Two weeks after Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chiwetel Ejiofor walked the red carpet at the Lagos premiere of “Half Of A Yellow Sun,” the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board has halted its theatrical release in Nigeria.
The screen adaptation of Adichie‘s 2006 novel premiered in September 2013 at the Toronto Film Festival. The film stars Thandie Newton (Crash) and Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls) as two sisters caught in the middle of the Nigerian-Biafran War. One million people died as a result of the conflict.
Hear from the director Biyi Bandele in this brief interview from BBC Africa on why he believes the board has blocked the release of the film:
The film will be available in limited release for selected U.S. cities. Get the schedule here.
When Theodore Rosengarten won the National Book Award in 1975 for “All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw,” he beat out a classic of nonfiction, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s “All the President’s Men,” at the height of the Watergate scandal.
Forty years later, general readers tend to know “All the President’s Men” while Rosengarten’s work is obscure. Now the New York Times has drawn fresh attention to “All God’s Dangers” in “Lost in Literary History: A Tale of Courage in the South.” (Read full story here.)
The book began simply — as a conversation. In 1968, Rosengarten accompanied his future wife, Dale, on a trip to Alabama for research on her senior thesis, an examination of the Sharecroppers Union of the 1930s. The union, which existed only a handful of years, once attracted 10,000 members. Many members were forced underground after threats of violence turned into lynching – making a study of a primarily black, Communist-led organization difficult work.
Once the couple arrived in Alabama, they met “Nate Shaw,” then 84. His real name was Ned Cobb. One question — “Why did you join the union?”– led to eight hours of quotes from the former farmer, whose sharp detail convinced Rosengarten there was a story here. The writer returned again and again to collect Cobb’s recollections. In 1974, the northerner brought them to the public as “All God’s Dangers,” changing Cobb’s name for his family’s safety.
Cobb, an illiterate sharecropper whose father was born into slavery, went out on his own at 19 and was almost immediately successful, in spite of not having a formal education. He managed to become one of the first black farmers to own a car and his own share of mules. Critics lauded Cobb’s tales, with one review mentioning “All God’s Dangers” in the same breath as Homer’s Odyssey.
Today Rosengarten is a 69-year-old professor at the Zucker/Goldberg Center for Holocaust Education at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
One sign that the book may be finding a new generation of readers: its current rank among Amazon bestsellers is 33.
Twenty years ago, Charlotte-based consultant Valaida Fullwood encountered philanthropy close to home. Her 70-year-old aunt, Dora Atlas, right around the corner from retirement, began a new project: serving free meals to residents in a public housing community in Asheboro, North Carolina.
Now in her 90s, Aunt Dora’s soup kitchen is still operating. Fullwood tells this story in her book, “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists,” which praises the legacy of everyday givers in black households.
Fullwood knows the legacy is impressive. Each year, African-Americans allocate a higher percentage of their income to charity than other racial groups. Yet, most hesitate to label themselves “philanthropists,” a term more closely associated with the wealthy.
To enlarge perceptions of what giving looks like, the Cleveland Foundation hosts the biennial African American Philanthropy Summit. Its mission is to raise the visibility of African-American philanthropy and to encourage more. Anisfield-Wolf jury chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. will deliver the keynote in conversation with journalist Russ Mitchell for the 2014 summit April 26.
“The African-American Philanthropy Committee was created as an advisory committee of the Cleveland Foundation in 1993, under the leadership of then-CEO Steven A. Minter. Ever since, the committee has served as a national model of community engagement,” notes Ronald B. Richard and Kaye M. Ridolfi in a joint letter. He is the foundation’s CEO and president and she is its senior vice president of advancement.
Taking a note from the foundation’s centennial, the summit is cataloging 100 acts of African-American philanthropy, encouraging everyone to submit examples of giving, whether it’s in time, talent or treasure. Join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #GivingHasNoColor or email your story to AAPC@clevefdn.org.
A few tickets for this year’s summit remain. For more information or to register, visit www.clevelandfoundation.org/AAPC
The feminist writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali lived out a new chapter of her controversial public life this month when Brandeis University abruptly withdrew its offer to bestow on her an honorary doctorate in May.
“She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world,” said the university’s press release. “That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”
To some, the 44-year-old activist is a profile in courage, standing up to the misogyny that afflicts many Muslim women. To others, she is a shocking Islamophobe, mistakenly attributing her personal hardship to one of the three Abrahamic religions.
In 2008, Hirsi Ali won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her gripping memoir, “Infidel,” a title apt to the political moment. It also reflects her struggle with a religion that she sees undergirding her genital mutilation in Somalia at age five, beatings that intensified as she grew, and a forced marriage at age 22. In “Infidel,” Hirsi Ali describes her abrupt defection to the Netherlands – where she learned Dutch and did janitorial work to put herself through university. In 2003, she was elected to Parliament.
Three years later, death threats and the assassination of a collaborator sent her into exile in the United States, where she took work as a visiting scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, and became a citizen in 2013.
“When Brandeis approached me with the offer of an honorary degree, I accepted partly because of the institution’s distinguished history; it was founded in 1948, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, as a co-educational, nonsectarian university at a time when many American universities still imposed rigid admission quotas on Jewish students,” Hirsi Ali said in a statement. “I assumed that Brandeis intended to honor me for my work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religious in origin. For over a decade, I have spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called ‘honor killings,’ and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating. Part of my work has been to question the role of Islam in legitimizing such abhorrent practices. So I was not surprised when my usual critics, notably the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), protested against my being honored in this way.”
Others weighed in. Roughly 85 faculty members signed a letter to the president of Brandeis decrying Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree, generally seen as sanctioning a body of work. A student petition objecting to her selection also circulated online. But when news of the rescinding broke, others objected to Brandeis’ about-face.
The Wall Street Journal published an abridged version of the remarks Hirsi Ali intended to deliver at graduation May 28. In her epilogue to “Infidel,” she writes, “I don’t want my arguments to be considered sacrosanct because I have had horrible experiences; I haven’t. In reality, my life has been marked by enormous good fortune. How many girls born in Digfeer Hospital in Mogadishu in November 1969 are even alive today? And how many have a real voice?”
In early February, Facebook rolled out 56 new gender identities for user profiles. Selections such as “pangender” and “two-spirit” now drop-down in a list that gives users more ways to describe themselves.
When she heard the news, transgender advocate Janet Mock, 30, sent out a simple “Yeeesss” on Twitter. Over the past three years, Mock has been increasingly visible and unapologetic about her goals: to provide more spaces for the trans community to be open about their stories and their identities. Hers began 30 years ago in Hawaii and continued during her teen years in Oakland, Cal. She was the first member of her family to attend college, graduating with degrees from the University of Hawaii and New York University.
In 2011, Mock publicly proclaimed her identity as a transgender woman in an Marie Claire essay.
“When I came into adulthood, I learned from other trans women that you need to be quiet,” said Mock, who had gender reassignment surgery at age 18. “Go and move on and be successful; that was the model that they had…So I did that, and for a while it was amazing, but part of myself felt like I was silencing myself again.”
After publication of the Marie Claire essay, Mock began the #GirlsLikeUs hashtag on Twitter, intending to use it as a safe place for trans women to gather and connect. It is thriving, with close to 1,000 tweets transmitted per day, and ample participation from trans women on Facebook, Instagram, and Google+.
“These social media platforms can be a lifeline for people who are struggling with identity, who are struggling with self, who don’t have validation, affirmation and real-life friendships,” Mock explained in a recent At Google talk. “Most trans women grow up in isolation.”
Mock’s 2014 memoir, Redefining Realness from Atria Press, continues her advocacy, and amplifies her narrative beyond transitioning and gender reassignment surgery. Mock chooses to be bold on the page, diving into the pain of childhood sexual abuse, the teenage period of engaging in sex work to pay for her surgery, and the mending of her relationship with her strict, Southern Baptist father.
In a series of short videos filmed in concert with the book release, Mock discusses her thoughts on “passing” as a cisgender woman (one aligned with their assigned sex at birth), the significance of pop culture in her life’s journey, and more. Take a look.
This spring, as Rwanda commemorates the 1994 genocide that extinguished more than a million of its citizens, a nation assesses its reconstruction while the wider world wrestles with the fact that it stood by. Several important books illuminate these tasks.
“Twenty years ago today our country fell into deep ditches of darkness,” said Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s current minister of foreign affairs. “Twenty years later, today, we are a country united and a nation elevated.”
Economic progress and a fragile peace characterize Rwanda now, under a new Constitution and a marked ascendancy of women into leadership. A moving photographic portrait of the hard work of reconciliation is newly published in the New York Times.
“The story of U.S. policy during the genocide in Rwanda is not a story of willful complicity with evil,” wrote Samantha Power in 2001, in her now-landmark essay, Bystanders to Genocide. “U.S. officials did not sit around and conspire to allow genocide to happen. But whatever their convictions about ‘never again,’ many of them did sit around, and they most certainly did allow genocide to happen.”
This startling essay expanded into Power’s book, “A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide,” which won both the 2003 Anisfield-Wolf Book award for nonfiction and a Pulitzer Prize.
The book is a meticulously researched portrait of U.S. inaction throughout the 20thcentury – despite the growth of human rights groups, the advent of instant communications and the erection of the Holocaust Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C. “Rwandan Hutus in 1994 could freely, joyfully and systematically slaughter 8,000 Tutsis a day for 100 days without any foreign interference,” Power writes.
All the while, the Clinton Administration blocked deployment of U.N. peacekeepers, worked actively in diplomatic circles to suppress the “G-word” (genocide) and “refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide,” Power writes.
In “Less than Human,” David Livingstone Smith picks up on these radio broadcasts as essential fodder to the dehumanization that made the Rwandan genocide possible. His book won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2012, and is the basic text for the Anisfield-Wolf course at Case Western Reserve University: Reading Social Justice.
As the world remembers the antithesis of social justice – wholesale butchery of a people – both Power and Smith exemplify how sober scholarship can illustrate the circumstances that unleash new killing fields. Smith is a professor of philosophy at the University of New England; Power has become the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.— who served as executive producer, host, and writer for “The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” —learned this week that his six-part documentary won the highest honor in broadcasting: a Peabody Award.
“This is a great victory of all of us that love African-American history and those of us that want to see it become an explicably intertwined part of American culture,” Gates said in a statement on TheRoot.com. “This took five years and is a great victory for our ancestors and their sacrifices, and they should be celebrated every day in a school curriculum, and my hope is that the DVD will be used in every classroom from kindergarten to college.”
For the first time in its 73 year history, the Peabodys were announced live on television. CBS This Morning broke the news, naming the winners for the best work in TV, radio, and Internet storytelling, Gates, who chairs the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, shared his elation with the rest of the jury – poet Rita Dove, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, psychologist Steven Pinker and historian Simon Schama. Each sent their congratulations. Gates, who wrote that he was “ecstatic,” celebrated by taking in a Knicks game.
Other winners include the comparable PBS series “Latino Americans” and Michele Norris’ Race Card Project. Read the entire list of winners here.
“Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting” publishes this week, the first collection of poetry from Anisfield-Wolf fiction winner Kevin Powers. Here is the title poem:
I tell her I love her like not killing
or ten minutes of sleep
beneath the low rooftop wall
on which my rifle rests.
I tell her in a letter that will stink,
when she opens it,
of bolt oil and burned powder
and the things it says.
I tell her that Private Bartle says, offhand,
that war is just us
making little pieces of metal
pass through each other.
Powers, who grew up in Richmond, Va., enlisted the day after he turned 17. He served as a U.S. Army machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2004 and 2005. Those years informed “The Yellow Birds,” a first novel that writer Tom Wolfe called “the All Quiet on the Western Front of America’s Arab wars.” Private Bartle is its narrator.
The new book contains 34 poems that well out of war, bafflement and remembrance, often speaking of mothers. They touch on rifles, men in bars, stretches of Texas and Nebraska and West Virginia. The book is dedicated to “my friends from the Boulevard.”
When Powers spoke in Cleveland last September, he said he hadn’t kept a journal as a soldier, that he didn’t have the stamina or mental reserves. But the books his mother mailed him were a lifeline, and he wrote some letters. Almost three years ago, a friend brought out one that he’d sent to her.
“I could see the point in the letter where I almost opened up, but didn’t,” he said.
In his penultimate poem, “A Lamp in the Place of the Sun,” Powers concludes with four short lines in plain language: “How long I waited/for the end of winter./How quickly I forgot/the cold when it was over.”
“Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting” is the first book of poetry that Little, Brown & Co. has published in 30 years.
As our profile begins to grow as a book award, from time to time we like to recognize some of the beautiful writing others have done on our behalf. Barbara Hoffert, past president of the National Book Critics Circle, authored an elegant write-up about this year’s winners for the Library Journal, aptly titled, “Celebrate the Past, Look to the Future.”
Since their founding in 1935 by Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf to honor books that confront racism and celebrate diversity, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards have called out major writers to us, among them Nadine Gordimer, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison, Wole Soyinka, and Derek Walcott—generally before they became Nobel Laureates….
From Israel to the Caribbean, Chechnya to the boxing rings of Jim Crow America—the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards have come far from Edith Anisfield Wolf’s Cleveland. But in spirit they are right at home.