2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove is 61 today.  Her father, chemist Ray Dove, took her and her brother from Akron, Ohio, to Washington, D.C. when she was 11, where Mr. Dove participated in the March for Jobs and Freedom.

This video, created by Rita Dove’s husband Fred Viebahn, features rich personal photographs and vintage film.  Please note that the music in the background is former U.S. Poet Laureate Dove herself, playing bass viol.

The numbers are sobering: African American babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white infants.

Journalist and breastfeeding advocate Kimberly Seals Allers works for better survival and health of black infants through her website, MochaManual.com, and her on-the-ground campaign. A big focus is to give newborns more of what Allers calls the “first food”—breastmilk.

Studies consistently show that breastfeeding boosts the child’s immune system and reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which kills black infants twice as often. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control finds that 59 percent of black mothers have breastfed compared to 75 percent of white mothers. While the proportion has been increasing over the past decade, Allers remains diligent. “When I say breastfeeding is a life or death matter, this is what I mean,” she writes.

A nationally recognized coalition of breastfeeding advocates have dubbed August 25 through August 31 Black Breastfeeding Week. The coalition includes Allers, Kiddada Green, founder of the Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, co-founder of the Free to Breastfeed project.

Using social media as the main driver, organizers are hosting Twitter chats and live YouTube discussions to promote breastfeeding among African-American families and to examine cultural barriers that sometimes discourage African-American mothers. The entire week is anchored by the simple hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter.

“From our role as wet nurses in slavery being forced to breastfeed and nurture our slave owners’ children often to the detriment of our children,” Allers writes, “to the lack of mainstream role models and multi-generational support, to our own stereotyping within our community — we have a different dialogue around breastfeeding and it needs special attention.”

I defy gravity/I am stronger than any force/I am Brooklyn

This isn’t a verse from one of Jay Z’s latest records, but rather the first lines from a high school student’s entry in the Science B.A.T.T.L.E.S. competition. 

Students from nine New York City schools competed in June, part of a network of student rap contests that marry verbal dexterity with concepts from plate tectonics to Pluto.  These aren’t lectures but true competitions—students in Oakland, California, rapped about whether Rosalind Franklin was ripped off by James Watson and Francis Crick in their discovery of the architecture of DNA.

Stage names were welcome—one student performed as “Double R Bars.” Teachers encouraged adolescents to be energetic and creative as they rhymed lyrics on stage in front of family and peers. 

Christopher Emdin, associate professor at Columbia University and author of Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation, came up with the idea. His goal is simple: introduce scientific ideas in a way that’s fun and relevant. 

“Not every student is going to be a straight-A student, and go on to college and declare a science major and be the next Einstein,” he says. “But through this project we definitely are going to have more scientifically literate young people.”

NPR captured behind-the-scenes footage in this seven-minute documentary of the rap battle. Watch it now:

Meet our esteemed manager, Karen R. Long, at the Cleveland Public Library’s Brown Bag Book Club on Wednesday, August 21 at noon.

Long, the former Plain Dealer book editor, will introduce Cleveland to the four 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners. Beginning Wednesday, September 4, a more in-depth discussion of each book will occur weekly: 

Tickets to the Sept. 12 awards ceremony are sold out, but Long will raffle off six at her library talk. 

Karen R. Long served as book editor of The Plain Dealer for eight years before becoming the manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. Long is a vice president for the National Book Critics Circle, where she is a judge for its six annual prizes, awarded each March in New York City. 

Karen will give her talk on the 2nd Floor of the Main Library Building, in the Literature Department. Interested guests will be able to check out the featured books after the talk. Questions? Call the library at 216-623- 2881.

Please call 216-623- 2881 with questions.

by Kathleen Cerveny  

My Favorite Warlord, by Eugene Gloria, is the recipient of the 2013 Anisfield Wolf Book Award for Poetry.  This award, administered by the Cleveland Foundation, recognizes books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures. Now in its 78th year, the Award is juried independently by a panel of scholars led by Dr. Henry Louis Gates.

In this, his third book of poetry, Eugene Gloria continues his focus on his cultural origins in the Philippines.  He offers poems that range between accessibility and a satisfyingly complex look at the experiences of Asians growing up in America; he examines family and home — both here and far away — and identity and belonging.   From his time growing up in San Francisco and Detroit, Gloria places these issues in the context of an America familiar to us all.  At the same time, he invites us to learn something of Asian culture through the use of poetic idioms and historic references that often require thought and close reading.

The book’s many-layered but quite approachable title poem is an example of this.  It references Kurt Cobain, the elegance of the zen garden, and historic figures from ancient Japan and 20th century Portugal, in describing the poet’s difficult relationship with his father; “an irascible manager” whose presence pervades the book. 

The poem’s opening epigram; “Hello, hello, hello …” from the grunge band, Nirvana’s iconic song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” suggests this will be a poem of alienation.  Indeed, not three lines in, Gloria’s narrator says “hello” silently to his father watering the flowers in his garden, as he drives past his aging parent’s home — without stopping.  In 24 short lines, Gloria gives us a deeply layered, cross-cultural and completely real portrait of the difficult relationship between a father, who cannot change the dominating legacy of his cultural heritage, and a son who has taken another path. 

Indeed, as the title poem suggests, the relationship with the father is a central theme in the book.  A group of six poems, “Photographs With Images of My Father,” sensitively explores aspects of the father’s life and personality through the use of different poetic forms.

Throughout the book, Gloria mixes free verse with ancient poetic forms from Asia – haibun and pantoums.  There are elegies, allegories, and psalms, references to the eastern religions of his cultural heritage and the Catholicism of his own upbringing.  Although some readers may need Google on hand to understand all the references, it is an effort worth making. 

Indeed, one poem, “Cogon,” a haibun, still has me wondering.  Cogon is a tall, coarse grass used by villagers of the tropics to thatch roofs.  Cogon Shrine is a Catholic church in Manila.  Both of these may, in some way, relate to the poet’s Philippine  heritage.  However, how the title relates to the prose section of the haibun about men lost to the seduction of the “daughter of the mountain” eludes me, even after research.

My Favorite Warlord is a journey in memory, progressing in time through the four sections of the book.  Although not titled, one might name them; Assimilation, Awareness, Identity and The Poet Confronts His Gift.  These are rich, poignant expressions of the challenges of an Asian family’s efforts to fit into American society.  From “Here, On Earth”

Here, on earth we are curtained by rain.

A subset in the far corners floating

toward the center.  We are an island

in landlocked America.  We are

Thai, Filipino, and Vietnamese.

We are, all of us, post exotics. (34-39)

 and from “Monsoon Season”:

…   I was seven that monsoon season

before the highway had a proper name

before my father became a U.S. citizen

and shortened his name to Sid. (6-9)

Gloria’s poems explore the exhilaration and danger of freedom in America’s “summer of love” and confront us with the prejudice and brutality that continues to this time, by those considered ‘other.’  We find tender personal stories of family set against the horrors of war, the burning of monks and astronauts. There is the near rape of a sister, the ‘honor killing’ of a young girl by her brothers, the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese man beaten to death in Detroit by two American auto workers angered by Japan’s impact on the auto industry.

In the final section of the book, Gloria, like many poets before him, questions his own gifts.  From “Trees As Soldiers March:”

There are other circles of hell reserved

For other margin-huggers like me

Despite all those statues weeping blood,

Praying their thousand, thousand mighty prayers.

The beauty of my god is allowing me to suffer

While I invoke his name daily through the small

Disasters I make with my own hands. (20-26)

These final poems, in a way bring us back to Cobain who, in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” states:

I’m worst at what I do best

And for this gift I feel blessed.

Eugene Gloria’s gift is to bring us elegiac and sensitive encounters with the cultural experience of the growing number of Asian ‘others’ in our increasingly multi-cultural America.

Kathleen Cerveny has been a working artist, educator, development officer, and award-winning producer of arts programming for Cleveland Public Radio. She is also the Cleveland Foundation’s director of arts initiatives where, for two decades she has directed its arts and culture programs and led major initiatives in public policy and organizational advancement for the arts.

Kathleen is completing a Master’s degree in poetry through the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Creative Writing Program. She is a published poet and held the title of Cleveland’s Haiku Champion from 2009-2011 and currently (2013-14) is the Poet Laureate of the City of Cleveland Heights.

“In a time that spends so many words and dollars upon conflict, it is encouraging to be noticed for having said a few words in favor of peace.” ~Wendell Berry 

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize announced that Wendell Berry is the 2013 recipient of the Richard Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, named for the late U.S. diplomat who brokered the 1995 Dayton peace accords.

A novelist, essayist, poet, farmer, and activist, Berry has spent his literary career exploring issues ranging from sustainable agriculture to national security. He was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War and protested the nation’s post-9/11 international strategy. Among his many honors, Berry received the National Humanities Medal in 2011 from President Barack Obama, and in 2012 was named the 2012 Jefferson Lecturer, the highest government honor for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.

The only international peace prize in the United States, the Dayton award recognizes literature that promotes peace, social justice, and global understanding. Former winners of the Holbrooke lifetime achievement award include author Barbara Kingsolver, civil rights historian Taylor Branch, and peace activist Elie Wiesel.

Tim O’Brien, the 2012 Holbrooke recipient, will present this year’s award to Berry at the ceremony on November 3 in Dayton, Ohio.