On Monday, President Obama delivered his second Inaugural Address in the cold Washington air, laying out a progressive agenda for the next four years. He spoke clearly on the issues of gay marriage, climate change, and social service programs, while pushing members of Congress to work together to solve some of the biggest issues of our time:
Progress does not compel us to settle century’s long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.
For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.
We must act. We must act knowing that our work will be imperfect (ph). We must act knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
We perked up when the president spoke of issues of equality and justice, echoing Martin Luther King in his visions for a country where inequality and injustice cease to exist:
What makes us exceptional, what makes us America is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today we continue a never ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing. That while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on earth.
While analysts debate the significance of President Obama’s speech and whether his vision will becoming a political reality in the coming years, we are simply proud to be witnessing history. In a piece for MSNBC, 2009 winner Annette Gordon-Reed wrote that regardless of his policy positions, President Obama has already changed the landscape of American politics:
By virtue of being the first black president—and being re-elected—Barack Obama has already been a transformational figure in American politics and history. We are not a “post-racial” society, certainly. But the president has transformed the sense of what is possible in the country.
We talked about Junot Diaz’ great year, but Louise Erdrich is another Anisfield-Wolf winner with an amazing 2012. She released her 14th novel and saw it win the National Book Award, among others.
I suppose if I lived in New York this would not seem so dreamlike. The actual award—a bronze sculpture of a scroll and a book (good for weight lifting) is on a shelf at the bookstore. Soon I’ll bring it to my hometown’s art gallery, the Red Door, for a visit, then up to the Turtle Mountains. It is sort of a traveling award. Otherwise, everything is the same. I am back in Minnesota and am again part of an intense family life. Last night I cooked a mediocre vegetable/peanut/rice dinner, helped my daughter with homework, and went to a meeting with my sister. I still have trouble sleeping and am thinking about the next book.
Watch the video below to hear Erdrich’s thoughts on her latest book.
We are thrilled to congratulate 2009 Anisfield-Wolf winner Louise Erdrich on her win at the 2012 National Book Awards. She was awarded the prize for fiction, for her novel, Round House.
“My characters have my attention—trying to find them, understand them, think like them, feel what they would feel, behave on the page as they would,” she said. “And then there is the language—listening for what is unburdened by sentiment, trying to write something fearless. I usually write the books like secrets, as though nobody will read them.”
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.
We live in a world that is dominated by the impact of race, class and diversity, but conversations about those ideas don’t happen nearly as often as they need to. That’s why our mission here at Anisfield-Wolf feels so fulfilling, because the books we select provide those sparks that can ignite meaningful conversations bubbling just below the surface.
Take 2009 winner Annette Gordon-Reed for instance. Her books on Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemmings helped Americans analyze the complexities of race and freedoms during our nation’s infancy. Gordon-Reed recently sat down for an interview with BigThink.com about the impact of race in her life and in our society. Her answers on going to a predominately white school in the still segregated South might surprise you.
What annoys you most about book critics? If you could have a drink with any author, who would it be? Name a passage in one of your favorite books that you would rewrite if given the chance. These questions and more were lobbied to 2009 Anisfield-Wolf winner Nam Le as part of Tehelka’s “A Byte Of…” video interview series. Check out Nam Le’s responses above in the quick video.
Each Friday we’ll be bringing you news about your favorite authors, literature and books in general. Tell us what you think in the comments:
Your E-Book Is Reading You
The Wall Street Journal takes an in-depth look at e-books and moves beyond the simple question of whether they will replace physical books (trust us – they won’t). Instead, they’re looking at what e-books tell publishers that simply isn’t possible with physical copies and what that means for the industry:
Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.
10 of the Best Books Set In The Midwest
2009 Anisfield-Wolf winner Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine was named one of the top books in this oft-overlooked category of books.
A Summer Reading List for College Freshmen
Our friends over at Bookriot compiled a list of book categories that each incoming college freshmen should read before stepping on campus in the fall. The goal? To be more well-rounded and well-read and therefore more easily able to excel in the classroom. Take a look at the list and let us know if you agree. What Anisfield-Wolf titles could fit the bill?
Each Friday we’ll be bringing you news about your favorite authors, literature and books in general. Check out the first installment and tell us what you think in the comments:
Isabel Wilkerson (2011 winner) was on PBS Newshour to discuss the groundbreaking of the Smithsonian’s African-American History Museum. See her part at the 4:00 minute mark.
Our friends over at Book Riot have declared May 8 “Toni Morrison Day” based off the release date of Ms. Morrison’s (1998 winner) newest book, Home. One of their writers will be re-reading her entire catalog and will be blogging about the experience.
New York has tons of payphones but its residents also have millions of cell phones. To make them more useful, architect John Locke has fashioned these bookshelves to repurpose the structures into free-standing mini libraries.
Because it is more appealing to hear from the authors themselves, we’ve rounded up some of the best quotes we’ve heard this year (even if they’re a bit older) from some of our distinguished Anisfield-Wolf Award winners. Enjoy!
“I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be.”
— Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying
”At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”
— Toni Morrison
”Art, after all, is – at its best – a lie that tells us the truth.”
— Nam Le
”Poetry is what you find / in the dirt in the corner, / overhear on the bus, God / in the details, the only way / to get from here to there.”
— Elizabeth Alexander, Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
“One of the things I love about writing novels is that you realize that you’re not all that interested in the bottom. You’re more interested in things that are bottomless. You become fascinated by the questions, and the answers to those questions are secondary, if they become important at all.”
— Nicole Krauss
“An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.”
— Langston Hughes
2009 Anisfield-Wolf Award winner Annette Gordon-Reed had the distinct privilege of being awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant, which is a $500,000 prize for individuals with an exceptionally high level of creativity in their work. The grant is a no-strings-attached award, designed to let the winners continue to produce high-quality work without financial worry. Here is Annette’s video on how she began work on her book, The Hemmingses of Monticello, and what being a MacArthur Fellow means to her.
On the power of fiction:
”I do believe that you can never know yourself let alone the person next to you let alone the person halfway across the world. Yet at the same time I believe there is nothing like fiction to fully thrust you into someone else s consciousness.”