The fifth annual literary celebration returns this year from Sept. 29-Oct. 4, and will celebrate our 2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards winners, while broadening our reach into film and podcasts. The week will be anchored by a one-hour documentary featuring a visit to the hometowns of historian Eric Foner, poet Ilya Kaminsky, scholar Charles King and novelist Namwali Serpell, replacing our annual awards ceremony.
Mark your calendar now for these engaging events and more as the calendar evolves with further details.
Tuesday, September 29-October 4 AW + CIFF Streams
Viewers will have the opportunity to stream free Cleveland International Film Festival documentaries, all with an Anisfield-Wolfian flavor. Coupled with each film will be an in-depth interview with the director, hosted by Cleveland State University professor Eric Siler.
Our 2020 winner for poetry Ilya Kaminsky and Cuyahoga Community College Professor Alexandria Romanovich will bring “Deaf Republic” to this international gathering, discussing Kaminsky’s political poetry.
Thursday, October 1 Global Cleveland Sister Cities Conference Our 2020 winner for fiction Namwali Serpell and Baldwin-Wallace Professor Chisomo Selemani will discuss “The Old Drift” and Zambia at this international gathering.
Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards 2020 Enjoy this reimagined ceremony turned documentary, at 8 p.m. on WVIZ/ideastream. Featuring Anisfield-Wolf jury chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. and each of our 2020 winners in their hometowns.
Our 2020 lifetime achievement award winner Eric Foner will speak in a virtual City Club of Cleveland Friday Forum. He will discuss his most recent book, “The Second Founding,” the Reconstruction Era, and the contemporary struggle for freedom and equality.
In this multi-day writers’ conference, now in its third year, literary creatives from Cleveland, Northeast Ohio, and throughout the Great Lakes will gather to learn from and network with influential publishing industry professionals from hubs including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Novelist Tommy Orange, cast in the warm glow of the lights at St. John Episcopal Church, brought his Anisfield-Wolf award-winning debut, “There There” to Northeast Ohio for Cleveland Book Week.
The evening’s reading melded some new writing from Orange about fathers and sons playing basketball with dancers and drummers from the Lake Erie Native American Council, who performed traditional powwow dances and a drum circle. Their music and movement gave attendees a taste of the book, which follows twelve urban Native characters in advance of a fictious Oakland Coliseum powwow. More than 80 percent of indigenous Americans live outside reservations.
“I very much wanted to write about the place I grew up,” Orange told the packed crowd. “I love Oakland. There’s ten million New York novels and there’s very few Oakland-specific novels and I definitely wanted to contribute in that way.”
Orange was born in Oakland in 1982 to a white mother and Native father and is an enrolled member the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. Growing up, he struggled with identity and embedded pieces of that discernment into each of the characters in “There There.”
“It was really important to me that the Native communities, especially the Oakland one, that people wouldn’t think that what I wrote was untrue to their experience,” Orange said. “Markedly, there’s so much joy [from Native communities] in feeling like they’re in a book, in a way that feels like ‘now,’ like it hasn’t been represented enough.”
Watch the full event below and make plans to join us next year for Cleveland Book Week 2020.
With the William G. Mather steamship providing a nautical backdrop, poet Tracy K. Smith brought her work to the shores of Northeast Ohio as part of the 2019 Cleveland Book Week festivities.
The 2019 Anisfield-Wolf winner for poetry opened her reading with a few selections from “Wade in the Water,” her 2018 award-winning collection. She began “The Everlasting Self,” a short meditative poem on identity and legacy, before segueing into “Declaration,” an erasure poem taken directly from the Declaration of Independence. “Please speak to me,” she recalled asking of the document. “Please show me something I haven’t already seen.”
Later in the reading, she explained the significance of the title poem, which came to her during a visit to a small Georgia town. A woman, part of the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, approached Smith and greeted her with an “I love you.”
“That felt like the most beautiful gift that someone could chose to give,” Smith said. ‘I see you. You are meaningful. I don’t know you but yet I love you.'”
During her just-finished two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate, she strove to bring poetry to rural communities, appearing in Alaska, South Dakota and Maine, popping up in rehabilitation centers, libraries, prisons and community gathering spots.
“I wanted to get off the beaten path but I also felt like this is a moment in America where all we’re inundated with is ideas of division,” Smith told the crowd on the harbor. “I knew that poetry could help get past that narrative. Because poems make you stop and pay really close attention. ‘Someone else is speaking here’ and it feels like it matters…And it gave me so much hope about America at a time when very little else did.”
Currently, Smith is the host of The Slowdown, a bite-size poetry podcast that delivers five-minute episodes every weekday. She is also a professor of creative writing at Princeton University.
Watch her full remarks below and make plans to join us in 2020 for Cleveland Book Week.
For the past decade, Northeast Ohioans gathered for the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremonies have celebrated a young poet alongside the winning authors. This year Logan Greer, 10, a fifth grader at Campus International School, set the tone with her poem, “City of Growing Up.” She wrote these lines in the spring of 2019 during a class exercise with teaching artist Nicole Robinson. Logan took her inspiration from “Ash” by Tracy K. Smith. Campus International is part of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
City of Growing Up
City of pleasant party people City with gangs City with learning City before cruelness before being anxious City that believes in God City like a flower growing in the ground City trotting around Lake Erie City paralyzed from moving City with depression City examining the streets City of a long road that I walk down City with my family City of angry people fighting to live City of the taste of my grandma’s macaroni A city of my life
Watch her recite it below and leave a comment for Logan. We’ll make sure she sees it.
Poet Sonia Sanchez launched Cleveland Book Week 2019 with a rousing, reflective performance at Kent State University, as part of the 50th anniversary May 4 commemoration events.
Sanchez began the evening with “A Poem of Praise,” accompanied by a reflection on Kent State students who were killed and wounded by the National Guard during the campus demonstration in 1970, chanting each by name.
As one of the architects of the Black Arts Movement, Sanchez, 85, has written more than a dozen poetry books, several plays and essays, experimenting with musicality in the written word. She’s also spent more than 40 years in the classroom, a pioneer of black studies and women’s studies on college campuses. For these contributions, she’ll be honored on Thursday night with the 2019 Anisfield-Wolf lifetime achievement prize.
Throughout the evening, Sanchez anchored her talk with the theme of activism, urging the students to be politically active, to push the conversation forward around income inequality and climate change. “I can’t give you any easy answers but you’ve got to face this world with a very brave face, with a face that says, ‘I want to live,'” she said. “The only way to do that is to struggle and fight. Not wars, but fight against the greed in this country.”
Watch her full remarks below and make plans to join us for the remaining Cleveland Book Week events. All events are open to the public. See the full schedule and make reservations here.
Margo Hudson, a Clevelander who won the National Learner Award in Dallas two years ago, reflected recently on how “literacy turned chaos into opportunity.”
Her remarks kicked off the 2018 edition of Cleveland Book Week and attracted an early morning crowd to the East Cleveland Public Library under the banner of Creative Mornings – Cleveland.
After 11 years spent sitting for six tests, Hudson earned her GED – a fortitude reflected in her erect posture, elegant up-do and patience with audience questions. She said Seeds of Literacy provided the format — one-on-one tutoring — that allowed her to learn best.
“Literacy has made my life limitless,” said Hudson, who now tutors in math. “I am a different person, with a different life now. I am always learning. I am always looking for what’s next. I know I have more to offer now, and I am looking for the chance to do that.”
Jo Steigerwald, Seeds development director, said her literacy nonprofit serves about 1,000 adult learners each year. Eighty-four percent live in poverty, which is unsurprising, she said, because literacy is tightly linked to economic outcomes. She called low-literacy a quiet crisis that impedes two-thirds of city residents.
Here is Margo Hudson’s full speech:
Good morning! My name is Margo Hudson.
I am a graduate of Seeds of Literacy, a basic education and High School Equivalency prep program for adults in Cleveland, Ohio.
Today, I am honored to share my story of how literacy turned chaos into opportunity.
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. I had a hard childhood, with abuse in the home. I left home when I was 16. I didn’t finish the 9th grade, or high school. I went right to work.
I had a lot of jobs, but none of them paid very well. I worked in nursing homes, fast food restaurants, as a home health aide and a housecleaner.
By the time I was in my 40s, I was working at the airport, cleaning airplanes. It was hard work. You were out in the elements and had to work fast, cleaning planes between flights.
I wanted something else, but I didn’t think I had anything to offer anyone. I didn’t have my GED. I didn’t have much self-confidence. I cleaned airplanes, and didn’t think I had anything in common with people who were flying on those planes. I never stood out.
I didn’t feel good about myself and was going through depression. I thought to myself, “I’ve got to do something with my life.”
I wanted to get my GED and check that off my list. I had tried programs before, but I didn’t finish. I came to Seeds of Literacy because it had one to one tutoring. I was determined that this time would be different.
I worked on my GED for 11 years at Seeds. I studied every chance I got: on my lunch break, 15-minute break, while waiting on my ride. On the bus, in the doctor’s office. I didn’t give up. During the time I was working on my GED at Seeds, I got a better job working in the President’s Club at the airport.
I took the GED 6 times before I passed. I will never forget the phone call from Chris at Seeds, telling me that I passed.
And my life changed at that moment. I didn’t know it at the time, but my life would never be the same. I thought I would be proud to finish the GED and get it off my plate. I would have never imagined what would happen next.
I started to read more. I started to think I had something to offer others. I had more self-confidence. I started volunteering at Seeds. I thought I could help with filing, but they asked me to tutor! So for the past 6 years, I’ve been tutoring students twice a week, on my days off. My specialty is fractions.
I had always wanted to play music, so I started taking keyboard lessons and practicing every day. I learned to make candy, knit ruffly scarves, and duct tape crafts. I kept learning new things.
I started talking to my customers at the Club. I felt that I had something to share. We talked about books we read, and our families, and I shared my story with them. Many of my customers are in business and government, and I would have never thought I had things in common with them. But I do.
In 2016, I won the National Learner of the Year Award. I attended a conference in Dallas to accept the award and participate in workshops. Governor Kasich gave me the Courage Award, and I was invited to lead the pledge of allegiance at a session of the Republican National Convention here in Cleveland.
I was named one of Cleveland’s Most Interesting People in 2017 by Cleveland Magazine. The Cleveland Foundation chose me as one of Cleveland’s Place Makers this year, and I am so honored to be a part of Creative Mornings today!
Best of all, I am now a literacy ambassador. Over the past two and a half years, I have shared the story about how education changed my life with people at homeless shelters, recovery programs, health fairs, back to school events, library programs, Senators and Congresspeople. I want to give back to the community, and I can do that by sharing my passion about literacy and how the GED changed my life. I am blessed to be out talking to people.
I would never have imagined doing these things before I got my GED. I see opportunities now that I didn’t before. When we feel shy or afraid, we miss opportunities, and the chance to share ourselves.
As Mel Robbins says in The Five Second Rule, “At any age, and with any goal, we have the power to own ourselves. Look inside, take a step and try something to change your life.”
Literacy has made my life limitless. I am a different person, with a different life now. I am always learning. I am always looking for what’s next. I know I have more to offer now, and I am looking for the chance to do that.
You know, whatever happened in our lives, we cannot go back. We are here now, and this is what we have to work with. It’s hard sometimes. You have to want it, and work at it. We need to continuously work on ourselves. We should be a different person than we were last month, or last week, or even yesterday.
I learned these lessons through improving my literacy skills. We can all learn. We can all change. My advice for dreamers is to go for it. Surround yourself with quality people to see what’s possible. It can be hard work and you need to be disciplined and persistent.
You might not get perfect, but you will get better!
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.
“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.”
“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.
At the tail end of Cleveland Book Week, Adam Sockel and Jill Grunenwald, hosts of the “Professional Book Nerds” podcast, interviewed Karan Mahajan, our 2017 co-winner for fiction. Their conversation centered on Mahajan’s award-winning “The Association of Small Bombs,” the difficulties of writing about terrorism, and the proliferation of books on the subject after 9/11.
The podcast is a production of OverDrive, the leading app for eBooks and audiobooks available through public libraries and schools, headquartered in Cleveland. In the weekly podcast, hosts Sockel and Grunenwald chat about the best books they’ve read, give personalized recommendations, and share about upcoming releases across genres.
Dive into their 30-minute conversation with Mahajan here below.
One idea to make the morning commute more bearable for Clevelanders? Add a bit of poetry.
That theory was tested this past September as local poets from Twelve Literary and Performative Arts set up shop on RTA platforms across the city to perform samples from Anisfield Wolf authors for the duration of Cleveland Book Week.
“There’s such a difference between reading a text and hearing it performed—we wanted to capture the emotion within the literature in a way that made it accessible and real,” said Tiffany Graham, project director for LAND Studio.
Take a peek at this four-minute video, produced by LAND Studio, that is guaranteed to put you on the ground, in the poetry, and in the mood for more:
During Cleveland Book Week, the incomparable Isabel Allende joked at age 75 about her new boyfriend, and about her approach to literature:
“I’ve been writing for 35 years and I have no idea how I do it. I don’t have an idea of what the book is about until it’s published and I read the reviews,” she quipped in a talk on life and literature at the City Club of Cleveland.
She begins each book on January 8, commemorating the day she sat down at her kitchen table — a stymied 40-year-old exile — to begin a letter to her century-old grandfather. That letter poured out of her until it became The House of the Spirits, which launched Allende onto a global stage. It led to her being named this year’s Anisfield-Wolf recipient for lifetime achievement.
“Having a sacred day to start is like magic,” the Chilean-American woman said. “What began as superstition is now like discipline.” Her next novel, In the Midst of Winter, goes on sale October 31.
View her talk in full below and join our mailing list to be among the first to hear the lineup for Cleveland Book Week 2018.
Tyehimba Jess came home to Karamu House to lift up “Olio,” his magnificently engineered collection of poems that explore black voices in the decades from Civil War times to the start of World War I. Many of the poems can be read from back to front, at a slant and via every other line, in a welter of sense-making and sensibility.
A sold-out crowd flocked to the historic theater during Cleveland Book Week to hear Jess showcase the historic voices that flow through every page of “Olio,” which won both an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. He used a screen projector to show how the works unfold multiple meanings in varied directions.
As preamble, two artists from Twelve Literary and Performative Arts — Mary Barrett and Damien McClendon — recited their explosive original work, while Daniel Gray-Kontar opted for a nontraditional introduction to Jess, performing pieces from Jess’ first poetry collection, “Leadbelly,” with backing from the jazz band MOSHURO. Sponsor Lydia Munell of Brews + Prose praised the vitality of hearing poems in a cathedral, in a museum, at a boxing ring, at Karamu and in a planetarium – all sites where Anisfield-Wolf and her organization have collaborated.
“One thing I’m going to come back with is Cleveland knows how to throw a party,” Jess said. “Y’all know how to get down.”
View the event in full below and join our mailing list to be among the first to hear the lineup for Cleveland Book Week 2018.
Hundreds of Cleveland students joined author Margot Lee Shetterly at Cleveland State University in early September for a student-centric discussion of “Hidden Figures,” which took home the 2017 Anisfield-Wolf prize for nonfiction.
The gathering began with an original, soul-stirring interpretation of “Hidden Figures” in dance from the Tri-C Creative Arts Dance Academy. High school students, most enrolled in the Cleveland School of the Arts, performed “Hidden,” a vibrant period piece, choreographed by Terence Greene.
Shetterly then came onto the stage, thanking the students for carrying the work forward in a fresh medium. Three Cleveland Metropolitan School District high schoolers — Natalie Parsons, Kymari Williams and Darell Cannon — interviewed the author, probing on her advice, and her inspiration: “I wanted to give [the women of ‘Hidden Figures’] a star turn…for them to be as fully realized as stories we get about presidents and other famous people in history…I wanted that portrayal for these women and for myself and by extension the rest of us.”
John Hay High School graduate and Howard freshman Zephaniah Galloway closed out the program, reciting her 2017 “Stop the Hate” Maltz Foundation prize-winning essay.
Watch the event below — including the full performance of “Hidden” — and join our mailing list to be among the first to hear the lineup for Cleveland Book Week 2018.
Last week we celebrated Cleveland Book Week, a series of book and literacy-themed events surrounding the 82nd annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. From September 5-9, community events across Greater Cleveland honored this year’s Anisfield-Wolf winners and celebrated all things literary in our community.
Sept. 5 – We kicked Book Week off with a launch celebration on Public Square, featuring free children’s and young adult books from the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, free ice cream from Mitchell’s, and live music from Roots of American Music. The event showcased reading and literacy-focused nonprofit organizations serving Greater Clevelanders.
Also that day, residents enjoyed free admission – including two free screenings of “Hidden Figures” – at the Great Lakes Science Center and the “See Me” Zine Fest at MetroHealth!
Sept. 6 – Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards 2017 fiction winner Peter Ho Davies discussed his groundbreaking book The Fortunes to a crowd at Case Western Reserve University’s Baker-Nord Center. That same day, Davies was announced as a finalist for this year’s Dayton Literary Peace Prize.
Sept. 7 – The 82nd annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony drew a record crowd of more than 1,200 to the State Theatre at Playhouse Square to celebrate this year’s winners: Isabel Allende, Peter Ho Davies, Tyehimba Jess, Karan Mahajan and Margot Lee Shetterly. In case you missed it – or simply want to relive it – you can watch the entire ceremony here:
Sept. 8 – More than 750 Cleveland Metropolitan School District students joined 2017 Anisfield-Wolf nonfiction winner Margot Lee Shetterly at Cleveland State University to hear about Shetterly’s research and writing of Hidden Figures. The event featured a performance of Hidden by the Tri-C Creative Arts Dance Academy, and every student in the audience received a copy of Shetterly’s book.
2017 Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement winner Isabel Allende spoke to a sold-out crowd at The City Club of Cleveland over lunch. The novelist, feminist and philanthropist talked about her life, work and politics, and took questions from the audience.
The Professional Book Nerds podcast welcomed a live audience at the Cuyahoga County Public Library South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch to hear 2017 Anisfield-Wolf fiction winner Karan Mahajan talk about his novel The Association of Small Bombs, named by The New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2016.
Brews & Prose and Twelve Literary and Performative Arts hosted an evening of music, poetry and history at Karamu House to celebrate this year’s Anisfield-Wolf poetry winner Tyehimba Jess. Another sold-out crowd flocked to this event to hear Jess perform poetry from his book Olio, accompanied by improvisation from local musicians.
Sept. 9 – Cleveland Book Week wrapped up with weekend events including BOUND: Art Book + Zine Fair at MOCA Cleveland and The Cleveland Flea: Cleveland Book Week edition, celebrating readers, writers, the art of bookmaking and more!
Thank you to all of our Cleveland Book Week partners, and the many Greater Clevelanders who attended Cleveland Book Week events! Be the first to know about Cleveland Book Week 2018 events and tickets by signing up to receive email updates here.
Each time poet and Akron native Rita Dove speaks in Northeast Ohio, she begins with an acknowledgement of home. Her trip to Cleveland this past September was particularly rich in the significance of place.
“It’s been like one huge family reunion,” she said, smiling wide at the audience assembled at the Maltz Performing Arts Center on the Case Western Reserve University campus.
More than 600 people sat entranced for “An Evening With Rita Dove and Friends,” a celebration of the Anisfield-Wolf juror’s three decades of literary prominence. One of them was Harvard Sociologist Orlando Patterson, who said the following evening, “Last night I witnessed the extraordinary cultural presence of black America in our cultural life as I sat with the largest and most integrated audience I have ever seen, listening in rapt attention and near reverence to Rita Dove reading her glorious American poems.”
The evening of verse commemorated the 30th anniversary of “Thomas & Beaulah,” Dove’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, and this year’s publication of her “Collected Poems.” At 64, Dove has said the new anthology felt like “a tombstone,” but that she has come to appreciate having her best poems in one volume.
Dave Lucas, co-founder of Brews + Prose, emceed the evening, cautioning against viewing the evening as a respective. “I think I can speak for all of us when I say, thank you Rita, but we are greedy for much much more.”
Poet Toi Derricotte, who won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for “The Black Notebooks” in 1998, made the trek from Pittsburgh to introduce her friend, sampling and relishing her verse. As the capper, Lucas presented his mentor with a paper bouquet of flowers, carefully constructed from a copy of “Thomas and Beulah.”
“It must have been so difficult to destroy a book, I hope,” Dove remarked as she admired the token, “but it’s so beautiful.”