2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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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 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. 

Black History Month is but one period out of the year where we focus on the accomplishments and contributions of those of the African Diaspora. We believe that the world is a richer place when we celebrate our rich cultural diversity, as evidenced by our dedication to selecting books that contribute to the dialogue. It’s hard for us to select our favorite books out of the Anisfield-Wolf library, so instead we will choose books that give great insight into the triumphs and challenges of African Americans. Share this list with your colleagues, friends, children and neighbors. 

Taylor Branch (2007 winner)

Parting the Waters: America In The King Years, 1954-63
Pillar of Fire: America In The King Years, 1963-65
At Canaan’s Edge: America In The King Years, 1965-68

Isabel Wilkerson (2011 winner)

The Warmth of Other Suns

Annette Gordon-Reed (2009 winner) 

The Hemingses of Monticello

Geoffrey C. Ward (2005 winner) 

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

David Levering Lewis (2001 winner) 

W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963

Arnold Rampersad (1987 winner) 

The Life of Langston Hughes

Tell us – which of these books have you already read? Which would you recommend? 

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.