recognition to works that address race and diversity. In 1935. That is incredible. 

We are thankful for the authors who have won our award. We know that it takes incredible patience, commitment and diligence to create works that not only sound good to the ear but also have a message, however overt or apparent.  

And last, but definitely not least, we are thankful for you, the readers who make our work so satisfying. Each year at the ceremony, we hear from so many of you on how so-and-so’s book has touched you or how hearing a certain author speak has changed the way you see an issue. That makes us light up, because it tells us that there is still very much a need for what we do, what the authors do, what Edith Anisfield-Wolf wanted us to do. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

 

2008 winner Junot Diaz recently wrapped up his book tour for his latest book, This Is How You Lose Her, at the Facing Race conference in Baltimore last week.

He wrote to his fans: 

“So many extraordinary activists, so many brilliant youth. Thanks to all the organizers who made it happen and to all the already-tired participants that patiently endured my keynote. You seriously rock! In other news tonight was the last day of the tour. Basically two straight months on the road, two months I was very lucky to have…It was better than anything I could have imagined. Thanks to everyone who supported the work, who advocated for the new book, who took time to come to the readings. Thanks to all the booksellers to all the librarians to all the teachers who often often brought their students to the events. Thanks to my Dominican/Caribbean peoples for always representing and for so often inviting me to their family home for a sancocho. You have no idea how that touched me. Thanks to all readers everywhere! You made this journey possible.”

We do believe he has earned some well-deserved time at home for a bit! Read about our other coverage of Diaz’ latest book at the link

We are thrilled to congratulate 2009 Anisfield-Wolf winner Louise Erdrich on her win at the 2012 National Book Awards. She was awarded the prize for fiction, for her novel, Round House.

In her interview with the National Book Awards, she talked about whether she writes for her audience or for herself.

“My characters have my attention—trying to find them, understand them, think like them, feel what they would feel, behave on the page as they would,” she said. “And then there is the language—listening for what is unburdened by sentiment, trying to write something fearless. I usually write the books like secrets, as though nobody will read them.”

Read the whole interview here and join us in congratulating Ms. Erdrich!

What a year for Esi Edugyan! After winning multiple awards for her stunning novel Half Blood Blues, she has recently been nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Prize. Nominees are selected by librarians in 120 cities, and the most promising of the authors will move to the short list, announced April 9, 2013. The winner will be announced on June 6, 2013. Along with a prize of about $160,000 (Canadian), the winner will be able to take their place alongside great writers like Edward P. Jones and Michael Thomas.

Please join us in congratulating Ms. Edugyan!

Read more about the award here. 

Penguin USA has uploaded a few videos of in honor of Zadie Smith’s new book NW. We thought you would enjoy.

With the 2012 election cycle behind us (phew!), the focus has again shifted to our elected officials actual job responsibilities and the path our country will take over the next few years. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently profiled the work and legacy of William Julius Wilson, one of our nation’s preeminent sociologists. In exploring his work in the area of race and poverty, the article asked a pointed question: Given all that we know from Wilson’s research and the research of the sociologists who came after him, what, exactly is the end game? What should the government do about poverty? 

One answer: 

…Recent research has convinced Wilson that Americans support a level playing field. In speaking about public policy, people should frame programs as vehicles for the poor to help themselves, he now believes. They should spell out problems. And they should not shy away from talking about race.

But for progress to happen, there must be a political will, Wilson says.

“If you don’t recognize that a problem exists,” he says, “you’re not going to do anything.”

Read the full article here. 

Do you agree with Wilson? What do you think should be done about poverty in America?

The 2012 election cycle was filled with a bombardment of political ads, 24-hour news cycles dissecting every possible angle, and an overwhelming sense of hype surrounding who will be our next batch of elected representatives. Some of our winners got in on the action and made a few comments about the election as well. 

Junot Diaz, who has been writing consistently about the Latino effect in this year’s election, wrote a special message on his Facebook page. “Obama WINS!” he wrote shortly after the race had been called. “The Latino community came out BIG for Obama. Very proud of my community, very proud of all the new voters, the very proud of all the Obama supporters who put in the time and the hard work to make this happen.”

Never one to shy away from his passions, David Livingstone Smith took the opportunity to remind people of the atrocities happening in East Africa. “While we’re celebrating, they’re dying. How about urging our newly elected officials to take notice?”

Isabel Wilkerson, whose 2010 book, The Warmth of Other Suns, was selected as a top five book pick by President Obama, gave a brief history lessons for her fans on her Facebook page. “‘The right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’ Those words, the 15th Amendment, were ratified in 1870. NINETY-FIVE years passed before it was acted upon. Poll taxes, literacy tests and lynchings barred black southerners from voting. It wasn’t until Aug. 6, 1965, when, after decades of protest and violence, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act ‘to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution,’ that everyone was actually permitted to vote.” 

Whoever you supported and whatever your political leanings, we hope you took advantage of your right to vote and made a difference in this election cycle! 

 

 

 

Junot Diaz made a lively appearance at Google’s headquarters for its “Authors @ Google” interview series. Watch the video above and listen as Diaz reads the introduction to one of the short stories in his book, This is How You Lose Her. 

More than 35 years after being published, Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” is behind a bit of controversy in the Frederick, Maryland school district. 

From the Frederick News Post

School board member April Miller would not vote to make “Song of Solomon” available in Frederick County high schools.

The novel by Toni Morrison, which details the life of an African-American male living in Michigan from the 1930s through 1960s, includes graphic sexual and violent content.

“It’s definitely not something I want my 14-year-old reading,” she said Thursday in a phone interview.

Miller’s daughter will be a high school freshman next year.

“Song of Solomon” was set to be approved Wednesday in the Frederick County Board of Education’s consent agenda, which requires only a yes or no vote with no discussion, before Miller asked that the item be pulled for discussion.

Miller is asking that the lists of books to be approved be given to board members in advance so they have time to read the books and make a more informed decision about which books should be available in the curriculum. Other board members disagree, saying they are not curriculum experts and should trust the school’s discretion. 

Sound off in the comments—where do you stand?