Mark Your Calendar For Our 2022 Awards Ceremony September 15, Nestled In Cleveland Book Week


At 85, N. Scott Momaday – considered the dean of Native American literature – is attracting renewed accolades for his life’s work. In 2018, he won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and entered the National Native American Hall of Fame. In May, he received the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize and this November will be feted with a Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The poet, novelist and essayist has won the Dayton organization’s Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. It is named for the celebrated U.S. diplomat who played an instrumental role in negotiating the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia.

“If we are to understand the synthesis of literature and peace, we must first consider that the end of art is the definition of the human condition,” Momaday said in a press release. “In its ultimate realization the human condition is a state of peace. Peace is the objective of human evolution, and literature is the measure of that evolution.”

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize, begun in 2006, serves as the only annual book prize to recognize “the power of the written word to promote peace.”

“N. Scott Momaday’s body of work illustrates the power of ritual, imagination, and storytelling to mediate between cultures, produce peace through intercultural understanding, and heal individuals damaged by conflict,” said Sharon Rab, the founder and chair of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation. “By honoring and safeguarding the storytelling traditions of our nation’s indigenous communities, his writings at the same time affirm the value of a multicultural society.”

When the writer won his Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement prize, Jury Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. struck a similar note. He called Momaday “at root a storyteller who both preserves and expands Native American culture in his critically praised, transformative writing.” Momaday made himself at home the next day with a historic presentation at the City Club of Cleveland, where he was the first indigenous American to address the club.

Momaday made history in 1968 with his first novel, House Made of Dawn. It won the Pulitzer Prize the following year and ushered in a mid-century renaissance of Native American literature.

In Dayton, the peace prize’s fiction and nonfiction winners will be announced September 17, with the awards ceremony to follow on November 3. Momaday joins literary giants Louise Erdrich, Taylor Branch, and Wendell Berry as recipients of this honor.

In 2015, Brooklyn, New York-based artist OlaRonke Akinmowo lugged 100 books — all written by black women — to a brownstone stoop and launched the uncertain beginnings of her newest project, the Free Black Women’s Library.

Dressed in a black tank top and gold leggings, Akinmowo danced barefoot in front of her collection “in honor of the sacred beauty” of these authors.

“Black women’s words have saved my life, healed me, nurtured me and provided me with the comfort that I’ve needed in every rough moment of my life,” Akinmowo wrote in an Instagram post commemorating that anniversary, “and I wanted to share that fact/testimony.”

As the first patron arrived — an 8-year-old girl in a vibrant, multicolored dress — Akinmowo watched a mobile library featuring black women authors become a necessary idea.

In this organic process, she found new spaces to display the books — museums, theaters, art galleries, churches, and festivals. Now, four years later, up to 200 people will come through the library’s traveling installation each month.

“I want it to feel inclusive and diverse,” Akinmowo said in a phone interview. “That’s why I like to have everything from children’s books to young adult to erotica. Even if people come not knowing what they’re looking for, they’ll find something.”

What started out as Akinmowo’s personal collection quickly multiplied ten-fold. Donations began pouring in from publishers, writers, online supporters and of course, patrons themselves, who adhere to the “bring a book, take a book” code.

Usually they’re looking for the classics, Akinmowo said. Octavia Butler, Audre Lorde, and bell hooks are perennial favorites. “Toni Morrison…she’s iconic. Whether it’s Bluest Eye or Jazz or Sula or Paradise. They come in asking, ‘Do you have any Toni Morrison?’”

She doesn’t catalog the books or direct patrons to any particular author. Instead, she allows the library to exist in a more interactive way, making the search for a resonant title part of the fun. She does, however, note which genres people are seeking. (After “Black Panther” was released last year, she noticed an uptick in the number of people looking for science fiction.)

The 40-something curator turned to books to get through a difficult childhood in Brooklyn. “Having an unstable family, libraries offered me comfort, safety, resources, inspiration, education,” she said, adding that she began reading around age 3. ”That’s part of the foundation for my project – my love for libraries and books.”

Library guests assemble for a discussion with Tressie McMillan Cottom, author of the essay collection, “Thick.”

That love is apparent at the pop-ups. Everything is free, from the books themselves to the associated community conversations that spring up around a monthly theme. One of their recent events featured bell hooks’ All About Love, and the discussion that followed pulled from the text.

The library thrives thanks to donations and volunteers who move the books from space to space each month. Akinmowo runs it as a side project amidst her day jobs as a set decorator and yoga teacher. She is currently seeking funding to make the library more sustainable and even more community oriented.

Enthusiasts are adapting the model in different cities — most notably Atlanta, Detroit and Los Angeles. “Having branches and forums in other cities was something I always dreamt could happen,” Akinmowo said, “so it’s really exciting to see that visualization become reality.”

Frequently, the founder invites poets and writers to share in the space. Last month, author Tressie McMillan Cottom came up from Virginia to discuss her newest book, Thick, with library guests, a move that surprised and inspired Akinmowo. Cottom’s collection of essays on race, beauty, politics and media proved a fertile starting point for the assembled patrons.

“These intimate vulnerable conversations we’re having between strangers is so powerful,” Akinmowo said. “That deep connection. We talked for two and a half hours. It was a full house. Seeing these black women share themselves, creating a space where black women can feel seen and heard…it feels like really sacred work.”

Anisfield-Wolf Fellow Zachary Thomas has sparked an idea that is igniting across Northeast Ohio.

In 2016, as a sophomore at John Carroll University, Thomas pioneered a creative writing program for youth incarcerated in an Ohio juvenile detention center. Writers in Residence began as an idea to reduce recidivism by bringing adolescents behind bars together with college students to build long-lasting relationships and build up self-expression.

The idea germinated from the example set by Carroll Ballers, an older student initiative using basketball as an entry point for fun, food and mentorship among the residents of juvenile detention facilities and undergraduates.

Inside these centers, Thomas quickly learned that residents had few chances to write. Authorities allowed no pens or paper in private quarters. If a resident wanted to put down a thought, a prison staffer would hand over a crayon.

After Thomas’ mother died, the 18-year-old Washington D.C. native turned to writing to uncover “what my heart needed to feel, what my mind needed to understand.” Thomas thought it might work as a similar catharsis for young residents bottled up in a place where emotions run high.

So Thomas enlisted the help of trusted allies at John Caroll: professor Philip Metres, and friends Anthony Shopolik, Rachel Schratz, and Michalena Mezzopera. Together, they cooked up a pilot writing workshop to see if the idea had legs.

The first session got off to a bumpy start. “No one talked. That was really scary,” said Thomas, now 23. “But they were seeing what we were about. Which is fair, because we’re coming into someone’s home, so to speak. We’re strangers, so they have to vet us.”

The program began in earnest in spring 2017, with two groups of John Carroll students converged on two different facilities, working with male and female residents at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center and Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility.

“We go for 12 weeks and by that ninth week we’ve gotten so close to the residents that we’ve become a family together,” Thomas said of the weekly sessions. “That puts us in a place to empathize, but also see them for who they really are.”

The student volunteers and incarcerated peers spend their 90-minute sessions discussing short pieces of literature, connecting the art to the one another’s lives. The offenses are sidelined, unless the residents themselves volunteer why they are locked up, Thomas said. “I don’t know why they’re in there. I’ve never asked. That’s not my priority. I’m more interested in who they are.”

To build trust with the residents, the program requires a strict commitment from volunteers, ensuring that the same faces show up week after week.

“We want people who are going to be reliable forces,” Thomas said. “For a lot of the residents, they don’t have a lot of that. They build their day or week around it. For you not to come, you disrupt their whole world.”

The residents themselves have found value in the program. “It lets us open up with what is easy to write rather than say,” one wrote in the post-workshop survey. “[It’s a] respectful environment where we can speak openly.”

Toward the end of the 12-week program, residents see some of their writing published in a chapbook, available as a free download on Writers in Residence website. (A physical copy is also available for sale.)

“The first time we [published the chapbook], one of the residents read his name and said, ‘This is regal,” Thomas said. “His work was on display. That act of being published gave him the realization. It’s a good feeling to have. It’s your own hard work.”

The spring 2019 chapbook features Lucille Clifton-inspired poems and a smattering of “six-word memoirs,” among other short pieces. In one of the poems, a resident writes: won’t you celebrate with me for I/ have been taking care of and raising/ babies since I was six and being in/ here is the only break I’ve had.

Another offers: I don’t know how to begin this/ Life is a gamble.

Writers in Residence expanded this spring to Oberlin College, embedding the program in the Lorain County Juvenile Detention Home. It will encompass programs based in three more colleges during the fall semester: the College of Wooster, Youngstown State University and Hiram College.

“It was a lucky day when professor Phil Metres left me a message asking if the Cleveland Foundation might help with a program in the Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility,” said Karen R. Long, manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. “That led to meeting Zach Thomas and attending one of his Writers in Residence sessions. I was floored by the authentic friendship and joshing vulnerability among the young men. And I was struck, as a literary critic, that the writing they did together was of such a high caliber.”

Thomas, who draws a salary through a Cleveland Foundation grant, will work as the liaison between the schools and the detention centers. He wants to ensure the expansion programs stay laser-focused on the youth they serve.

“[The residents] have a strong BS meter,” he said. “A lot of people can talk, but you have to come through with some action.”

Eighteen months after the Unite the Right racist violence wracked Charlottesville, the 25th anniversary of the Virginia Festival of the Book gathered thousands of thoughtful citizens and served as one way to gauge the civic temperature.

That temperature was decidedly warm among poet Rita Dove and novelists Esi Edugyan and John Edgar Wideman, the trio who closed the festival with their session, “A World Built On Bondage: Racism and Human Diversity in Award-Winning Fiction.” It was the second consecutive year the festival culminated in an Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards panel.

“Esi is a wonder,” Dove effused when introducing Edugyan, whose latest novel Washington Black weaves a tale of freedom and adventure told through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy of the same name. He begins his life in slavery on a Barbadian sugar plantation in the early 19th century. Edugyan received the Anisfield-Wolf award for fiction in 2012 for Half Blood Blues, a historical novel set to jazz in the folds of World War I and II.

The former United States Poet Laureate then turned to Wideman and told the audience, “I can’t remember a time — in my adult life — when I haven’t been accompanied by John’s work.” The 77-year-old nodded his head slightly as Dove rattled off his accomplishments, including a Rhodes scholarship, a MacArthur “genius” grant, all Ivy-League basketball player and an Anisfield-Wolf lifetime achievement prize in 2011.

The esteemed panel spoke of beginnings and how the path toward success often creates a chasm between where you’ve been and where you’re headed. For Wideman, that divide began as a basketball player on the high school varsity team, a pursuit that eventually led him to the University of Pennsylvania and away from his Pittsburgh roots.  

“I felt quietly that I needed that,” Wideman said. “At home it was a world of women – my grandmother, mother, her friends. I loved it, but I wasn’t active in that world. I was listening. But I knew there was a different world for men . . . Where was that men’s world?”

He found that men’s world — rowdy, instructive — through sports. “Doing the things that made me successful in the world outside of my family was absolutely stepping away from that family,” Wideman said. “I could not sort that out, so I just pretended most of the time that it wasn’t happening. I blinded myself to it.”

That sort of isolation from one’s community presented itself as more of a cultural struggle for Edugyan, the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants who settled in Calgary, Alberta, the Canadian interior.

“I’m attracted to stories of people who are on the margins,” Edugyan, 41, said. “This comes out of my own history growing up a black woman in the prairies, in Alberta. Being born in Calgary, in the late 70s, where the black population has never been more than three percent.”

That dearth of community translated into her art: “I grew up with a huge feeling of isolation and almost of not having a community in that sense, and being sort of a constant outsider as I’m making my way through the world . . . That’s always been why I’m attracted to stories that are footnotes in the larger history . . . things that are sitting on the margins and looking at events through those eyes.”  

Does writing feel like home? Dove asked. “Books opened the doors to feeling at home in the world,” Edugyan replied. “You learn that others, people who are totally unlike yourself, are going through the same thing, feeling the same emotions. There’s a great comfort in that.”

Wideman noted that his ease with writing ebbs and flows. But above all, he told the audience, language is art.

“Nobody owns the language,” he said. “Language is entirely invent-able by each one of you, each one of us, the language is a collective phenomenon. . . That’s what I hope to prove to people like myself: You own the world. It belongs to you. Language is an instrument. Language dances. It dreams. It contains silence.”

When it came to the power of the written word to offer a reprieve from the current news cycle and political climate, both authors had their reservations.  

“Literature doesn’t solve problems,” Wideman told the audience. “Literature is the opportunity to think about problems, to invent in one’s own mind, and try to invent in other minds, a different world.”

“There’s no magic bullet novel that’s going to solve all our problems,” Edugyan quipped. “Empathy is important because we’re living in age right now where nobody is listening to anybody else. . .  We need to engage with lives and experiences that are totally different from what we are going through ourselves. That’s the only way we can mark a path forward.”

When one white man in the audience asked Edugyan if buying a copy of Washington Black “would count as reparations,” the crowded auditorium sat silent for a few moments amid the pointedness of his insult.

Edugyan called it a terrible question, but she nonetheless answered it.

“One thing you might get – having walked with this young slave boy for six years, totally unlike yourself – is empathy,” she said. “You might feel something for him. Maybe it doesn’t change the greater world, this experience of empathy, but it offers something so rare, the experiences of someone totally different.”

Jericho Brown recreates the cover of The Tradition. Photo by Brian Cornelius. Artwork by Lauren “Ralphi” Burgess.

The cover of Jericho Brown’s new poetry collection,
The Tradition, features a young black boy, perhaps 10 years old, surrounded in a lush field of flowers, ocean waves at his back.

It’s beauty is evident, but it intimidated Brown when he first saw it. “It’s so gorgeous and it does speak directly to the poems,” he told The Rumpus. “I kept wondering, “Are these poems good enough for this goddamn cover?”

Let that answer be an emphatic yes.

This work, stitched together over 51 poems, is a meditation on grief, violence, fatherhood, trauma, sexuality and beauty. The Tradition is his third book, the follow-up to 2014’s The New Testament, which won the Anisfield-Wolf award in poetry

For this new book, Brown laments the pain of heartbreak, family erosion, gun violence, and self-exploration. In “Riddle,” he sneers at white supremacy, evoking the wail of Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, as the vocalization of its destruction: We do not know the history/Of this nation in ourselves. We/Do not know the history of our/Selves on this planet because/We do not have to know what/We believe we own.

He plays with religion and racism in “Stake,” which begins: I am a they in most of America/Someone who feels lost in the forest/Of we, so he can’t imagine/A single tree. He can’t bear it.

In The Tradition, Brown centers what he calls “the duplex,” a new poetry form he originated that “guts the sonnet” and experiments with structure over 7 couplets, beginning and ending with the same line. The first of these poems appears in the first section and builds tension over its 14 lines:

A poem is a gesture toward home.
It makes dark demands I call my own.

Memory makes demands darker than my own:
My last love drove a burgundy car.

My first love drove a burgundy car.
He was fast and awful, tall as my father.

Steadfast and awful, my tall father
Hit hard as a hailstorm. He’d leave marks.

Light rain hits easy but leaves its own mark
Like the sound of a mother weeping again.

Like the sound of my mother weeping again,
No sound beating ends where it began.

None of the beaten end up how we began.
A poem is a gesture toward home.

“[The sonnet’s] been pushed down my throat the entirety of my life,” Brown said. “There is something in me that doesn’t like that, and doesn’t trust that, because I’m a rebellious human being. I need to be a rebellious human being because I’m black and gay in this nation and in this world which has not been good to me or anybody like me.”

Each section of The Tradition draws readers forward, hungrily. The pacing is intentional, though it’s still hard to catch your breath. It’s an intimate collection that prides itself on its vulnerability. Readers who pick up a copy will be awed, from cover to closing stanza.

“As a kid in Israel, my dream was to become a psychoanalyst and a filmmaker,” Ofra Bloch said in a telephone interview from her home in New York City. “Later on, I became a psychoanalyst but I never dared to go to filmmaking school. So when I decided to make a film, it was sheer chutzpah because I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t have any technical skills. But I knew what I wanted to see.”

Her clear vision led her to make “Afterward,” a new documentary that explores the lingering and cross-cutting trauma embedded in generations of Germans, Israelis and Palestinians. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is sponsoring two screenings at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

Six years ago, when Bloch, 69, began working on her first full length feature, she intended to center her lens on the lingering generational trauma among German non-Jews and second and third generations of decedents of Holocaust perpetrators. After the director left Germany, however, she realized she had an incomplete story.

Growing up in Israel, “you can’t avoid trauma. It’s always present,” she said. Living through wars and under the long shadow of the Holocaust, Bloch was raised to fear and hate both Germans and Palestinians. She needed to include the Palestinian account of trauma and reckoning in her film. After completing the interviews and beginning the editing process, she recognized there was one more layer to uncover: she couldn’t tell either story without embedding hers as well. The triad of viewpoints would complete the narrative.

“I connect them,” Bloch said. “There’s no way those stories can exist, floating, without the presence of the interviewer, me the Israeli. During those interviews in both places, memories started surfacing. I had recurrent dreams that were coming out of nowhere, just by the act of immersing myself in the lives of these people. [My experience] became such an integral part — the glue of the film.”

In that way, her documentary resembles “My Promised Land,” Ari Shavit’s examination of the Israeli creation story along his own family tree, with room for ruminating on the 1948 destruction of Palestinian family trees in the Lydda Valley.

“We’re not exactly in the same place ideologically but [our work] complements each other,” Bloch said of Shavit. “He’s really trying to examine the intricacies of the Israeli society, in the past and the present. It’s really a perfect pairing, in that way.” Shavit’s book won the Anisfield-Wolf nonfiction prize in 2014.

With such a strong personal reaction to her subjects, Bloch determined she should approach the interviews with the objectivity of a therapist.

“As a filmmaker, I had to learn to just listen to people, to do what I do in the office as a psychoanalyst,” she said. “Which means to be very present, without judgment, without necessarily agreeing with what people were saying to me. To give people the space to talk about their experience. When people are able to share that, it creates a dialogue. Without listening to the ‘other,’ without active listening, there is no movement toward any solution.”

She leaned on those therapist skills when interviewing Palestinian activist Bassam Aramin, who in 2005 co-founded Combatants for Peace, a grassroots coalition of Israeli and Palestinian activists working together to stop the violence. But two years later, his 10-year-old daughter Abir was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier while she stood outside of school. Bloch marveled at Aramin’s ability to remain focused on the mission and to honor his daughter’s legacy in his non-violent work. “It taught me that pain is just pain,” she said. “It doesn’t have a nationality.”

During the interview with Aramin, they visited one of the playgrounds that Combatants for Peace built in Abir’s honor. There Bloch had her moment of reckoning.

“Even though I lived in the U.S. for 39 years, I am complicit in some way,” she said. “Being an Israeli, I am part of the problem. I believe this is the reason I made this film….Six years of work and energy and funding, because this is my little contribution toward resolution of the conflict.”

Moviegoers can watch “Afterward” at one of two screenings: Saturday, March 30 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 31 at 12:05 p.m. Tickets are $14 for film festival members, seniors and students; $16 for others. Receive a $1 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: ANWO.

Join us for the Cleveland premiere of “Afterward,” a 94-minute documentary from Jerusalem-born psychoanalyst Ofra Bloch that explores the lingering and cross-cutting trauma embedded in generations of Germans, Israelis and Palestinians. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is sponsoring the film at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival.

Bloch, who lives in New York City, began making the documentary intending to focus on the second and third-generation descendants of the perpetrators of the Holocaust, her attempt to shed hostility she carried against Germans as a people.

After filming began, however, she recognized her own prejudices – especially against Palestinians, a group she was raised to hate — were preventing her from telling the full story. She expanded her scope to include sit-down interviews with Palestinian men and women, including a professor who lost his position for taking students to Auschwitz. These testimonies give viewers a perspective on generational wounds stretching back to the 1948 Nakba, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs in the creation of Israel.

“The film points towards a future — an ‘afterward’ — that attempts to live with the truths of history in order to make sense of the present,” Bloch said in an interview. “My wish is that at the conclusion of ‘Afterward’ viewers will see how easy it is to move from a mindset of a victim to that of a perpetrator. ‘Evil,’ for lack of a better word, can be unearthed in each of us given the ‘right’ conditions, regardless of our religious or ethnic background.”

This documentary pairs well with Ari Shavit’s groundbreaking book, “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” which won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for nonfiction in 2015.

Lawrence Wright, a Pulitzer-winner for his investigative book “The Looming Tower,” called Bloch’s documentary “a brilliant personal exploration of the psychological obstacles to peace in the Middle East, and the tectonic plates of history that have brought two peoples to this tragic impasse.”

Tickets are $14 for film festival members, seniors and students; $16 for others. Moviegoers can receive a $1 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: ANWO.

By Gabrielle Bychowski

Sitting at my desk, I set down my copy of A Room of One’s Own, looked over at the shelves of my library and asked myself: where is the transgender amidst all this literature?

I think about Virginia Woolf’s shelf where she saw no plays by women, where she had to search hard for women and the fiction they write, fiction written about women, or texts where women, their fiction and fiction about them are all entangled together.

How can I constitute such a shelf of trans literature? What books could make up a shelf of the theories that bind transgender and literature together? I ask this question not just because Woolf asked hers, but because her query gives language for a question already inside me.

Gabrielle Bychowski

Like the dysphoria that made my own lack of a shelf unlivable and made the striving for a shelf of my own a necessity, I feel such a dysphoria living also in my library. This dysphoric need for trans literature is as critical and consequential as the dysphoria felt in the chest of many a trans person.

I see this need among the living, among individual trans people who are compelled to narrate and re-narrate to their families, friends, jobs, doctors who recommend therapists, therapists who might sign their verifying letters, lawyers who might translate those letters into name and gender marker changes, judges who approve those name and gender marker changes, the Department of Motor Vehicles who makes those changes to one’s license, the Department of Social Security who makes those changes to one’s Social Security card, the federal government who makes those changes to one’s passport, the therapist again to recommend an endocrinologist or surgeon, the endocrinologist, the surgeon, the pharmacist, the insurance company to cover all these expenses, and then and then and then more.

I also see this in all those who never got the chance to tell this story or when they did tell, they then had their story untold: the Leelah Alcorns and all those trans people who are buried under the dead-names, names that killed them and now mark as dead the trans life that could have been.

I see this in all the trans lives that still might be if only they knew how to tell their story, if only their families and schools and doctors and churches could hear and understand their story. I see how often those transgender futures are denied like so much of our transgender past. Consider: a 2018 study found that between 38 to 44 percent of trans youth will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. I see one in three transgender futures disappearing without anyone to tell their story.

That is why I call the need for trans literature dysphoric. Because dysphoria is about grief for what has been denied in the past, dissatisfaction with the present, and hope for the future.

Virginia Woolf concluded that to make her desired shelf of women come into being, women needed five hundred pounds a year and a room of one’s own, with a lock on it. As a writer and mother myself, I can affirm the good sense of this. But as a trans woman who feels the dysphoric need for a shelf of our own, I would add a few more conditions.

First, we need to identify and liberate ourselves from some of the toxic tropes in which transgender has been defined within cisgender literature, or else we may never resurrect the trans figures and stories buried among other people’s books and stories.

We also need to understand the stories we already tell and have already told for centuries, or else we may never know what trans literature looks like in order to recognize it on a shelf. Lastly, we will need to examine what it means to read and write while transgender, or else trans lives will continue to be reduced to and by the theories of cisgender literary analysis. All this we need. (Also, the stable paycheck and office with a lock, which comes with job security, would also be nice. Please and thank you.)

With these conditions met, only then might we have a shelf of our own. May this shelf grow bigger, book by book, as we slowly try to make the library that is to come, even close to the library that might have been. Perhaps one day we will find balance between the told and untold stories. Perhaps one day the living stories will outnumber the dead.

Gabrielle Bychowski is an Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellow at Case Western Reserve University, teaching courses on transgender and intersex history, disability culture, racism, and medieval literature. This post originally appeared on her blog, Things Transform

For the second consecutive year, Anisfield-Wolf award-winning authors will close the Virginia Festival of the Book.

On March 24, two maestros of fiction – Esi Edugyan (Washington Black) and John Edgar Wideman (American Histories) – will join poet Rita Dove to discuss how their historically-attuned writings pierce the legacies of racism. Dove, an Anisfield-Wolf juror and the University of Virginia Commonwealth Professor of English, will moderate.

She also led the inaugural Anisfield-Wolf panel at the Virginia festival, which movingly addressed the response of artists to racial violence, particularly the white supremacist mayhem in Charlottesville in August 2017. Anisfield-Wolf winners of that year – Tyehimba Jess, Peter Ho Davies, Margot Lee Shetterly, plus Dove – spoke to the urgent need to tell a complete American story, as Shetterly stressed, and to acknowledge that racism had shed blood on every particle of American soil, as Jess observed.

Davies noted that all of their Anisfield-Wolf winning books might be called by Shetterly’s title, “Hidden Figures,” as each of the writers excavated stories less told.

“An ethos of both mischief and deep truth-telling animates Washington Black and American Histories,” notes Karen R. Long, manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. “It thrills me to have the chance to read and listen to three of the English-speaking world’s most talented writers: Edugyan with her genre-bending exploration of 19th-century slavery, exploration and freedom and Wideman with his latest collection of short stories, which start by inviting readers to eavesdrop on a conversation between John Brown and Frederick Douglass.  And I suspect we may hear a poem from Professor Dove too.”

Their session is called “A World Built on Bondage: Racism and Human Diversity in Award-Winning Fiction.” The trio will take  a multi-generational view on the stage of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 24.  (Novelist Kevin Powers is no longer able to participate.)

Wideman won the Anisfield-Wolf lifetime achievement prize in 2011, four years before the MacArthur Foundation recognized him with a “genius” grant. Edugyan received the A-W award for fiction in 2012 for Half Blood Blues, a story of intrigue set among American jazz musicians in Berlin before and after WW II.  It was a Man Booker prize finalist.

This program, which welcomes audience questions, will be free and open to the public.

N. Scott Momaday, a captivating storyteller long considered “the dean of Native American letters,” is the new recipient of the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize.

Established in 2016, the young prize honors artists, authors, educators, filmmakers, historians, and scientists “whose body of work has advanced our collective understanding of the indomitable American spirit.” Momaday is its third honoree. Born a Kiowa 83 years ago in Lawton, Oklahoma, Momaday is an artist, essayist, novelist and professor who identifies first as a poet. He accepted the Anisfield-Wolf lifetime achievement award in September. His 1969 novel, House Made of Dawn, won a Pulitzer Prize and ushered in a new chapter of American literature that explored contemporary indigenous lives.

“I am truly honored to be named the recipient of the 2019 Ken Burns American Heritage Prize and left speechless by this recognition,” Momaday said in a statement. “None of us lives apart from the land entirely and I am deeply concerned about conservation. I fully support American Prairie Reserve’s remarkable and courageous effort to preserve a disappearing landscape that is sacred to so many Native Americans.”

American Prairie Reserve’s mission is to create the largest nature reserve in the continental United States, now nearly 400,000 acres in northeastern Montana. Momaday will accept the prize on May 1 in New York City. Watch a snippet of last year’s ceremony honoring the 2018 recipient, artist Maya Lin. The inaugural prize went to historian David McCullough.

Mark your calendars for a newcomer to Cleveland’s poetry scene — poet Leila Chatti will be at Loganberry Books December 13 for an intimate reading of her new and celebrated poems. 
Chatti, a dual citizen of Tunisia and the United States, became the inaugural Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in Writing and Editing at Cleveland State University’s Poetry Center this fall, beating out nearly 90 other applicants. The newly created position was meant to develop a pipeline for a more diverse workforce in the U.S. publishing industry, which is 89 percent white.  
“Once I was discouraged from writing early in my career for being too female and too Muslim, by those who were neither,” she told the selection committee, “an instance of the systemic silencing in writing establishments and publishing that I hope to combat.” 
Listeners will have the chance to hear poems like Chatti’s recently published “Testimony,” a meditation on her faith, a reoccurring theme in her work. 
Join her on Thursday, December 13 for a riveting evening of poetry.  
Look closely at the multicolored mural in the old Irishtown Bend in Cleveland and you’ll spot a small teal “JW” in the lower interior of an archway.
Author Jesmyn Ward initialed the mural inspired by her Anisfield-Wolf award-winning book, Sing Unburied Sing, during her second trip to Cleveland this year, thanks to a suggestion from the Cleveland Foundation’s Alan Ashby. She got an intimate tour by the artists themselves, Danielle Rini Uva and Katie Parland from Agnes Studio, who completed the mural one month prior for Phase II of the Inter|Urban public art project.
“We were basically tasked with doing four murals – two pillars split by a road,” Uva said. “We liked the idea of having two pillars in conversation with each other, but they would never touch. There’s a lot [in Sing, Unburied, Sing] about ghosts and remembering the past. About parallel lives that never can connect in real ways.”
The trio journeyed to the installation a few hours before Ward took the stage at Case Western Reserve University to participate in its Writers Center Stage series. From first glance, Uva said, Ward was eager to soak it in.

“When we met with Jesmyn, she said so many people interpreted [Sing] in different ways and she never really got the same questions when asked about it,” Parland said. “The way we interpreted it was fresh and surprising for her.”
While Uva and Parland typically work on digital and print graphic design concepts, the task of creating an expansive mural, covering two full pillars under the RTA Red Line, was a new challenge.
“It wasn’t a basic mural – just a rectangle on the side of a building,” Uva said. “The physical feat of doing it pushed us in a way that we ultimately are pleased with.”
Their design came together over a few months — they decided to select six different colors for each of the six different arches, each representing one of the main living characters of Sing. The black interior archways mimic the spirit world, giving a home to the two ghosts that appear in the book.
“We’re hoping people will experience it multiple ways,” Uva said. “There are people who just will drive by and say, ‘This is colorful,’ and then there will be people who will walk or bike through the arches and experience it on a more intimate level. There are some surprises and discoveries throughout the whole piece.”
Photo © Bob Perkoski
Ward pronounced herself pleased by one of those surprises – a sentence Agnes Studio plucked from the book and memorialized in the mural. Pay a visit to read it there yourself.


Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) riders can now enjoy an even closer view of world-class art inspired by the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards cannon as Phase II of INTER|URBAN was unveiled as part of Cleveland Book Week 2018.

Completed ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the first phase of INTER|URBAN included murals, photographs and installations along the train tracks of the RTA’s Red Line, which connects downtown Cleveland with Hopkins International Airport to the west, and University Circle to the east.

This second phase of the project brings the art onboard the train cars, giving riders a more intimate and prolonged interaction with the art. We’re proud to have supported INTER|URBAN, a collaboration between the RTALAND Studio, and the Cleveland Foundation.

For Phase II, 25 artists – most of whom call Northeast Ohio home – were chosen from more than 200 applicants to create works inspired by five Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners: The Negro Speaks of Rivers, by Langston HughesThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel WilkersonThe Fortunes, by Peter Ho DaviesFar From the Tree, by Andrew Solomon and The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, by Lillian Faderman. Their art has been installed on 25 Red Line train cars.

If you haven’t already, we encourage you to ride the Red Line and experience INTER|URBAN for yourself. Learn more about the project in this short film, which premiered to the audience at the 83rd Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Ceremony on September 27:

The first few pages of Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut look like a coronation. The 2017 children’s book written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James features a young black boy holding center court, getting draped with a cape and surrounded by well-wishers.

The theme of the book is simple, Barnes says: to celebrate the black boy joy that erupts after a turn in the barber’s chair. For Barnes himself, that feeling came on Thursdays as a boy in a Kansas City barbershop.

“I look at barbers as artists,” he told the Kansas City Star. “After he did his job, he handed me that mirror and I didn’t even recognize myself. I had a high-top fade trying to look like Big Daddy Kane. There’s nothing like your mom telling you, you look cute.”

The genesis of Crown was a simple portrait Barnes’ friend, illustrator Don Tate, made of his son after a fresh haircut. Barnes, 42, wrote a poem capturing the essence of the portrait and James, 44, was tapped to illustrate, basing the main character on Barnes’ son, Silas. The two initially met while working at Hallmark together nearly 20 years ago, but this is their first collaboration in the years since.

The duo saw Crown awarded “all the stickers” this year: Caldecott, Newbery, and Coretta Scott King Honors, as well as the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and Illustrator Award, among others. But Barnes’ literary career has weathered some bleak moments in the industry.

Illustrator Gordon C. James touching up the cover of “Crown.”

“When [my book] We Could Be Brothers came out in 2010, it seemed like [publishers] didn’t like to put the face of black characters on the cover,” he said from his home in Charlotte. “They’d have them shaded or have a picture of them from the back. Now I’ve seen more book covers, like Crown, where you see the beautiful black and brown faces of characters.” Campaigns like We Need Diverse Books are moving the needle, he believes.

Crown is Barnes’ ninth book: all have black protagonists of varying ages, a deliberate choice in his art. “As long as I write, I’m going to write books for the uplift of black children,” he said. “Almost every week there’s a story about children being mistreated. It’s imperative for us to lift them up, inspire them, every single way we can.”

Crown was in the first slate of books released by Denene Millner Books, an imprint of Agate Publishing. Millner, an author of 23 books herself, shared her vision for the imprint in a recent New York Times op-ed, “Black Kids Don’t Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time.”

“The ‘diverse’ books making it to the shelves aren’t very diverse at all,” she wrote. “With few exceptions, the same stories are being told again and again, fed to children like some bowl of dry, lumpy oatmeal with just a sprinkle of brown sugar to make it go down a little easier.”

Over a hundred copies of Crown made their way to Cleveland-area barbershops in advance of the duo’s visit to Cleveland at the end of the month. Children in the barbers’ chairs, capes affixed, will get to see themselves in the pages and the same joy in the mirror.

The third annual Cleveland Book Week runs this year from Sept. 21-29, and will celebrate present and past Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards winners, while offering a number of free literary and literacy themed events for the community. The series of events is anchored by the sold out 83rd annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 27 in the State Theatre at Playhouse Square. This year’s winners are:

  • Shane McCrae, In the Language of My Captor, Poetry
  • N. Scott Momaday, Lifetime Achievement
  • Jesmyn WardSing, Unburied, Sing, Fiction
  • Kevin YoungBunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, Nonfiction

The Cleveland Foundation and Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards are presenting Cleveland Book Week in partnership with Baker-Nord CenterBrews + ProseThe City Club of ClevelandCleveland Public LibraryCuyahoga County Public LibraryKaramu HouseLiterary Cleveland and Twelve Literary Arts.

Download the full schedule of events here.

Creative Mornings – Margo Hudson
Friday, September 21
8:30 a.m.

East Cleveland Public Library

FREE EVENT: Tickets available here.

Local literacy advocate Margo Hudson will be the featured speaker for September’s Creative Mornings gathering. For its theme of “chaos,” Hudson will share about that phenomena in terms of literacy, and her work moving herself and others away from illiteracy.

Hudson earned her GED® in 2012 from Seeds of Literacy. She spent 11 years studying and took the test 6 times before passing. Margo now serves as a tutor at Seeds, helping other students achieve their literacy goals. In a city where two of every three Clevelanders read at the seventh-grade level or below, her work is immensely valuable.

In 2016, she was named National Adult Learner of the Year and received Governor Kasich’s Courage Award. That same year, she led the Pledge of Allegiance at a session of the Republican National Convention. In 2017, Cleveland Magazine named Margo one of Cleveland’s Most Interesting People, and she is a 2018 Cleveland Foundation Place Maker. She now speaks to community groups and nonprofits about how literacy changed her life.

Paul Beatty: Writers & Readers

Saturday, September 22
2 p.m.

Cleveland Public Library, Main Library – Louis Stokes Wing Auditorium

FREE EVENT: Registration not required

Paul Beatty visits Cleveland Public Library as part of its Writers & Readers Series, presented in partnership with Literary Cleveland. His 2015 novel The Sellout made him the first American to win the Man Booker Prize in Fiction and earned the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. The novelist, in his own words, set out to see if he could make himself flinch, writing a scathing satire about reinstating slavery on a present-day farm in southern California. He is also the author of The White Boy Shuffle, Tuff, Slumberland and two works of poetry.

Shane McCrae
Shane McCrae: In the Language of My Captor

(2018 AWBA Poetry Winner)
Tuesday, September 25
5:30 p.m.

Karamu House

FREE EVENT: Registration required

Shane McCrae interrogates history and perspective with his fifth book, In the Language of My Captor, including the connections between racism and love. He uses historical persona poems and prose memoir to address the illusory freedom of both black and white Americans. This evening of poetry, music, and art is presented by Twelve Literary Arts and Karamu House.

A. Van Jordan at Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities

(2005 AWBA Poetry Winner, M*A*C*N*O*L*I*A)
Wednesday, September 26
5 p.m.

Harkness Chapel, Case Western Reserve University

FREE EVENT: Registration recommended

Join poet A. Van Jordan, 2005 Anisfield-Wolf winner for M*A*C*N*O*L*I*A, and Ohio Poet Laureate Dave Lucas for conversation and recitation. Jordan uses multiple voices and approaches to portray MacNolia Cox, an Akron girl who became the first black finalist in the National Spelling Bee Competition. His poems draw on blues, jazz and prose stylings to depict the Depression and mid-century racism, two elements that framed life in 1936.

AW Salon: Steven Pinker and Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Enlightenment Now

Wednesday, September 26
5:30 p.m.

Cleveland Museum of Art

FREE EVENT – Registration required

Anisfield-Wolf jurist Steven Pinker set out, first in his acclaimed The Better Angels of Our Nature, and this year in the follow-up bestseller Enlightenment Now, to illustrate that there has never been a better time to be a human being. Join us for a unique, intimate, and intriguing conversation around this and other topics between Pinker and Anisfield-Wolf Jury Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. – friends and Harvard University professors.

[SOLD OUT] Writers Center Stage – Judy Blume 

Wednesday, September 26
7:30 p.m.

The Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center

TICKETS: By subscription only – single event tickets are $30 and go on sale Monday, Aug. 20 at 9 a.m.

The William N. Skirball Writers Center Stage Series kicks off this year with Judy Blume, one of the world’s most beloved authors. Her books have sold more than 85 million copies in 32 languages, becoming a touchstone for generations of young readers. The program includes a Q&A and book signing.

83rd Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards – SOLD OUT

Thursday, September 27
6 p.m.

State Theatre, Playhouse Square

Watch the ceremony live via webstream here at

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity. It remains the only American book prize focusing on works that address racism and equity. For more than 80 years, the distinguished books earning Anisfield-Wolf prizes have opened and challenged our minds.

N. Scott Momaday
The City Club of Cleveland Forum: N. Scott Momaday

(2018 AWBA Lifetime Achievement Winner)
Friday, September 28

The City Club of Cleveland

TICKETS: $22 members/$37 nonmembers

N. Scott Momaday remade American literature in 1966 with his first novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning House Made of Dawn. Anisfield-Wolf Jury Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. says Momaday “is at root a storyteller who both preserves and expands Native American culture in his critically praised, transformative writing.” He will discuss his life, his work, and take questions in the traditional City Club of Cleveland style.

Kevin Young
and a Beer with Kevin Young

(2018 AWBA Nonfiction Winner, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News)
Friday, September 28
6 p.m.
Worthington Yards

FREE EVENT: Registration recommended

Kevin Young is a public intellectual, the editor of eight books and the author of 13, including the 2018 Anisfield-Wolf winning Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News. He spent six years researching and writing this cultural history of the covert American love of the con, and its entanglement with racial history. This event is co-sponsored by Brews + Prose.

Great Lakes Black Authors Expo & Writers Conference 

Saturday, September 29, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

East Cleveland Public Library

FREE EVENT: Registration required

Organized by Melanated Literary Heritage, Ltd., the Great Lakes Black Authors Expo and Writers Conference fosters literary education and publishing industry networking. Notable authors from all over the Great Lakes region, along with Keynote Speaker Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage, will convene and work towards developing a platform to recognize up-and-coming writers.

AW Family: Derrick Barnes and Gordon James on CROWN: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Saturday, September 29
2 p.m.

Cleveland Public Library, Main Library – Louis Stokes Wing Auditorium

FREE EVENT: Registration not required

Joy, imagination, swagger and style animate Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, as a young black boy prepares to take on the world with a fresh cut. The author and illustrator share the story of their picture book, which earned Newbery and Caldecott Honors, Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Honors, the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor, and a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators.

Days ahead of the theatrical debut of the documentary film adapted from his book, Far From the Tree, author Andrew Solomon reflected on the creative and emotional differences between the mediums of film and text. “My Stories Become Someone Else’s: Adapting a Book into Film” is a fascinating essay.
Solomon put a decade into researching and writing his magisterial book, centered in interviewing more than 300 families. It won the nonfiction Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2013. Far From the Tree explores the families of children who occupy a markedly different identity from their parents, with chapters on deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome and autism; on the families of prodigies; parents bringing up children conceived in rape; others whose children have committed serious crimes; and families with transgender children.
Converting Solomon’s 700-page text into a 93-minute film required some hard decisions. Early on, Rachel Dretzin, the film’s director, suggested a fresh slate of families, rather than the ones Solomon featured in his book. Writing in the New York Times, Solomon says he balked but then realized “their stories were by now too resolved for film, and we needed to depict the ambiguities and ambivalences of people still struggling to make sense of their lives.”
Solomon, 54, argues that both mediums have their nuances: where books are more definitive, films are more intimate. Books are girded in more context, with footnotes and indexes and bibliography, while watching the stories on film makes for “a less armored version of the truth.” In the movie, just six families tell this truth.
Amid them, Solomon found his transition from author to subject unsettling: “It felt weird to have my own story told in the film. Things I had been comfortable writing about in the privacy of my study made me anxious when shared on the screen.” Still, he reflects, he had asked the same of others.
Solomon wrote Far From the Tree “to champion a more tolerant and accepting society.” Six years later, the film is opening with far more urgency, amid a strained and difficult political climate.
“[The film] doesn’t preach with any particular righteousness,” Solomon writes, “but it inevitably speaks to the politics of this moment, and perhaps that’s a purpose better suited to a movie than to a book.”
The film opens July 20 in select theaters nationwide. Northeast Ohio residents will be able to catch the film at the Cedar Lee theater beginning August 24.  


Works by Langston Hughes, Zadie Smith and Toni Morrison will soon have a new place to call home.

All three authors have books housed in the Anisfield-Wolf collection at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library, tucked away in the recesses of the second-floor special collections room. Now the collection, the only complete assemblage of all 83 years of Anisfield-Wolf-winning books, will be a showpiece of the new $10 million Martin Luther King Jr branch in University Circle. The canon contains almost 200 books and grows each year.

The New York-based firm SO-IL + Kurtz won the months-long design competition, funded by the Cleveland Foundation, to create a stylish, culturally significant proposal for a 21st-century branch of the Cleveland Public Library. The new 20,000-square-foot building will rise around the corner from the current location, a well-used community hub that was constructed just months after the assassination of the Civil Rights leader nearly 50 years ago.

The library would occupy the ground floor of a multi-story apartment building as part of the $300 million Circle Square development project, which will bring more retail and housing to the southern section of University Circle.

Each of the competing firms was instructed to incorporate King’s legacy into their proposals. SO-IL + Kurtz weaved elements from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, crafting the center of the branch to create a raised “table of brotherhood.” The large, raised platform could be divided into areas for reading, homework and performances. The exterior adds a lush perimeter of greenery with bright columns abetting the natural light.

The Anisfield-Wolf collection will be a focal point at the top of a grand staircase, with the firm’s architects likening it to a “sculptural forest of ideas.” For the library patron, the hope is to mimic King’s notion of reaching “the mountaintop.”

“I am in awe of the three final designs for the Martin Luther King Jr. branch library, and captivated by the plans the library board chose — giving the neighborhood, the memory of Dr. King and the Anisfield-Wolf winning books a home unlike any other,” said Karen R. Long, manager of the book awards. “This new branch is suffused with beauty and innovation. May it be a destination for generations of readers.”

Add Isabel Allende‘s groundbreaking first novel, “The House of the Spirits,” to the golden age of television adaptations.

Streaming giant Hulu has acquired the classic 1982 story, which has been translated into more than 35 languages. Allende began it at a low moment in her life when she was 40 years old and living in Venezuela.

This consummate Chilean story follows the Trueba family over four generations and catapulted its author to fame. Deeply personal, “The House of the Spirits” began as Allende’s farewell letter to her 100-year-old grandfather and incorporates elements of magical realism. In the 35 years since its publication, Allende has written more than 20 books, sold more than 70 million copies and become an international touchstone.

Hulu is now seeking a writer and director to helm the project. Allende, who won the Anisfield-Wolf lifetime achievement prize last year, will serve as executive producer. She lives outside San Francisco.

“My purpose in life seems to be storytelling and nothing else,” she said at the awards ceremony in Cleveland. “Through me, some characters come to life and do what they are meant to do in this world, even if I don’t know what it is.”

The Emmy-award winning “A Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, is one of Hulu’s most watched and critically acclaimed shows. It is also adapting Celeste Ng’s Shaker Heights-based novel, “Little Fires Everywhere.”

“The House of the Spirits” begins with this sentence: “Barrabás came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy.”  Now he will be coming to screens everywhere.

Former U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey began her talk at Kent State University by claiming kinship with the audience.

“I always feel slightly at home in Ohio,” she said. “It is the state that allowed my parents to get a marriage license in 1965, allowed me to be born legit in this country, even as our laws still rendered me persona non grata.”

The newborn Trethewey arrived a year later in Gulfport, Mississippi, where her parents’ marriage was illegal under a national patchwork of anti-miscegenation laws. The couple met at Kentucky State College — Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough, a black woman fresh from Gulfport, and Eric Trethewey, a white Canadian who hitchhiked his way to campus.

Their brief marriage – they divorced when Natasha was 6 – features heavily in her work, including the poem she chose to open the evening, “Miscegenation.”  As she moved through her reading, an expert mix of personal history and political commentary, Tretheway threaded each poem with the pointed focus of race and place.

Such themes frequently lace through her verse, including in her 2012 poetry collection, “Thrall,” in which she uses historical figures to parse identity and belonging. Prior to that, she released “Native Guard,” which heralded the unsung black soldiers who protected the Union during the Civil War. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.

Parts of the evening were somber, as Trethewey shared the anger and longing lodged in poems she’d written after the murder of her mother, a social worker, when Natasha Trethewey was a 19-year-old student at the University of Georgia. The awful death, at the hands of a second husband her mother had divorced, pushed Trethewey toward poetry more than anything else. In “Myth” she grapples with painful reoccurring dreams of her mother, often triggering a new wave of grief:

I was asleep while you were dying.

It’s as if you slipped through some rift, a hollow

I make between my slumber and my waking,

the Erebus I keep you in, still trying

not to let go. You’ll be dead again tomorrow,

but in dreams you live. So I try taking

you back into morning. Sleep-heavy, turning,

my eyes open, I find you do not follow.

Again and again, this constant forsaking.

Trethewey read a handful of poems that touched on her father, himself a poet and, as his daughter describes him, her first teacher.

“He had been writing about me my whole life. And he was excited and had a little dread about me becoming a poet because he knew I would set the story straight,” she quipped before a sizeable audience gathered by the Wick Poetry Center.

Now 51 and a professor at Northwestern University, Trethewey took a moment to stitch the social justice movements of the past and present. “Incident,” about an attack at her grandmother’s home when she was a child, brimmed with relevance: “It seemed the angels had gathered, white men in their gowns./When they were done, they left quietly. No one came.”

Trethewey looked out at the assembled. “We hear a lot about voter fraud when we really should be talking about voter suppression, voter intimidation, redistricting,” she warned. “But this is not new. We’ve seen this.”

Boston-based filmmaker Adam Mazo is quick to admit that he knew little about Native populations growing up in Minnesota.

He’s committed to changing that for future generations with “Dawnland,” the 90-minute documentary premiering this month at the Cleveland International Film Festival. The film centers on the decades of government policy that forced Native children from their families and into adoptive homes, foster care and boarding schools. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards will sponsor three screenings.

The idea for “Dawnland” was sparked from Mazo’s work on another film, “Coexist,” about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. “We were talking about how it felt wrong to not be teaching about genocide in this country’s history,” he said.

The timing aligned with the formation of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an innovative attempt between a people and a state government to investigate the harm the state did against indigenous children in Maine.

For the first time, adoptees publicly told their stories of forced assimilation and abuse. “How do you propose that we’re supposed to be healing?” an elder Wabanaki woman asked. “I can’t get over the nightmares . . . where was the state? They were supposed to have been our guardians. But where were they?”

Mazo and co-director Ben Pender-Cudlip produced “First Light,” a 13-minute short film “that gave viewers a preview of the Wabanaki people’s fight to preserve their culture within a system of state-sponsored removal of children.  The commission found that from 2000 to 2013, native children in Maine entered foster care 5.1 times the rate of non-Native children.

The duo turned to Kickstarter to fund the full-length project. “We reached our goal a few days before the campaign ended,” said Pender-Cudlip, who has directed more than a dozen short documentary films. “’First Light’ was a huge help. We set up screenings all around New England, events that we used to get conversations started around the film.”

“Dawnland” reveals the untold narrative of Indigenous child removal in the United States through raw, never-before-seen footage. The complete findings of the commission are well worth reading.

Mazo is also director of the Upstander Project, which supplies teaching supplements to the films for use in schools worldwide. A 2001 state law requires Maine teachers to incorporate the history of the Wabanaki people in K-12 classrooms (a similar law exists in Ohio), and school districts have implemented its materials into lesson plans.

“Dawnland” will be the cornerstone of a six-day professional development training on genocide and human rights at the Updstander Academy that Mazo predicts “will be a transformative experience.”

Above all, the directors hope the film will inspire viewers to consider their blind spots.

“A lot of folks, particularly in the Midwest and the east coast, don’t recognize that there are millions of Native people thriving all across this country,” Mazo said. “As a result of this film, we hope that people will acknowledge them and acknowledge whose land they are on.”

The documentary will screen at Tower City Cinemas on three dates: 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 13; 1:20 p.m. Saturday, April 14 with the film forum and 9:20 a.m. Sunday, April 15. Director Adam Mazo and Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana, who makes a cameo in the film, will speak at the post-film forum on April 14. You will receive a $2 discount per ticket using the Anisfield-Wolf code: ANW0.