2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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More than 200 prominent authors—among them Anisfield-Wolf winners Junot Diaz and Kamila Shamsie—have publicly objected to the PEN American Center’s decision to present French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo its Free Expression Courage award.  Gunmen aggrieved by the magazine’s depiction of Islam targeted the controversial Paris weekly in January and killed a dozen people.

The signatories of an April letter to PEN argue that power and privilege must be considered when defining courageousness in satire: “The inequities between the person holding the pen and the subject fixed on paper by that pen cannot, and must not, be ignored.” One of the critics is former PEN American president Francine Prose.

Defending the decision, her successor, Andrew Solomon, co-wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, noting that, “Satire is often vulnerable to being construed as hate.” Solomon, who won a 2013 Anisfield-Wolf prize in nonfiction for “Far From the Tree,” expressed respect for those criticizing the award, but argues their emphasis is misplaced.

“I think that if we don’t endorse people who are taking these courageous stances,” Solomon told NPR, “if we don’t recognize the enormous personal risks they’re taking and if we don’t fully acknowledge that in taking that risk they keep a public discourse alive that otherwise is in danger of being entirely closed down, that we miss the purpose of standing up for free speech.”

Charlie Hebdo editor Gérard Biard is expected to accept the award on behalf of the magazine at PEN America’s annual gala in Manhattan May 5.

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?”

Fresh off the paperback release of his newest work, This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz swung by Cleveland State University in October for its Cultural Crossings seminar. We caught up with our 2008 fiction winner for his reflections on winning an Anisfield-Wolf award. “It puts you in remarkably excellent company,” Diaz said, and we couldn’t agree more. 

2008 Winner Junot Diaz Speaks On Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards from Anisfield Wolf on Vimeo.

Junot Diaz did not dress up for his talk.  He wore black jeans, worn boots and his white shirttails out beneath a charcoal sweater, front and back. On an October Friday afternoon, he walked into the terraced auditorium at Cleveland State University, and leaned companionably against the wall, sipping coffee out of a disposable cup as Professor Antonio Medina-Rivera introduced him.

Medina-Rivera ran through Diaz’s dizzying credentials: a full professor at M.I.T., a 2012 MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellow, a Pulitzer Prize for his vibrant first novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” which also won an Anisfield-Wolf book award.  In addition, his host reported, Diaz volunteers at Freedom University, a new institution that attempts to meet the needs of undocumented college students in Georgia.

The 44-year-old Diaz took the stage and gradually built a case for embracing ambivalence and imperfection.  “I am never trying to be right,” he said. “I’m trying to be the launch pad for somebody to be righter.” He mocked the preening persona-building on Facebook.  He smiled and joked, even as he delivered some withering political remarks. Here is one sample:

“The elites are running rough-shod over us. They are engineering forced income transfers to the top. Elites are gutting the middle class, and that gets a shrug. But say, ‘A Mexican is taking your job,’ and everybody has an opinion.”

Diaz read the same passage from “Oscar Wao” that he selected in 2008 when he appeared at the Cleveland Public Library: three pages at the start of Chapter Two that describe Oscar’s sister Lola called to the bathroom by their mother to feel for a lump in the matriarch’s breast.  It is a gorgeous passage, and one of the few stretches in the book without profanity or explicit sexual asides.

When Diaz finished, a student asked him if he thinks in Spanish.  The writer was born in Santo Domingo, a third child in a neighborhood without electricity. His mother brought him to Parlin, N.J., to rejoin his father when he was six.

“Spanish is my birth language, and everything that means,” Diaz answered. “English is my control language, and everything that means.  I can’t be super-smart in Spanish.  In Spanish, I am less guarded.”

Asked how he perfected Lola’s voice, Diaz observed that poor children come-of-age in front of each other, in packed living quarters.  In the comfort of the American middle class, adolescence happens privately behind closed doors.

“Most of us have so many aspects of ourselves, it is almost impossible to reconcile,” Diaz said, recounting his own years pumping iron as a young man, only to be caught out for his nerdy, Dungeons and Dragons-loving side by a dorm mate at Rutgers.  There he fell under the literary influences of Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros, even as he worked full-time delivering pool tables, washing dishes, and pumping gas to cover tuition.

Diaz poked fun at peers who name Charles Dickens when asked who is their favorite author. He made a point of praising contemporaries – Ruth Ozeki for her new novel, “A Tale for the Time Being,” and Edwidge Danticat for “Claire of the Sea Light” calling it “unbelievable, the best one she has done.”  (Danticat won an Anisfield-Wolf award for “The Dew Breaker” in 2005.)

Everyone, Diaz claimed, is searching for the place where “all the parts of us can be present and safe.”  For him, that place was reading.  “I write because I love books,” he said. “Writing is just my expression of my excess love of reading.”

Still, he warned his listeners against unbridled enthusiasm. “Love something too much and you know the kind of kids you raise. . .

“It is OK to be involved in a practice you are ambivalent about. Some of the best parents are ambivalent about being parents. . . I am deeply ambivalent about the craft of writing.  Anyone who grew up in the shadow of the (Dominican Republic) Trujillo dictatorship can’t see stories as only good. There is a cost to everything. I am always aware of the shadows that lurk in every artistic practice, and I’m always troubled by them.”

Then the sober mood broke. In a different conversation, Diaz allowed that he had been texting pictures of Cleveland.  He sent one to his buddy Christopher Robichaud, a lecturer in ethics at Harvard’s Kennedy School.  Robichaud grew up in Euclid and Chardon, and graduated with a degree in philosophy from John Carroll University.  The two men bonded over “tabletop role-playing games, horror movies, superhero comics,” Robichaud said.

And yes, he answered Diaz: the structure the writer photographed was indeed the West Side Market that Robichaud had described in their chats about childhood.

Somewhere, a canny business professor may be plotting to put Mohsin Hamid’s astringent new novel into an MBA course. It would be a brilliant move.

Not because the advice it contains is revelatory — “Get an Education” and “Work for Yourself” are actual chapter headings — but because Hamid’s tight, mesmerizing story raises the thorny questions that cluster around the bloom of wealth. Indeed, readers will detect a whiff on cultural criticism in the eight words of the new book’s title.

As it opens, “How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” poses as a self-help book. Following this convention, it addresses the reader as “you.” The text finds you as a small boy “huddled, shivering, on the packed earth under your mother’s cot one cold, dewy morning.” This is because you are weak, your eyes yellow with hepatitis E, and your family’s fortunes turn on your health. When you recover, your parents decide to move to the city, the first step on your trajectory toward riches.

You don’t get a name, nor does the city, nor does the nation, although Time magazine has decided it’s Pakistan. That will no doubt amuse Hamid, who won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2008 for his hypnotic novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” The author grew up partly in the United States, and partly in Lahore. Yet in interviews around “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” Hamid observed that he was sometimes asked if he was a version of the title character, never the American listening across a cafe table to that character’s story.

Like “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” Hamid’s new novel is taut and smart and subversive. Each of the 12 chapters starts with a playful verbal squall about self-help. “Distasteful though it may be,” begins chapter seven, “it was inevitable in a self-help book such as this, that we would eventually find ourselves broaching the topic of violence. Becoming filthy rich requires a degree of unsqueamishness, whether in rising Asia or anywhere else.”

Hamid is echoing French novelist Honore de Balzac’s riff that “behind every great fortune there is a great crime.” This idea helped animate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” and like Gatsby, the protagonist in Hamid’s new novel longs for an unattainable woman. Here she is just called “the pretty girl.” Despite such fable-like distancing, Hamid manages the significant trick of seducing his readers to care about these characters, even as he toys with our expectations for a rags-to-riches story.

So dear “you” first moves around his new town on a bicycle, then a motorcycle, then in a rebuilt truck. As the conveyances become more luxurious, the commentary becomes more pointed, and Hamid’s pleasurable light touch fades. By the time “you” has become a water industrialist, you are keeping company with “four pump-action-shotgun-wielding security guards” and “the aquifer below the city is plummeting and becoming more contaminated every year, poisonous chemicals and biological toxins seeping into it like adulterants into a heroin junkie’s collapsing vein.”

Clearly, Hamid can write. His is a confident, confiding prose. But underneath, as in “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” a quiet fury gathers. The reader travels these pages fueled by dread. Capitalism may have won the globe’s embrace, but becoming rich is still filthy work. Importantly, reading this latest Mohsin Hamid novel is no work at all. May it work its subversive way into the curriculum of business schools everywhere.

As the U.S. economy continues to crawl toward recovery, more and more people find themselves at the library. Filled with resources, computers, books and programs, the local library is often one of the only places people can go to get their information needs met, and unlike most online sources, there are real live people there to offer assistance.

Writers tend to be very vocal champions for libraries, particularly these days as funding is cut while demand is highest. Earlier this year, during an author visit to his local library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Junot Diaz spoke for a few minutes on the importance of libraries, particularly as it relates to his success as an author. “I can directly attribute who I am as a writer, an artist, as a thinker..from my early, early experiences in my school and town library.” Watch his entire remarks below.

We’ve talked so much about Mohsin Hamids The Reluctant Fundamentalist coming to the big screen next year and the wait is almost over. The adaptation is scheduled to hit theatres in February 2013 and we can’t wait. It received rave reviews when it premiered at the Venice film festival this fall and critics have praised Mira Nair’s vision.

In this Hollywood Reporter video, stars of the film (Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson and Keifer Sutherland) sit down with Nair to talk about filming and why they were drawn to the project.

We’re keeping it light this week—we know everyone is busy with family and friends and the wonderfulness of the holiday season. In honor of Christmas being around the corner, we found this interview with Junot Diaz on American Public Media about his connection to his culture and how he celebrates Christmas. We particularly liked this quote about the connectedness of the holidays: 

I think part of sitting down and sharing a meal with family and with the community is that food is a remarkable bonding force. When I think of that state that we loved to achieve. That state where you’re together with people you love, that you care about, who are your relatives.

For a shining evening, or for a shining day, you are able to achieve communion. It’s kind of a peace with each other. It’s kind of sharing. It’s kind of communication. It’s kind of, just, being in each other’s presence. And I think what helps us to achieve that is the dishes that we grew up with, the dishes that are familiar, the dishes that have always meant solidarity and family.

And let me tell you, after a tough, tough year, nothing lifts the spirit — nothing lifts the soul — like attempting to achieve communion. What better way than to eat a whole bunch of awesome food that says family, says community, says home, says love?

We completely agree. 

Happy holidays, everyone! 

Few writers get the opportunity to be popular and well-regarded, particularly with readers’ fickle attention spans. But Junot Diaz seems to be hitting on both fronts. Diaz wrote a message of thanks to all his fans this year on his Facebook page. His list of accolades for his latest book, This is How You Lose Her, is quite impressive: 

Now with the long tour over the new book is finally starting to come to life–God knows when it will get done but it’s starting to pull on me again. If it takes off I might be signing off facebook in a couple of weeks in order to focus on its full-time and will be back in late summer in time for the fall paperback tour madness. Again: thanks one and all. Also: my publisher sent along this list and I’m super-grateful to all the editors who pulled for this book of stories. Mil gracias. And so without further ado:

Finalist for the National Book Award

New York Times Sunday Book Review: 100 Notable Books of 2012

EW Top 10 Best Fiction of 2012

Time Magazine Top 10 Books of 2012

Huffington Post Best Books of 2012

Book Page Best Books of 2012: named #1 Best Book of 2012

Kirkus Best Books of 2012

Amazon Best Books of the Year: Editor’s Top Picks for 2012

Slate Best Books of 2012

Barnes and Noble “Favorite Books of the Year” Top 15 Fiction pick

Los Angeles Public Library Best Fiction of 2012

Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of the Year: Top 29 Picks for International Fiction

Booklist Editor’s Choice for Best of 2012

Newsday 10 Best Books of 2012

Barnes and Noble Best Books of 2012: Fiction

Kansas City Star Top Fiction Pick for 2012

Saint Louis Post-Dispatch 50 Favorite Books of 2012

Financial Times Best Books of 2012

LA Times Holiday Book Gift

 

2008 winner Junot Diaz recently wrapped up his book tour for his latest book, This Is How You Lose Her, at the Facing Race conference in Baltimore last week.

He wrote to his fans: 

“So many extraordinary activists, so many brilliant youth. Thanks to all the organizers who made it happen and to all the already-tired participants that patiently endured my keynote. You seriously rock! In other news tonight was the last day of the tour. Basically two straight months on the road, two months I was very lucky to have…It was better than anything I could have imagined. Thanks to everyone who supported the work, who advocated for the new book, who took time to come to the readings. Thanks to all the booksellers to all the librarians to all the teachers who often often brought their students to the events. Thanks to my Dominican/Caribbean peoples for always representing and for so often inviting me to their family home for a sancocho. You have no idea how that touched me. Thanks to all readers everywhere! You made this journey possible.”

We do believe he has earned some well-deserved time at home for a bit! Read about our other coverage of Diaz’ latest book at the link

The 2012 election cycle was filled with a bombardment of political ads, 24-hour news cycles dissecting every possible angle, and an overwhelming sense of hype surrounding who will be our next batch of elected representatives. Some of our winners got in on the action and made a few comments about the election as well. 

Junot Diaz, who has been writing consistently about the Latino effect in this year’s election, wrote a special message on his Facebook page. “Obama WINS!” he wrote shortly after the race had been called. “The Latino community came out BIG for Obama. Very proud of my community, very proud of all the new voters, the very proud of all the Obama supporters who put in the time and the hard work to make this happen.”

Never one to shy away from his passions, David Livingstone Smith took the opportunity to remind people of the atrocities happening in East Africa. “While we’re celebrating, they’re dying. How about urging our newly elected officials to take notice?”

Isabel Wilkerson, whose 2010 book, The Warmth of Other Suns, was selected as a top five book pick by President Obama, gave a brief history lessons for her fans on her Facebook page. “‘The right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’ Those words, the 15th Amendment, were ratified in 1870. NINETY-FIVE years passed before it was acted upon. Poll taxes, literacy tests and lynchings barred black southerners from voting. It wasn’t until Aug. 6, 1965, when, after decades of protest and violence, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act ‘to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution,’ that everyone was actually permitted to vote.” 

Whoever you supported and whatever your political leanings, we hope you took advantage of your right to vote and made a difference in this election cycle! 

 

 

 

Junot Diaz made a lively appearance at Google’s headquarters for its “Authors @ Google” interview series. Watch the video above and listen as Diaz reads the introduction to one of the short stories in his book, This is How You Lose Her. 

Mr. Hamad’s latest book will hit stores in March. He recently sat down with The New Yorker for a brief Q&A about the book. Check it out here.

We keep on telling you how terrific 2012 is shaping up for Junot Diaz and the accolades keep coming. Today, he and fellow Anisfield-Wolf award winner Louise Erdrich were named as 2012 National Book Awards finalists.

2008 winner Junot Diaz has his fans on the edge of their seats as they wait for his latest book, This Is How You Lose Her, to hit bookshelves in September. The collection of stories focuses on the many facets of love—maternal love, romantic love, illicit love and so on. It has gotten rave reviews from critics, including one who called it “ribald, streetwise, and stunningly moving.”

Diaz spoke at the author breakfast at the 2012 Book Expo and gave the audience a taste of what they could expect from the book. Check it out in the video above. 

During a two-day symposium at Stanford University, Junot Diaz had the opportunity to sit down with editor Paula M.L. Moya to discuss his work and his thoughts about his intersection of race and literature. This particular answer, in response to Moya’s question about whether people of color unconsciously fuel white supremacy, stood out to us: 

How can you change something if you won’t even acknowledge its existence, or if you downplay its significance? White supremacy is the great silence of our world, and in it is embedded much of what ails us as a planet. The silence around white supremacy is like the silence around Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, or the Voldemort name which must never be uttered in the Harry Potter novels. And yet here’s the rub: if a critique of white supremacy doesn’t first flow through you, doesn’t first implicate you, then you have missed the mark; you have, in fact, almost guaranteed its survival and reproduction. There’s that old saying: the devil’s greatest trick is that he convinced people that he doesn’t exist. Well, white supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us.

Read the entire interview here

Diaz will also be headlining the upcoming Facing Race conference in November 2012. The three-day event is the largest gathering of journalists, artists, activists and leaders assembled in one area to discuss racial justice. As a writer whose work dives deeply into the racial issues and dilemmas, we definitely think Diaz is well suited to address the attendees. See the trailer for the event below.

Some of our very own Anisfield-Wolf winners will be in attendance at the 2012 Book Expo at the Javits Center in New York City, June 5-7. The Book Expo is one of the largest events in the literary field, with authors, librarians, editors, and other industry professionals in attendance each year. Among the authors will be 2008 winner Junot Diaz and 2006 winner Zadie SmithClick here for ticket information.

Junot Díaz

Junot Diaz

Tuesday, June 5
Adult Book & Author Breakfast
8:00 am – 9:30 am
Special Events Hall

 

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith 

Thursday, June 7
Adult Book & Author Breakfast
8:00 am – 9:30 am
Special Events Hall

We don’t know what the weather is like where you live, but this weekend it’s going to hot and humid. Just the thought of 90-degree temperatures sends us scrambling inside for the air conditioning and a good book. 

Pakistan’s Express Tribune listed their top 10 books to re-read this summer and even if you’ve never read some of these books, we’d say they make for an excellent use of time. Among those listed were two Anisfield-Wolf winners: Kamila Shamsie (2010) and Mohsin Hamid (2008). 

Kamila Shamsie

Of Shamsie’s Kartography:

Kamila Shamsie is one of the few female authors of the 90s who managed to get Pakistan on the literary map. Shamsie’s Kartography is a literary masterpiece and her passion and love for her city Karachi is evident in her every sentence, page and chapter.

 

Mohsin Hamid

Of Hamid’s Moth Smoke: 

Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke told the story of a marijuana-smoking ex-banker in post-nuclear-test Lahore who falls in love with his best friend’s wife and becomes a heroin addict. It was published in 2000 and quickly became a hit in Pakistan and India.

…you can hear about Mohsin Hamid’s role in getting the project to the big screen. Are you as excited for the adaptation as we are?

Junot Díaz

Junot Diaz’s short story collection This Is How You Lose Her will be published in September. It’s Diaz’s first book since his 2007 debut novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which, in addition to the 2008 Anisfield-Wolf award for fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Critics Circle Award. {New York Times}

Zadie Smith

It hasn’t been officially confirmed but the rumor mill is buzzing that Zadie Smith’s latest book will be released in September. No doubt fans of White Teeth and On Beauty are waiting anxiously. {Sarah Weinman}

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s 10th novel, Home, will be released May 8. It follows an African American Korean war veteran who returns to his Georgia community a changed man. {L.A. Times}