Tyehimba Jess came home to Karamu House to lift up “Olio,” his magnificently engineered collection of poems that explore black voices in the decades from Civil War times to the start of World War I. Many of the poems can be read from back to front, at a slant and via every other line, in a welter of sense-making and sensibility.

A sold-out crowd flocked to the historic theater during Cleveland Book Week to hear Jess showcase the historic voices that flow through every page of “Olio,”  which won both an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize.  He used a screen projector to show how the works unfold multiple meanings in varied directions.

As preamble, two artists from Twelve Literary and Performative Arts  — Mary Barrett and Damien McClendon — recited their explosive original work, while Daniel Gray-Kontar opted for a nontraditional introduction to Jess, performing pieces from Jess’ first poetry collection, “Leadbelly,” with backing from the jazz band MOSHURO. Sponsor Lydia Munell of Brews + Prose praised the vitality of hearing poems in a cathedral, in a museum, at a boxing ring, at Karamu and in a planetarium – all sites where Anisfield-Wolf and her organization have collaborated.

“One thing I’m going to come back with is Cleveland knows how to throw a party,” Jess said. “Y’all know how to get down.”

View the event in full below and join our mailing list to be among the first to hear the lineup for Cleveland Book Week 2018.

Hundreds of Cleveland students joined author Margot Lee Shetterly at Cleveland State University in early September for a student-centric discussion of “Hidden Figures,” which took home the 2017 Anisfield-Wolf prize for nonfiction.

The gathering began with an original, soul-stirring interpretation of “Hidden Figures” in dance from the Tri-C Creative Arts Dance Academy. High school students, most enrolled in the Cleveland School of the Arts, performed “Hidden,” a vibrant period piece, choreographed by Terence Greene.

Shetterly then came onto the stage, thanking the students for carrying the work forward in a fresh medium. Three Cleveland Metropolitan School District high schoolers — Natalie Parsons, Kymari Williams and Darell Cannon —  interviewed the author, probing on her advice, and her inspiration: “I wanted to give [the women of ‘Hidden Figures’] a star turn…for them to be as fully realized as stories we get about presidents and other famous people in history…I wanted that portrayal for these women and for myself and by extension the rest of us.”

John Hay High School graduate and Howard freshman Zephaniah Galloway closed out the program, reciting her 2017 “Stop the Hate” Maltz Foundation prize-winning essay.

Watch the event below — including the full performance of “Hidden” — and join our mailing list to be among the first to hear the lineup for Cleveland Book Week 2018.

Thanks to Wesley Lowery and his colleagues at the Washington Post, citizens anywhere can click on the newspaper’s “Fatal Force” webpage and see the running tally of people who have been shot and killed by police this year.

When Lowery, 27, returned to his hometown September 22, he looked up the number on his phone to answer a question at the City Club of Cleveland: 714. Less than a week later, it had ticked up to 730.

Last year the total was 992 and in 2015, when Lowery and his team won a Pulitzer for creating the database from scratch, it was 963. Despite heightened awareness around police shootings, despite the protests of Black Lives Matter, the number dying is steady. It is tracking to come in again close to a 1,000 deaths this year, Lowery said.

“It’s a pace of about three a day,” he told a sold-out crowd. “What is difficult is fatal police shootings are a relatively random event. Every year, you have police departments that have their first fatal shooting ever. It’s not a set of 12 departments doing most of the fatal shootings . . . You have very few departments that have double-digits.”

And with more than 19,000 U.S. police jurisdictions, a lesson learned about police use of deadly force doesn’t travel, Lowery said. He gave this example: when the New York City police discovered in 1973 that forbidding its force from shooting at moving cars cut citizen fatalities in half, that was good news for New York, but it didn’t disseminate.

Lowery, a self-effacing man who decided in a Shaker Heights middle-school that he wanted to become a journalist, drew strong reviews for his first book They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore and A New Era in America’s Racial Justice MovementCritic Dwight Garner of the New York Times wrote, “This book is electric, because it is so well reported, so plainly told and so evidently the work of a man who has not grown a callus on his heart.”

Lowery described his baptism into covering “policing and race” as accidental, dating to a spot decision by a Washington Post editor who sent him to St. Louis in the aftermath of August 9, 2014, when Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown.
“I thought this was going to be a very quick story,” Lowery said. “I’d covered police shootings before and I knew the appetite was small. I’d write a story and people would likely move on.”

Instead, Lowery discovered a crowd of perhaps 150 waiting milling in a church parking lot while some 800 people packed inside for a hastily called NAACP news conference. He started in with what he now characterizes as “quaint, naïve questions” asking residents to describe their relationship with police.

“What I’m hearing back are stories that are horrifying: stories of nights spent in jail for unpaid parking tickets; stories of people calling the police for help and ending up in handcuffs,” Lowery said. And even as he is listening, he is editing, discarding anecdotes as unprovable, weighing others with skepticism.

Back in D.C., Lowery and his colleagues went looking for data on police shootings and discovered no entity took responsibility to gather them. The best they could scavenge was a squishy FBI estimate of 463 killed per year, a number the bureau knew was a gross undercount.

“In a country that is obsessed with quantifying and counting, we had no accurate account of how often people were getting killed by police officers,” he said. “But we can tell you exactly how many people saw the movie ‘Get Out’ in Shaker Square and how many bought popcorn.”

The Post decided to track fatal force by looking for media hits, reasoning that on most occasions of lethal police killings a reporter would have filed one story. The team discovered that a quarter of the cases involve mental illness: “Our society solution to mental breakdown is to insert someone with a gun,” Lowery said.

Asked by the lawyer for Tamir Rice’s family about the paucity of convictions of police, Lowery was blunt: “We allow police to kill people when they get scared. Period.”

The Post’s examination of prosecutions found them exceedingly rare, and convictions close to nonexistent. Lowery recommended Jill Leovy’s groundbreaking 2015 book, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, as one key to pondering these complexities. He also likes Chris Hayes’ A Colony in a Nation, which published in March.

The reporter reflected back on his own incredulity during those first days in St. Louis. “I think if there is a lesson to this work,” he said, “it is we have to listen to our own communities when they tell us stories about the pain and the trauma they are in.”

The chestnut about journalists speaking for the voiceless also began to ring hollow, thanks to an activist who chastened Lowery: “There are no voiceless people,” he said. “There are only people who are unheard.”

The State Library of Ohio is making it easier for residents to read excellent books with ties to our region, including those from the Anisfield-Wolf canon.

From now until October 31, the State Library is calling on libraries to apply to its Celebrating Ohio Book Awards & Authors program, which offers up to $1,000 to purchase books from any Ohio-based award program. In addition to titles from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the grant is available for books that have won the Buckeye Children’s and Teen Book Award, James Cook Book Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Ohioana Book Award, or the Norman A. Sugarman Children’s Biography Award.

Grant funds can also go toward the purchase of any book from the Choose to Read Ohio list, which builds two-year community conversations around books by Ohio authors and illustrators. One current selection is from Cleveland native Anthony Doerr, whose 2015 book “All the Light We Cannot See” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Libraries interested in applying for grant funds can do so here.

U.S. Congress member John Lewis is short and bald and unfailingly humble. Before he could say a word during a quick September stop in Cleveland to accept the Louis Stokes Community Vision Award, a breakfast crowd of more than 500 gave the 77-year-old a thunderous standing ovation.

Overhead in the Renaissance Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, the film trailer for “Selma” had spun out a brief, heart-clenching re-enactment of Bloody Sunday in 1965, when law enforcement officials beat Lewis unconscious on Alabama’s Edmund Pettis Bridge. The Canadian actor playing Lewis – Stephan James – appears in the
trailer four times.

A clip from the John Lewis episode of “Finding Your Roots” followed. It re-played the revelation that Tobias Carter, the Atlanta congress member’s great great great grandfather, had registered to vote in Alabama in 1867, after the end of the Civil War. “Maybe, just maybe, it’s part of my DNA,” Lewis says, shaking his head
in disbelief. “It’s just incredible.”

For writing about his own incredible life, Lewis won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1999. His memoir, called Walking with the Wind, got a graphic version update: March. This trilogy has reintroduced the Civil Rights movement for the 21st -century generation, and became the campus-wide reading selection at Marquette, Michigan State and Georgia State universities.

Steven A. Minter, master of ceremony for the Stokes award, called Lewis “a great moral leader in these troubled times.” Minter quoted Lewis from Walking with the Wind: “When I care about something, I am prepared to take the long hard road. That is what faith is about.”

Minter called on the audience to celebrate Lewis, the late Louis Stokes and the Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation, which works to revitalize Cleveland’s historic Fairfax neighborhood.

“Revitalizing communities takes time,” said Executive Director Denise VanLeer. “It really is unique to get input from everyone in a way that no one is more important than anyone else. And that’s not easy.”

VanLeer said she loved hearing Lewis’ standard story about being a four-year-old boy preaching to the chickens in the yard of his parent’s farm in Pike County, Ala. In his mellifluous baritone, Lewis still preaches, delivering a few choice words for Cleveland: “Louis Stokes believed health care was a right for everybody. Growing up in rural Alabama, we did not have health insurance, we had burial insurance. . .We’ve gone a distance; we’ve made a bit of progress. But there are forces today trying to take us back.”

In the ballroom and on Twitter, Lewis urges: “Each and every person has a mission, a mandate and a moral obligation to speak up and stand up for those left out and left behind.”

VanLeer reflected on a recent example close to her, when a grandmother in Griot Village, the intergenerational housing in Fairfax, was asked to take in a fourth grandchild, an infant. The woman said she was too weary to begin again with a new baby, but her neighbors rallied to take shifts of childcare and the staff of Fairfax Renaissance rounded up clothing and supplies. In the end, the grandmother took that fourth child.

“It was a beautiful example of the community pulling together,” VanLeer said. “It is why we get up in the morning.”

Last week we celebrated Cleveland Book Week, a series of book and literacy-themed events surrounding the 82nd annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. From September 5-9, community events across Greater Cleveland honored this year’s Anisfield-Wolf winners and celebrated all things literary in our community.

Sept. 5 – We kicked Book Week off with a launch celebration on Public Square, featuring free children’s and young adult books from the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, free ice cream from Mitchell’s, and live music from Roots of American Music. The event showcased reading and literacy-focused nonprofit organizations serving Greater Clevelanders.

Also that day, residents enjoyed free admission – including two free screenings of “Hidden Figures” – at the Great Lakes Science Center and the “See Me” Zine Fest at MetroHealth!

Sept. 6 – Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards 2017 fiction winner Peter Ho Davies discussed his groundbreaking book The Fortunes to a crowd at Case Western Reserve University’s Baker-Nord Center. That same day, Davies was announced as a finalist for this year’s Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Later that day, 2002 Anisfield-Wolf fiction winner Colson Whitehead, who won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for The Underground Railroad, kicked off the William N. Skirball Writers Center Stage series at the Maltz Performing Arts Center.

Sept. 7 – The 82nd annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony drew a record crowd of more than 1,200 to the State Theatre at Playhouse Square to celebrate this year’s winners: Isabel Allende, Peter Ho Davies, Tyehimba Jess, Karan Mahajan and Margot Lee Shetterly. In case you missed it – or simply want to relive it – you can watch the entire ceremony here:

Sept. 8 – More than 750 Cleveland Metropolitan School District students joined 2017 Anisfield-Wolf nonfiction winner Margot Lee Shetterly at Cleveland State University to hear about Shetterly’s research and writing of Hidden Figures. The event featured a performance of Hidden by the Tri-C Creative Arts Dance Academy, and every student in the audience received a copy of Shetterly’s book.

2017 Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement winner Isabel Allende spoke to a sold-out crowd at The City Club of Cleveland over lunch. The novelist, feminist and philanthropist talked about her life, work and politics, and took questions from the audience.

The Professional Book Nerds podcast welcomed a live audience at the Cuyahoga County Public Library South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch to hear 2017 Anisfield-Wolf fiction winner Karan Mahajan talk about his novel The Association of Small Bombs, named by The New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2016.

Brews & Prose and Twelve Literary and Performative Arts hosted an evening of music, poetry and history at Karamu House to celebrate this year’s Anisfield-Wolf poetry winner Tyehimba Jess. Another sold-out crowd flocked to this event to hear Jess perform poetry from his book Olio, accompanied by improvisation from local musicians.

Sept. 9 – Cleveland Book Week wrapped up with weekend events including BOUND: Art Book + Zine Fair at MOCA Cleveland and The Cleveland Flea: Cleveland Book Week edition, celebrating readers, writers, the art of bookmaking and more!

Thank you to all of our Cleveland Book Week partners, and the many Greater Clevelanders who attended Cleveland Book Week events! Be the first to know about Cleveland Book Week 2018 events and tickets by signing up to receive email updates here.

The September 18 double-issue of Time Magazine profiles 46 living women pioneers – among them Rita Dove, the former U.S. poet laureate and current Anisfield-Wolf Award juror.

The list brims with astronauts and actresses, athletes and ambassadors, and a Nobel laureate in molecular biology. The only person to make the cut as a writer is Dove. Drawing from her years growing up in Akron, Ohio, she transformed American letters with Thomas and Beulah, her groundbreaking poetry collection inspired by her grandparents.

Dove mentions this book in the first sentence of her Time Magazine essay, which appears under the headline “Raising hackles means you are not being ignored.”

In the last paragraph, Dove, 65, writes, “Although I am not a confrontational person by nature, racism and sexism are still very much alive, and whenever I encounter prejudice, I tackle the issues and move on, refusing to be sidetracked by hate or bitterness. When I was a young poet, my work was considered ‘slight’ by some male critics. The sexist tone was undeniable, although difficult to corroborate.”

Brazilian photographer Luisa Dorr photographed the pioneers on her iPhone, positioning Dove outdoors, framed by what appears to be a tree in winter. Time Magazine editor Nancy Gibbs writes of the cohort, “Some striking themes
emerged – the importance of joy, the fierce motivational force of failure, the satisfaction of successes both achieved and shared.”

Dove shared a variety of that satisfaction of success in Cleveland September 7 during the 82nd Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, where she helped honor the newest honorees. She remains masterful in cultivating young writers, both as a juror and as the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

“Whatever I pursue – writing poetry or teaching or speaking in public – I want to be excited by the challenge,” Dove states, “curious about where life might next lead me.”