Richard S. Dunn spent 40 years researching and writing “A Tale of Two Plantations,” a scrupulous, revelatory archival investigation of some 2,000 people enslaved across three generations: roughly half on a Jamaican sugar plantation called Mesopotamia, and half on Mount Airy, a Virginia tidewater plantation growing tobacco and grain.
As is our tradition, we interview each of our winners prior to the hustle of the evening to get their quiet thoughts on what being recognized means to them. Here is Dunn’s turn in front of the camera:
As Marilyn Chinbegan her acceptance speech for this year’s award for poetry, she looked out in the audience upon former poet laureate and jury member Rita Dove, thanking her for her sisterhood. Dove praised “Hard Love Province,” noting, “In these sad and beautiful poems, a withering portrayal of our global ‘society’ emerges – from Buddha to Allah, Mongols to Bethesda boys, Humvee to war horse, Dachau to West Darfu, Irrawaddy River to San Diego.”
As is our tradition, we interview each of our winners prior to the hustle of the evening to get their quiet thoughts on what being recognized means to them. Here is Chin’s turn in front of the camera:
It was a brief passage in “Sula,” Toni Morrison‘s 1973 novel, that changed Marlon James‘ entire life: in it, Sula refutes the idea that her life choices only have value if affirmed by others. James realized: “I don’t owe anything to anyone. I didn’t have anything to prove. I could be the writer; I could be the artist. I could be the person that I want.”
James’ indebtedness to Morrison extends further into the Anisfield-Wolf canon—Edwidge Danticat, Arnold Rampersad, Wole Soyinka are among the winners he referenced as he accepted his prize for 2014’s “A Brief History of Seven Killings” at the sold-out awards ceremony at Playhouse Square.
As is our tradition, we interview each of our winners prior to the hustle of the evening to get their quiet thoughts on what being recognized means to them. Here is James’ turn in front of the camera:
“My idols sat around and read my book, y’all,” Jericho Brown remarked from the podium at the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony. Moments later he launched into “Labor,” a piece featured in his 2014 collection, The New Testament.
As is our tradition, we caught up with Brown in a few quiet moments before this year’s ceremony to hear his thoughts on being honored with the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for poetry:
Clevelanders feeling uninspired on their daily commute will soon have one route infused with a new literary landscape.
An extraordinary collaboration between the Cleveland Foundation, the City of Cleveland and LAND studio will bring public artwork to the Regional Transit Authority’s Red Line—the 19-mile stretch from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to downtown Cleveland—in time for the Republican National Convention in 2016. These art installations will honor Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners, potentially including local literary giants Toni Morrison and Langston Hughes and national leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. The awards, which began in Cleveland 80 years ago, honor authors whose works confront racism and celebrate diversity.
The current view from the Red Line is a passageway through neglected and underused industrial spaces, the surfaces of which provide a compelling canvas for large-scale murals or other art treatments. (Who wouldn’t want a glimpse of artwork inspired by The Bluest Eye on their way to work?) “This is a one of the best developments in the history of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards,” said Karen R. Long, manager of the prizes. “It will put our books and authors along the arteries of the city, and into the daily lives of our citizens. We will collaborate with world-class artists to bring these important stories and poems and nonfiction narratives to the fore. I am keen to begin, and honored to help.”
The project will begin with five or more art pieces created by local, national and international artists. The hope is to expand it to the RTA’s other transit lines, potentially creating one of the nation’s largest outdoor art galleries. The fusion of public art and public transportation has enlivened other U.S. cities, including Philadelphia and New York City, where its transit system launched an app to help riders locate and explore more than 200 works of art within the stations.
“This project showcases the power of the arts to transform community spaces,” said Lillian Kuri, the Cleveland Foundation’s program director for architecture, urban design and sustainable development. “We believe it has the potential to turn the Red Line into a cultural attraction, especially by connecting the art to the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, an internationally-respected program born right here in Cleveland.” Interested artists are asked to submit portfolios to LAND Studio’s Joe Lanzilotta at email@example.com before the 1/22/2016 deadline. Find more information and the Request for Qualifications at LAND Studio’s site.
Take a look at Jean-Michel Basquiat’s mesmerizing 1984 painting “Trumpet.” It inspired a new poem from Adrian Matejka that he calls “& Later,”
Matejka won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award last year for “The Big Smoke,” his Jack Johnson-infused collection. Now the Indiana University professor is putting together a new book called “Collectable Blacks.”
“I get caught up easily in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings, especially his work focusing on boxers and jazz,” Matejka said. “His painting from 1984, ‘Trumpet,’ cracked open a tense holiday moment from my childhood. I don’t remember any actual trumpets at that holiday fracas, but Basquiat’s lines and pigments always seem to create unexpected opportunities for improvisation and meditation.”
Matejka made this observation for staff at the American Academy of Poets, which sent “& Later,” to some 300,000 readers September 4 as part of its digital dose of verse. Readers can sign up for the “Poem a Day” project.
—after “Trumpet,” Jean-Michel Basquiat
the broken sprawl & crawl
of Basquiat’s paints, the thin cleft
of villainous pigments wrapping
each frame like the syntax
in somebody else’s relaxed
explanation of lateness: what had happened was. Below blackened
crowns, below words crossed out
to remind of what is underneath:
potholes, ashy elbows, & breath
that, in the cold, comes out in red light
& complaint shapes—3 lines
from the horn’s mouth
in the habit of tardy remunerations.
All of that 3-triggered agitation,
all that angry-fingered fruition
like Indianapolis’s 3-skyscrapered smile
when the sun goes down & even
the colors themselves start talking
in the same suspicious idiom
as a brass instrument—
thin throat like a fist,
flat declinations of pastors
& teachers at Christmas in the inner city.
Shoulders back & heads up when
playing in holiday choir of hungry
paints, chins covered
in red scribbles in all of the songs.