2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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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:

Four years after Andrew Solomon took home the 2013 Anisfield-Wolf nonfiction prize for “Far from the Tree,” his work is finding a new medium: film.

Next month, the documentary version from Emmy award-winning filmmaker Rachel Dretzin will premiere at DOC NYC, the nation’s largest documentary-focused film festival. The response has been strong enough to add a second showing.

The 90-minute film, also called “Far From the Tree,” uses the same scaffolding as the book, embedding viewers in the lives of parents whose children fit into disparate identities: deafness, autism, and dwarfism, along with seven others.

“All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves,” writes Solomon in his text. Dretzin pulls on that thread in the documentary, weaving together interviews and on-the-ground footage. Snippets of the production show the film crew attending the annual Little People of America conference and accompanying one of the featured couples to an ultrasound appointment.

Solomon, who also served as a producer on the film, will attend the premiere, along with Dretzin and producer Jamila Ephron. In 2013, as Solomon, a gay man, accepted his Anisfield-Wolf distinction in Cleveland, he said, “This award is particularly meaningful to me because it is an award that is predicated on the question of identity . . . I feel that it was identity politics that rescued me from an element of despair that was present in my earlier life.”

Sixty-six writers and artists – including seven Anisfield-Wolf recipients and two jury members – wrote an open letter to President Donald Trump asking him to desist from broadly banning travel to the United States by people from seven predominately Muslim countries. The letter, sponsored by PEN America, is timed to influence the president before he issues a second version of his original, sweeping travel ban, which is now stayed by the U.S. District Court of Appeals.

“Preventing international artists from contributing to American cultural life will not make America safer, and will damage its international prestige and influence,” wrote the signatories, who include poet Rita Dove and historian Simon Schama, panelists on the five-member Anisfield-Wolf jury.

The letter continues: “Arts and culture have the power to enable people to see beyond their differences. Creativity is an antidote to isolationism, paranoia, misunderstanding, and violent intolerance. In the countries most affected by the immigration ban, it is writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers who are often at the vanguard in the fights against oppression and terror. Should it interrupt the ability of artists to travel, perform, and collaborate, such an Executive Order will aid those who would silence essential voices and exacerbate the hatreds that fuel global conflict.”

Anisfield-Wolf novelists who put their name to the letter include Chimamanda Adichie, Sandra Cisneros, Nicole Krauss, Chang-rae Lee and Zadie Smith. Nonfiction honorees include philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and Andrew Solomon, president of PEN America.

“As writers and artists, we join PEN America in calling on you to rescind your Executive Order of January 27, 2017, and refrain from introducing any alternative measure that similarly impairs freedom of movement and the global exchange of arts and ideas,” they write.

How does one structure a year in reading?

The New York Times published the answers of 47 writers and artists who reflected on the books they chose over the past year. Their responses create a fascinating skein of reading and thinking, and include essays from four Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recipients. The entire conversation, which weaves from basketball hall-of-famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to filmmaker Ava DuVernay to former House speaker Newt Gingrich to author Maxine Hong Kingston, is enlivening, a hopeful way to face into a new year.

Praise for “The Underground Railroad,” the stupendous fall novel from Anisfield-Wolf winner Colson Whitehead, threads through these reflections. Salman Rushdie read it; so did the YA-writer John Green, Anne Tyler and Judd Apatow.

Maxine Hong Kingston, who won a 1978 Anisfield-Wolf prize for “The Woman Warrior,” came up with the longest and the widest-ranging list. She sampled Charles Darwin and Nora Ephron and Andrew Solomon’s “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas on Depression.”  He won an Anisfield-Wolf prize for “Far from the Tree,” another landmark, luminous work of nonfiction.

Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust expended her entire essay praising “March,” the three-book graphic memoir by Congressman John Lewis recounting his formation in the crucible of Civil Rights. These books in turn are based on “Walking with the Wind,” Lewis’ classic accounting of his life, which won an Anisfield-Wolf award in 1999.

Another graphic work attracted the praise of Junot Diaz, who kicks off the New York Times compilation recommending “Ghetto Brother,” a history of a multiracial Bronx, drawn and created by Julian Voloy and Claudia Ahlering. Diaz, who won an Anisfield-Wolf for his novel “The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” also highlighted another nonfiction title: Wesley Lowery’s “They Can’t Kill Us All.”  Diaz writes that “Lowery more or less pulls the sheet off America” in a book subtitled “Ferguson, Baltimore and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement.”

James McBride, whose 1997 memoir “The Color of Water” is still taught widely in universities, strikes a bluesy note in an essay that divides books “into categories like saxophone players.” He read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” and then — to shake off some of its disturbing currents – turned to the manuscript for “Two and Two,” a forthcoming memoir from Rafe Bartholomew. McBride highly recommends this portrait of New York’s oldest saloon.

Samantha Power, who won both a Pulitzer and an Anisfield-Wolf award for “A Problem of Hell,” read books last year that illuminated her work as the United States ambassador to the United Nations: Madeline Albright’s “Madame Secretary” and Clark Clifford’s “Counsel to the President.”

The list from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was flavored by two Anisfield-Wolf winning authors: “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson, and “Charcoal Joe,” the latest detective novel from Walter Mosley. The basketball legend also read poetry, specifically “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth” by Warsan Shire, a Kenyan-born Somali poet. Meanwhile sublime novelist Colm Toibin read 2013 Anisfield-Wolf honoree “My Promised Land.” Toibin described Ari Shavit’s nonfiction work as giving him “an increased sense of the complexity of Israeli heritage.”

Back in the United States, filmmaker Jill Soloway thought about making a pilot as she read “You Can’t Touch My Hair” by Phoebe Robinson.  And Jacqueline Woodson recently held up her copy on PBS’s “News Hour” as a galvanizing book from 2016.

However one navigates a year, it is bettered by the company of a good book. The selections in this compilation are a bracing place to start.

When Andrew Solomon went to Finland to promote The Noonday Demon, his ground-breaking 2001 book on depression, he landed on a leading morning television show.

The interviewer, “a gorgeous blonde woman, leaned forward and asked in a mildly offended tone, ‘So, Mr. Solomon. What can you, an American, have to tell the Finnish people about depression?’” the writer recalls in his newest work.

“I felt as though I had written a book about hot peppers and gone to promote it in Sichuan,” Solomon jokes in the leisurely and chatty introduction to Far & Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change: Seven Continents, Twenty-Five Years.

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Clearly this 52-year-old writer, who won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2013, has serious wanderlust. Solomon has traveled to 83 of the 196 recognized nations in the world. “I’ve been to so many places, and seen so much, and sometimes it feels like a glut of sunsets and churches and monuments,” he admits.

But it is also clear that travel has helped form Solomon into a public intellectual. By the end of this book, he himself is setting off scandals in Ghana and Romania, largely via his reputation as an LGBT activist. Far & Away collects 28 essays from Solomon’s decades of globe-trotting, including one set in northern Bali called “Where Everyone Signs.” It is plucked from his chapter on deafness in Far From the Tree, his Anisfield-Wolf winner in nonfiction.

“I had started traveling out of curiosity,” Solomon writes, “but I came to believe in travel’s political importance, that encouraging a nation’s citizenry to travel may be as important as encouraging school attendance, environmental conservation, or national thrift.”  A few pages later he elaborates, “When I was in Libya, the people I met who had an essentially pro-American stance had all studied in the United States, whereas those who were vehemently anti-American had not.”

As a young New Yorker studying in England, Solomon cops to some youthful callowness: “I confused, as many young people do, the glamour of being an outsider with the liberty to do or think whatever crossed my mind.” Serious travel taught the writer to grapple with ideas he would not have otherwise encountered: “When Chinse intellectuals spoke to me of the good that came of the Tiananmen massacre, when Pakistani women spoke of their pride in wearing the hijab, when Cubans enthused about their autocracy, I had to reconsider my reflexive enthusiasm for self-determination. In a free society, you have a chance to achieve your ambitions; in an unfree one, you lack that choice, and this often allows for more visionary ambitions.”

Today Solomon leads a highly political life at the helm of the Pen America Center, a venerable nonprofit that advocates for imperiled writers globally.

His new book has a dizzying array of datelines. The first essay, “The Winter Palettes,” stems from Solomon’s first reporting assignment abroad. In 1988, the British monthly “Harpers & Queen” sent him to the USSR to cover Sotheby’s first sale of contemporary Soviet art.  It begins with a toast, and in a book of many toasts and parties, captures some of the intoxication swirled into art and social change.

“I am susceptible to that little moment of romance when a society on the brink of change falls temporarily in love with itself,” Solomon writes. “I’ve heard to same people speak of the great hope they felt when Stalin came to power and the hope they later felt when he died; others, of the hope they felt when the Cultural Revolution began and the hope they felt when it ended. . . Hope is a regular chime in political life.”

His last essay, “Lost at the Surface,” details a narrow escape from drowning while scuba diving off Australia.  He wrote it last year for “The Moth.” Invariably, it is illuminating to look out through Andrew Solomon’s eyes – whether he is drifting in the open ocean or realizing in Cuba in 1997 that “If you want to get to know a strange country quickly and deeply, there’s nothing like organizing a party.”

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.

Anthologies are tricky – and a new one called “Poems That Make Grown Men Cry” might seem like a gimmick. But readers who venture here will find that London editors Anthony and Ben Holden, a father and son, have come up with an engaging conversation-starter and a new angle on some marvelous work.

They asked 100 men to write a brief introduction to a poem that choked them up. The “vast majority are public figures not prone to tears,” writes Anthony Holden, “as is supposedly the manly way, but here prepared to admit to caving in when ambushed by great art.”

One, Simon Schama, is the Anisfield-Wolf juror and historian. Two are recent Anisfield-Wolf winners: Mohsin Hamid and Andrew Solomon. Poet Terrance Hayes picks former juror and Anisfield-Wolf recipient Gwendolyn Brooks for her poem “The Mother” and two contributors – novelist Mark Haddon and actor Tom Hiddleston — choose separate Derek Walcott poems, both published in 1984.

Schama, fresh off his new book and PBS series, “The Story of the Jews,” decides upon W.H. Auden’s “Lullaby.” The historian writes that “tears come to me reading Auden’s ‘Lullaby’ to a lover already asleep because the poem suspends time and the brutality of the world (‘1937 when fashionable madmen raise/Their pedantic boring cry’) at the moment of unanswerably perfect love.” The honesty in the poem “makes the eyes prick and the heart knock,” Schama writes. The actor Simon Callow, for his own reasons, picks the same poem.

Hamid, who won his Anisfield-Wolf book award for the novel “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” chooses Robin Robertson’s “Keys to the Doors,” a 14-line piece addressed to a daughter and published in 2012, the book’s most recent poem. Hamid writes that he cut it out of the New York Review of Books, mailed it to Lahore and taped it to his printer – “It’s there now, stirring to the beat of my ceiling fan as I write this.”

A young father when he found it, Hamid writes that the poem captures something of the way his own little girl would “stride into my room where I was novel-writing, and talk to me, and ask me questions, and bring her fantasies into where I sat draped in mine.”

Andrew Solomon, who won last year’s nonfiction Anisfield-Wolf book award for “Far From the Tree,” picks Elizabeth Bishop’s 1976 work “Crusoe in England.” It is one of a dozen poems in the book by women, in the voice of an imagined aged Robinson Crusoe. Solomon writes that “the meticulous dryness of this narrator, so bereft of the spirit of adventure even when recalling adventures, seems to catch in the throat of the old man who speaks it.” Solomon esteems this voice for containing “not so much bitterness as restraint. Love is circumstantial; we can love anyone if need be; and losing the one we love is the singular catastrophe.”

Terrance Hayes writes that Brooks’ 1945 poem that begins “Abortions will not let you forget” was instrumental to him as a college student: “It is, in fact, the poem that made me choose the path of a poet rather than that of a painter. (No painting had ever made me cry.)” He writes that his continuous relationship with the poem as an older man is “a testament to its craftsmanship.”

Finally, Mark Haddon selects Walcott’s “Midsummer: Sonnet XLIII” and writes that he dislikes the sentimental. But the Nobel Laureate accomplishes something different here: “the sublime sublimely articulated.” A few pages later, Hiddleston writes that he reads Walcott’s “Love After Love” at least monthly. “I read it to my dearest friends after dinner once, and to my family at Christmas, and they started crying. Which always, unfailingly, makes me cry.”

All these tears caused Billy Collins to jokingly ask “how any of us make it through the book without succumbing to a complete emotional breakdown,” editor Ben Holden writes. And then he shrugs: “What could be more human, honest, or pure than tears?” 

Andrew Solomon dedicated a chapter of his Anisfield-Wolf winning Far from the Tree on families whose children have committed serious crimes. He interviewed parents of gang leaders, killers and sex offenders, examining the place of the family during and after the child’s stint in prison. In the only interview published with the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters in 1999’s Columbine massacre, Solomon showed the complexity of their lives: “I know it would have been better for the world if Dylan had never been born,” Sue Klebold says of her son. “But I believe it would not have been better for me.”

Because of this book, Peter Lanza reached out to Solomon to tell his side.  Lanza is the father of Adam Lanza, the killer of 26 elementary school children, his mother and himself in Newtown, Conn. This led to Solomon interviewing the father for seven sessions, which resulted in a New Yorker article that made national news.  The senior Lanza discusses his son, the massacre and its aftermath.  He believes that Adam’s autism masked an underlying emotional disorder, one that went undetected by the numerous psychologists and psychiatrists who examined Adam.

For Anisfield-Wolf fans in Ohio, there are still tickets available to his March 18 appearance in Cleveland for the Cuyahoga County Library’s Writers Center Stage series.

The potency of literature went on vivid display in early November when readers gathered around the writers who won this year’s Dayton Literary Peace Prizes. They started with an intense and intimate two-hour session at Sinclair Community College in downtown Dayton.

“I need to give a shout-out to Wendell Berry, whose ‘The Gift of Good Land’ was one of the most important books of my life,” boomed Sinclair President Steven Lee Johnson, turning to the celebrated Kentucky author in praise of the 1981 essay collection, one of Berry’s 50 titles.

A bit later, a woman in a pink sweater rose, lifted her chin to Berry and fiercely declared, “Your words have changed my life, over and over. I carry your books when I am sad and frightened and they have changed things for me.”  She paused, looked at the 300-member audience. “How awesome is that?”

Berry, 79, in Dayton to accept his distinguished achievement award, decided to address the fervor.   “When people say my writing has changed their life, I feel complimented, but also a little frightened,” he said. “I didn’t sit down to change anybody’s life.”  His eyes sought out the woman.  “I think my book spoke to something in you that changed your life. That is to your credit and you should not give the credit to me.”

Nevertheless, credit abounded at the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, a legacy of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that negotiated a stop to the Bosnian War.  Established a decade later, the award seeks to recognize literature as “an enduring and effective tool for fostering peace.”  It is now eight years old.

“The writers who win see the sincerity of the people who come and the people who work on this,” said Sharon Rab, founder and co-chair of the awards. “There is an entire community dedicated to peace and literature and the connection between the two.”

Pat Fife, a teacher at suburban Dayton’s Kettering-Fairmount High School, said her students were studying human trafficking with a class of like-minded students in Bosnia.  Both groups read Ben Skinner’s “A Crime So Monstrous” about “modern-day slavery.” It won the 2009 Dayton prize.

“I thought it might be a little controversial, but people have been more than willing to engage it,” Fife said.  Her students linked up with a nearby Methodist Church that works to fight human trafficking.

In its eight years, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize has overlapped often with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. Both have honored Chang-Rae Lee, Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, Ha Jin, Chimamanda Adichie and Isabel Wilkerson.  And this year, each jury hit upon the same book in nonfiction: Andrew Solomon’s magisterial “Far From the Tree.”

In Dayton, Solomon declared that “human diversity matters just as much as species diversity.” He noted that roughly 50 years ago Time magazine could denigrate gays as sub-human and the Atlantic Monthly could recommend exterminating infants with Down Syndrome.  “I wanted to understand how something universally understood as an illness turned into an identity,” he said.

Such transformation doesn’t arrive all at once. One man took Solomon aside in Dayton and demanded the writer admit that “this gay rights thing has gone too far.” Solomon quietly told the stranger he would not admit that.

The author, who received a thunderous ovation at the awards ceremony, riffed on his title. “What parent hasn’t looked at their child,” he asked, “and said, ‘What planet did you come from?’”

Growing up, Solomon read and admired Berry’s poetry, and Berry said, for his part, he was thunderstruck in 1963 by Harry Caudill’s nonfiction classic “Night Comes to the Cumberlands,” a story about rural poverty that mattered.

Maaza Mengiste, Dayton’s first runner-up in 2011 for her novel, “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze,” said she had been greatly influenced by Tim O’Brien, who was on hand as last year’s distinguished achievement winner.

“Peace is a shy thing,” O’Brien told the crowd. “It doesn’t brag about itself. We are at peace in this room and we take it for granted. It’s by its absence that peace is known. Peace is a value we don’t feel until the wolf is at the door.”

Fiction winner Adam Johnson spoke eloquently about the wolf’s stranglehold on North Korea, also captured in his Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son.”  He asked the Dayton audience to imagine the isolation on the northern half of the peninsula, separated from its own literature. “Not a single play or poem has been smuggled out of North Korea in 60 years, unlike, even, the worse days of the Russian gulag.”

Closer to home, nonfiction runner-up Gilbert King explored “Devil in the Grove,” a harrowing, 1949 Florida case of racial injustice. It also won a Pulitzer Prize this year and centers on the legal mastery of a young Thurgood Marshall.

The crusading lawyer “was never surprised by the verdicts in the South,” King observed.  “But he did say, ‘sometimes I get awfully tired of trying to save the white man’s soul.’”

International outrage over the “Grovewood boys” case in Florida helped raise the cash that supported the NAACP’s work on Brown vs. Board of Education, King said, ushering forward a new America.

Berry, lionized by O’Brien’s introduction, brought the crowd back to Earth. “There is a certain comedy in hearing one’s self praised,” he said. “I am embarrassed that I have nothing to present but me.”

We caught up with Andrew Solomon a few hours before the 2013 Anisfield-Wolf ceremony to ask him his thoughts on being honored for his transformative work, 2012’s Far From The Tree. “To win something that is fondly called the ‘Black Pulitzer’ has particular meaning to me,” Solomon would go on to say later at the ceremony.

Hear his quick thoughts on winning an Anisfield-Wolf award, the politics of identity, and the march toward acceptance. 

Andrew Solomon On Winning The 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Award For Nonfiction from Anisfield Wolf on Vimeo.

Reacting to the blah, monochromatic nature of typical of Mother’s Day cards, Strong Families, an Alturas, California policy group, launched a line of digital Mother’s Day cards cued into the changing demographics of America’s families.

These cards represent the families that are “beyond the picket fence”: transgender, lesbian, low-income, immigrant, and incarcerated mothers are all featured.

Much like Andrew Solomon‘s exploration of family diversity in his 2012 book Far From The Tree, these cards contain a more imaginative and inclusive depiction of familial love.

Eveline Shen, executive director of Strong Families, said that the inspiration for this line of cards came from families like her own. “I’m raising my own daughters with my same-sex partner. When they go to the store, they don’t find images that reflect their reality. So, they started making their own cards.”

More than 5,000 cards were downloaded in its first year, with the goal of tripling that number in 2013. The cards reinforce Strong Families’ policy work on immigration, marriage equality, and universal healthcare.

Below, Favianna Rodriguez, an artist with Strong Families, explains how the cards are more than just a sentimental message:

To see all of the cards available, visit MamasDay.org.

Under the slogan “ideas worth spreading,” the annual TED conferences began in 1990, and have showcased a clutch of Anisfield-Wolf winners. The latest is Andrew Solomon, the 2013 winner for nonfiction, who took the stage in April at TEDMED, an annual program of medical innovators and thought leaders under the TED banner. His talk, “How Does An Illness Become An Identity?” drew from his book Far From The Tree, in which Solomon examines how families adapt – or not — to their children’s unique identities.

He begins by noting the seismic shift of societal attitudes toward homosexuality within a generation. Being gay was called “a pathetic, second-rate substitute for reality” by Time magazine in 1966. Today, marriage equality is endorsed by the president of the United States.

In “Far From the Tree,” Solomon explores ten other conditions, including dwarfism, deafness, Down Syndrome and autism, and asks whether they are illness or identity. The answers are multi-faceted, and stay close to families grappling with children who are radically different. Some reject and harm these offspring, but some find a means of love that allow children and families to gain a new, collective identity.

For Solomon, this is not theoretical territory. He says:

I decided to have children while I was working on this project. Many people were astonished and asked, “How can you decide to have children while you’re studying everything that can go wrong?” And I said, “I’m not studying everything that can go wrong. What I’m studying is how much love there can be even when it appears everything is going wrong.”

Let us know: Have you read Solomon’s Far From The Tree? What do you think of the themes he explored in this talk, with regard to society’s increasing acceptance of conditions (dwarfism, Down Syndrome, homosexuality, etc) that were previously deemed inferior? 

Culled from more than 40,000 pages of interview transcripts, Andrew Solomon‘s Far From The Tree takes an exhaustive look at families where the child’s identity is considered to be on the margins of society.

Within the book, Solomon considers how parents navigate the world when a child is deaf, autistic, a dwarf, a criminal, a protégée, has Down Syndrome, and four other identities. Solomon highlights the struggle and beauty in each family’s story, sharing how parents come to accept their children amid the differences that threaten to come between them. The book chronicles the immense love of family, the quest toward a more compassionate world, and the beauty of diversity in all forms.

In deliberations for this year’s awards, juror Steven Pinker wrote: “This is a monumental book, the kind that appears once in a decade. It could not be a better example of the literature of diversity.”

In a recent interview on the ThinkPiece blog, Solomon commented on the major theme that runs through all his books: 

My topic ever since I began, and I started work on my first book when I was twenty-four, has been the large question of how people are able to turn the experience of adversity into triumph. And how people transform the perception of their own life experience in order to achieve that point of view. A lot of that work is about pain. It’s really about what people do with pain. It’s about the idea that when you have an experience that is sad or painful, you needn’t say that life is over and there’s no point in going on. You can rather say, “I wish I didn’t have this experience, but I’m going to try to build something out of it.”

Anyone interested in the book should take a moment to visit the website, FarFromTheTree.com, a visually stunning complement. For example, you’ll find videos and resources for each of the themes explored in the book, including the book trailer (shown above), which does much more justice to the book than we could put into words.

Solomon is also the author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, which won the 2001 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was named one of the 100 best books of the decade by the London Times. Solomon lives with his husband and son in New York City and London.

The jury has spoken and five new authors will join the Anisfield-Wolf family.

Our 2013 winners are: 

“The 2013 Anisfield-Wolf winners are exemplars who broaden our vision of race and diversity,” said Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who chairs the jury. “This year, there is exceptional writing about the war in Iraq, slavery on a Kentucky pig farm, the Filipino experience in the U.S., and the complexity of families in which a child is radically different from parents.”

Gates directs the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, where he is also the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor. He praised the singular achievement of Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian whose writing won a Nobel prize in 1986, three years after he won an Anisfield-Wolf award for his memoir, Ake: The Years of Childhood.

Cleveland Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Ronald B. Richard said this year’s winners reflect founder Edith Anisfield Wolf’s belief in the unifying power of the written word.

“The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards rose from the philanthropic vision of one woman who realized that literature could advance the ongoing dialogue about race, culture, ethnicity, and our shared humanity,” Richard said.

The Anisfield-Wolf winners will be honored in Cleveland Sept. 12 at a ceremony at the Ohio Theatre hosted by the Cleveland Foundation and emceed by Jury Chair Gates. Stay tuned this week as we profile each of our 2013 winners. 

Laird HuntKevin PowersEugene GloriaAndrew Solomon