2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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In the onslaught of titles published each year, friends of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards can deploy a powerful technique to sift the wheat from the chaff: Find the new work from those writers already in the canon. Here are some gems sitting atop the 2019 pile:

“Black Leopard Red Wolf” by Marlon James

The Jamaican American novelist most celebrated for “A Brief History of Seven Killings” goes genre. Actor Michael B. Jordan bought the film rights to this epic fueled by African mythology even before it published in February. The story — the first installment of a planned trilogy — spools out in beautiful sentences that coil around a hunter named Tracker. In nonlinear flashbacks, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone to find a disappeared boy, joining forces with a giant, a buffalo, a witch, a water goddess and a shape-shifting leopard. Following the child’s scent – Tracker “has a nose” – means trekking through forest, across rivers and through magical doors, beset by fantastical creatures. Tracker, we learn, is the red wolf of the title and the facts are murky. (“Truth changes shape as the crocodile eats away at the moon.”) This bloody quest-story is no escapism. As James told the New Yorker: “The African folktale is not your refuge from skepticism. It is not here to make things easy for you, to give you faith so you don’t have to think.”

 

“Everything Inside: Stories” by Edwidge Danticat

The author of “Clare of the Sea Light” and “Brother, I’m Dying” brought out in August her first short fiction collection in more than a decade. Known for precise, pitch-perfect sentences and a gift for juxtaposition, Danticat weaves eight Haiti-influenced stories of diaspora and longing. She pairs Cindy Jimenez-Vera’s insight — “being born is the first exile” — with Nikki Giovanni’s “We love because it’s the only true adventure” to frame the urgencies of quiet lives. One belongs to Elsie, a Miami home-health care worker, whose decency is no match to the manipulations of her ex-husband and former best friend. Another centers on a New York City teacher who is cheated of a final chance to meet her father before his late-life death. The last story, “Without Inspection,” covers 6.5 seconds as a construction worker falls toward oblivion. He realizes that “whatever he wanted he could have, except what he wanted most of all, which was not to die.”

 


“The Gilded Auction Block” by Shane McCrae

Following his essential poetry collection “In the Language of My Captors,” McCrae continues his investigation of U.S. freedom and its contradictions. In 23 poems, McCrae addresses the present American moment, and in some pieces responds directly to Donald Trump. The first poem, “The President Visits the Storm” starts with an epigraph from the 45th chief executive: “What a crowd! What a turnout!” — proclaimed to victims of Hurricane Harvey. And McCrae considers how the country has turned out. A poem titled “Black Joe Arpaio” begins “America you wouldn’t pardon me.” In another, McCrae stands up the exact language Carrie Kinsey used in a 1903 letter to Theodore Roosevelt about her brother – wrongly sold into forced labor – and transforms it through ear and syntax into a searing work of art. The poet also circles back to his white supremacist grandmother in Texas “who loved me and hated everybody like me.” She and her black grandson create a knot that grief cannot untie. It is a privilege to read his reckonings now.

 

“Grand Union” by Zadie Smith

The outlandishly gifted British novelist of “White Teeth” and “On Beauty” published her first short story collection in October. In 19 tales, she wheels through a dizzying constellation of topics, tones and fonts, writing about the future and the past. A reader can enter anywhere, like her bravura “The Lazy River,” an endlessly rotating watery amusement for tourists in Spain. Elsewhere, the writer spills blood in London even as the jaunty “Escape from New York” rifts on the urban legend that Michael Jackson ferried Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando out of the smoking debris of 9/11 in a rental car. And the marvelous “Words and Music” mediates on peak musical experiences as lived by two disputatious sisters. A couple of stories are closer to fragments, but several seem destined to become classics. Smith begins and ends with two mother-daughter stories — the first bristles with alienation, the last, “Grand Union” with the transcendence of generations.

 

“I: New and Selected Poems” by Toi Derricotte

The Pittsburgh poet co-founded Cave Canem, whose motto is “a home for black poetry.” This collection serves as a profound home for 30 new pieces as well as those swept from five earlier books across a span of 50 years. The title “I” comes from Derricotte’s son and is perfect for a writer sometimes characterized as a confessional poet, one who has mined the self to grapple with gender, race, identity, sex and spirit. In “Tender” she writes: “The tenderest meat/comes from the houses/where you hear the least/squealing. The secret/is to give a little wine before killing.” The collection, dedicated in part to “the mother and fathers – Galway, Lucille, Ruth and Audre” gestures toward the poetic ancestry of Galway Kinnell, Lucille Clifton (another Anisfield-Wolf recipient), Ruth Stone and Audre Lorde. In her acknowledgements, Derricotte writes, “I am most grateful to the universe for the community of Cave Canem. We imagined a place in which black folks were safe to write the poems they needed to write.” And so she has.

“A Long Petal of the Sea” by Isabel Allende

The beloved novelist, born in Peru, raised in Chile and now a resident of northern California, writes in her acknowledgements: “This book wrote itself, as if it had been dictated to me.” Indeed, this historical fiction contains unmistakable autobiographical notes. It begins with the Republicans loss of Spain and the marriage of convenience between fighters Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera in 1938. She is pregnant with the son of his slain brother and can only leave France aboard a ship for wounded fighters if she marries him. The ship sails to Chile and their bond of expediency begins a complicated family saga that crests with the catastrophic 1973 overthrow of the democratically-elected Chilean government, just as it radically altered the author’s life. Allende knows how to spin an engrossing story and to reward her readers with a savory and satisfying surprise for the 80-year-old Victor at the end.

“The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead

The arrival of this latest novel from “The Underground Railroad” writer caused Time Magazine to enshrine him in July as “America’s Storyteller.” Seventeen years earlier, Whitehead picked up an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for “John Henry Days.” The novelist returns to U.S. history for “The Nickel Boys.” It is based on a Florida reform school, the Dozier School for Boys, that warped the lives of thousands of children for 111 years. In the fictional treatment, Elwood Curtis is derailed from his path toward college and pitched into a facility where “all the violent offenders . . . were on the staff.” Turner is wiser to the rigged game and eats soap when forced labor becomes unbearable. Whitehead doesn’t dwell in horror, instead, pervasive racism soaks the novel’s ground, so there is nowhere to stand for either boy. In prose as clear as water, Whitehead traps his reader. Undergirding it all are the unmarked graves of close to 100 Dozier boys unearthed in 2014. Finally made unforgettable.

 

“Sightseer in This Killing City” by Eugene Gloria

This is Gloria’s first book since the Manila-born Midwestern poet won his Anisfield-Wolf prize for “My Favorite Warlord” in 2013. Known for taking months, and sometimes years, on a single poem, Gloria joins Shane McCrae in pondering the contemporary American moment. Deeply attuned to heritage and displacement, the new poems continue Gloria’s preoccupation with the arrivals and departures of ordinary people. The title poem reverberates from a Dallas hospital. The other 47 in this collection are concise, erudite and plain-spoken in language enriched by Gloria’s reading across continents and centuries. He samples Stevie Wonder and Shakespeare; Baudelaire and Al Green. In “Implicit Body,” the speaker commands “Call me Mr. Gone/who’s done made/some other plans./All that remains is nostalgia/and this aching torso of blue.”

“The Tradition” by Jericho Brown 

Named to several best-of-the-year lists, this stunning collection grapples with the black body, especially the queer black body, in poems that combine bright music and “everything cut down.” Brown follows his “The New Testament,” which won an Anisfield-Wolf prize, with a meditation over 51 poems on masculinity, desire, violence and tradition: in poetry, in racism, even in the impulse to plant gardens. In the musical, compressed lines of “Dark,” Brown writes “I’m sick/of your hurting. I see that/you’re blue. You may be ugly/but that ain’t new.” The poet comes up with a new form, “the duplex,” which he designed to gut the sonnet. “The Tradition” is suffused with prickling self-knowledge, of a sense of this poet coming into his own. He addresses his own persona in “The Rabbits”: “I am tired/Of claiming beauty where/There is only truth.”

Jericho Brown recreates the cover of The Tradition. Photo by Brian Cornelius. Artwork by Lauren “Ralphi” Burgess.


The cover of Jericho Brown’s new poetry collection,
The Tradition, features a young black boy, perhaps 10 years old, surrounded in a lush field of flowers, ocean waves at his back.

It’s beauty is evident, but it intimidated Brown when he first saw it. “It’s so gorgeous and it does speak directly to the poems,” he told The Rumpus. “I kept wondering, “Are these poems good enough for this goddamn cover?”

Let that answer be an emphatic yes.

This work, stitched together over 51 poems, is a meditation on grief, violence, fatherhood, trauma, sexuality and beauty. The Tradition is his third book, the follow-up to 2014’s The New Testament, which won the Anisfield-Wolf award in poetry

For this new book, Brown laments the pain of heartbreak, family erosion, gun violence, and self-exploration. In “Riddle,” he sneers at white supremacy, evoking the wail of Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, as the vocalization of its destruction: We do not know the history/Of this nation in ourselves. We/Do not know the history of our/Selves on this planet because/We do not have to know what/We believe we own.

He plays with religion and racism in “Stake,” which begins: I am a they in most of America/Someone who feels lost in the forest/Of we, so he can’t imagine/A single tree. He can’t bear it.

In The Tradition, Brown centers what he calls “the duplex,” a new poetry form he originated that “guts the sonnet” and experiments with structure over 7 couplets, beginning and ending with the same line. The first of these poems appears in the first section and builds tension over its 14 lines:

A poem is a gesture toward home.
It makes dark demands I call my own.

Memory makes demands darker than my own:
My last love drove a burgundy car.

My first love drove a burgundy car.
He was fast and awful, tall as my father.

Steadfast and awful, my tall father
Hit hard as a hailstorm. He’d leave marks.

Light rain hits easy but leaves its own mark
Like the sound of a mother weeping again.

Like the sound of my mother weeping again,
No sound beating ends where it began.

None of the beaten end up how we began.
A poem is a gesture toward home.

“[The sonnet’s] been pushed down my throat the entirety of my life,” Brown said. “There is something in me that doesn’t like that, and doesn’t trust that, because I’m a rebellious human being. I need to be a rebellious human being because I’m black and gay in this nation and in this world which has not been good to me or anybody like me.”

Each section of The Tradition draws readers forward, hungrily. The pacing is intentional, though it’s still hard to catch your breath. It’s an intimate collection that prides itself on its vulnerability. Readers who pick up a copy will be awed, from cover to closing stanza.

Jericho Brown will announce the new class of Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners in Cleveland April 4.

The charismatic and much-lauded poet, whose “The New Testament” won an Anisfield-Wolf prize four years ago, will also read from his just-publishing work “The Tradition.” The public is welcome to join him Thursday April 4 at 7 p.m. in the South Euclid/ Lyndhurst branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.

Brown, 42, will cap the night with news of the 84th class of writers to win this year’s prize, honoring the 2018 books that best excel in confronting racism and exploring human diversity. Previous winners include Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Gunnar Myrdal, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, Marilyn Chin, Sandra Cisneros, Margot Lee Shetterly and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

The announcement will be live-streamed on the Cleveland Foundation’s Facebook page. And the new winners will be in the State Theatre of Playhouse Square at 6 p.m. Thursday, September 26 to accept their awards.

A native of Shreveport, Louisiana and an English professor at Emory University, Brown wrote the 14-line title poem to his new collection the year he was in Cleveland. Celebrated for his intense musicality, lyrical clarity and muscular impact, the poet begins “Night Shift” with “When I am touched, brushed, and measured, I think of myself/As a painting.”

There are 51 poems in “The Tradition,” published by Copper Canyon Press. Here is the title piece:

The Tradition

Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer.
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath. 
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

the-fire-this-time-9781501126345_hrThere are 108 tally marks on the cover of The Fire This Time, the new essay collection that brings forth 18 perspectives from a new generation of writers, working in the tradition of James Baldwin. Each mark represents a black life lost too soon, a visual representation of the urgency of #BlackLivesMatter.

In the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013, Jesmyn Ward went to Twitter to share her frustration, but found the platform too ephemeral. She was much more struck by the pertinence of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Ward, editor of this anthology, decided she wanted a book that “would reckon with the fire of rage and despair and fierce protective love currently sweeping through the streets and campuses of America.”

The results are mostly successful. The Fire Next Time contains a broad spectrum of essays that tackle everything from Phillis Wheatley’s mysterious marriage to Rachel Dolezal’s recent identity hoax, an engaging concoction of both the historical and contemporary. Eleven of the 18 pieces are original, with the rest published between 2014 and 2015.

The Fire This Time opens with Jericho Brown’s “The Tradition,” a 14-line poem that links the imagery of a brilliantly colorful meadow with the brutal deaths of John Crawford, Eric Garner and Mike Brown. Its early inclusion instructs us to get unsettled. (Brown won an Anisfield-Wolf book award last year for The New Testament.)

After a sturdy and moving introduction, the book falls into three parts – Legacy, Reckoning and Jubilee. In “Da Art of Storytellin’” Kiese Laymon’s fuses of his grandmother’s 30 years of hard work at a chicken processing plant with the Southern stank of Outkast’s Atlanta classics. Emily Raboteau criss-crossed four of New York’s boroughs to capture anti-police brutality murals in “Know Your Rights!” Isabel Wilkerson, who won a 2011 Anisfield-Wolf award for her Great Migration history, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” revisits 150 years of U.S. history in a slim three pages called “Where Do We Go from Here?” Her precise retelling comes with parting encouragement: “We must know deep in our bones and in our hearts that if the ancestors could survive the Middle Passage, we can survive anything.”  

Still, reading most of these essays feels heavy. The collective thesis is that Black life in America, like Claudia Rankine posits in her essay, is “the condition of mourning.” But as Ta-Nehisi Coates once wrote to his son, echoing the advice of generations before him: “That this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within all of it.”

Edwidge Danticat, who took home an Anisfield-Wolf award in 2005 for The Dew Breakers, closes the book with a powerful message to her two young daughters, born in the “Yes We Can” era of Barack Obama’s first presidential run. Danticat, born in Haiti and raised partly in New York, offers a view of refugee status — a position held both by immigrants and some U.S. citizens: “The message we always heard from those who were meant to protect us: that we should either die or go somewhere else.”

Still, Danticat fortifies her daughters against this, encouraging them to seek joy: “When that day of jubilee finally arrives, all of us will be there with you, walking, heads held high, crowns a-glitter, because we do have a right to be here.”

 

National Poetry Month, celebrated every April for the past 20 years, became a little less abstract for Cleveland students this spring. This year the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards embedded local graduate students in two Cleveland-area elementary schools and a community center for an eight-week poetry residency.

Ryan Lind, Ali McClain, Karly Milvet, and Amanda Stovicek — all students in the NEOMFA creative writing consortium — drew inspiration from the Anisfield-Wolf canon in crafting their lessons, sampling Toni Morrison, Lucille Clifton and Langston Hughes, as well as recent winners Adrian Matejka and Jericho Brown.

Stovicek taught fourth and fifth-graders at Urban Community School, her second experience in the classroom with younger students. “One student wrote, ‘Sometimes it feels like the last bee in the hive and the last one to get honey.’ What a startling wonderful poetic connection. The voices of these children are just waiting to be heard.”

McClain, an MFA student and director of the Sisterhood program at West Side Community House, used the residency to help her students discuss race, gender, violence and trauma through a poet’s lens. “The Sisterhood girls responded to poetry the same way most students respond to something new — with hesitancy and curiosity,” McClain recalled. “But by the time our second session took place the girls were approaching me with poems they wrote on their own time. I wasn’t shocked because I know that this is what poetry does — it pulls people in.”

A Greenview Upper Elementary school student recites his poem at the April poetry slam.
A Greenview Upper Elementary school student recites his poem at the April poetry slam as his student-teacher Karly Milvet looks on.

Lind and Milvet used Lucille Clifton’s “Won’t You Celebrate With Me” and George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From” to engage their Greenview Upper Elementary students in a lesson on identity and origin. “One of my favorite lessons,” Milvet said, “and the students’ too, was Langston Hughes ‘Hey!’ and ‘Hey! Hey!’ because they got to explore repetition and rhythm and colloquialism. Overall, I think we succeeded in making poetry accessible and fun.”

Lind agreed: “I love the calm moment that follows our group activities when individuals start grinding out their own work, raising their hands with pride with each interesting word or phrase.”

To cap the enriching experience, students at all three locations were invited to perform in a poetry slam at Urban Community School on Cleveland’s west side.

One by one students filed onto the stage to recite their poetry. Students from Greenview Upper Elementary wore sunglasses as they shared their work, and fourth-graders from Urban Community donned their “Word Nerd” shirts from Kent State’s Wick Poetry Center.

Several students recited their remixed version of “Won’t You Celebrate With Me” into their own odes of lip balm, basketball championships, and school awards. In his version, Brandon Johnson, of Greenview, mused about winning a character award: “When I get it/It will be because of my hard work/So let me get started/today.”

“Sometimes my heart feels like a baseball thrown into the air/Sometimes my heart is hoping for a scarf against the cold,” Lily Tidrick of Urban Community School wrote in “My Heart.”

“It snows ten times a day/And you make it feel like 100 degrees,” Shantrel Anthony, a student from the West Side Community House, wrote in her poem, “Miracle.

Awards manager Karen R. Long envisioned the partnership as a potent artistic brew. “What better way to pass 80 years of the Anisfield-Wolf tradition to two generations simultaneously?” Long said. “Our marvelous MFA graduate students amplified their commitment to literature all spring by introducing grade school children to poetry via their own voices.”

The parents in the audience were moved by the hard work of their children. “Wick Poetry Center assistant director Nicole Robinson overheard one parent exclaim about their child: ‘I had no idea he could write!'” Long said. “That is a magical discovery.”

Listen to three of the students as they recite their poetry. 

Brandon Johnson, “Won’t You Celebrate With Me”

Lily Tidrick, “My Heart”

Beyonce Smith, “Characterize”

When Jericho Brown won his Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, he spoke of his awe of Langston Hughes, calling his discovery of Hughes’ poems in a Louisiana public library the equivalent of falling in love.

He also reminded the audience at Playhouse Square that Hughes was still a teenager, newly graduated from Central High School in Cleveland in 1920, when he wrote The Negro Speaks of Rivers. “Every time I think of an 18-year-old writing a poem that great,” Brown deadpanned, “I really hate Langston Hughes.”

Now Brown has returned to this “first poet” in his pantheon, publishing an evocative, moving post “To Be Asked for A Kiss” on the Poetry Foundation web site.

Suicide’s Note
          by Langston Hughes

The calm,
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss

Brown ponders Hughes’ 14 words, written sometime before he was 24; the poet’s lifelong preoccupation with rivers and the meanings of suicide – as both noun and verb – in the single tercet, and in Brown’s own life, and the lives of young, gay black men.

In introducing Brown to Cleveland in September, Dr. Henry Louis Gates praised the Emory University professor, saying that the jury singled him out “for his penetrating and elegant portrayal of the complexity of human identity in a digital, multicultural universe, generally, and more specifically, the complexity of black identity, encompassing the multiple and competing claims and denials of African American masculinity and personhood.”

Brown’s most recent essay makes the case for Langston Hughes’ poetry as a wellspring of that masculinity and personhood. He makes the case – with a poem called Suicide’s Note – for Hughes’ immortality.

“My idols sat around and read my book, y’all,” Jericho Brown remarked from the podium at the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony. Moments later he launched into “Labor,” a piece featured in his 2014 collection, The New Testament

As is our tradition, we caught up with Brown in a few quiet moments before this year’s ceremony to hear his thoughts on being honored with the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for poetry:

Jericho Brown, 2015 Anisfield-Wolf award winner for poetry from Anisfield Wolf on Vimeo.

 

Poet Jericho Brown, winner of an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award this year, has written a 14-line poem that begins with the names of flowers and concludes with the names of men.  He calls it “The Tradition.”  Brown notes, “The poet’s relationship to language and form is an addiction where what’s past is present, a video on loop. Not watching won’t make what that video says about our future go away.”

He made this observation to accompany “The Tradition” as the American Academy of Poets sent it to some 300,000 readers August 7, part of its “Poem a Day” project, which has been distributing poetry digitally since 2006.

A native of Louisiana and  a professor of English at Emory University, Brown will accept his Anisfield-Wolf prize in Cleveland next month for his second collection, “The New Testament.” He will read at Trinity Cathedral at 7 p.m. Wednesday September 9. The gathering in the nave is free and the public is welcome.

The Tradition

Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer.
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath.
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

Anisfield-Wolf award winners are—almost by definition—civic minded.

They continue a generous tradition of adding extra public conversations each September in Cleveland. For those readers whose schedules don’t allow them to attend the awards ceremony or who want more than one chance to hear these gifted writers, here are the details:

marilyn chin book cover

Poet Marilyn Chin, a professor at San Diego State University, will read and discuss her work in Hard Love Province.  She will appear alongside John Carroll University’s Phil Metres, whose recent book, Sand Opera, has also drawn national honors. Both writers ponder identity, culture and Diaspora. They will appear at noon Wednesday, September 9 in the atrium of MOCA Cleveland, 11400 Euclid Ave.

dunn book cover

 

 

Historian Richard S. Dunn will give a multi-media presentation on his landmark book, A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia at 5 p.m. Wednesday September 9 at the Baker-Nord Center of Case Western Reserve University.  Dunn spent more than four decades researching thousands of individuals over three generations, yielding ground-breaking insights into daily plantation life.

jericho brown book cover

Poet Jericho Brown will read from his second book, The New Testament, at 7 p.m. Wednesday September 9 in the nave of Trinity Cathedral, 2230 Euclid Ave. in downtown Cleveland.  This will be the first sacred setting for Brown’s musical poems.  Brews and Prose is co-sponsoring this reading and the noon appearance of Chin and Metres.

marlon james

Novelist Marlon James will speak about his life and work at the City Club of Cleveland at noon Friday September 11.  HBO optioned his Anisfield-Wolf winning book, A Brief History of Seven Killings, in April.  James will take a sabbatical this upcoming academic year from teaching at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., to write the screenplay.

The first three events are free. Registration is requested for the Dunn presentation. Those keen to hear Marlon James at the City Club should buy a lunch ticket or tune into the broadcast on WCPN 90.3 FM.

“I want to hear you say there should be peaceful protests, not violent protests, in the tradition of Martin Luther King,” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer lectured community activist Deray McKesson in a now infamous four-minute interview.

“You are suggesting that broken windows are worse than broken spines,” McKesson answered, contrasting property damage with the injuries that killed Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody.

Jericho Brown, winner of an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award this year, recoiled at Blitzer’s distortion of King and decided to say so. His essay, “How Not to Interview Black People About Police Brutality,” is posted on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog.

The Cleveland Foundation today announced the winners of its 80th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. The 2015 recipients of the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity are:

Jericho Brown, The New Testament, Poetry
Marilyn Chin, Hard Love Province, Poetry
David Brion Davis, Lifetime Achievement
Richard S. Dunn, A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia, Nonfiction
Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings, Fiction

“The new Anisfield-Wolf winners heighten our perceptions on race and diversity,” said Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who chairs the jury. “This year, we honor ground-breaking research into the lives of specific families enslaved on two New World plantations, a tour-de-force fictional portrayal of Jamaica spun in multiple voices, poetry from both coasts that is erotic and grave, and the indispensable, morally towering scholarship of David Brion Davis.”

Gates directs the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, where he is also the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor. He praised David Brion Davis as a foundational scholar whose Problem of Slavery trilogy is an essential work on the cultural, political and intellectual history of Western slavery and abolition. Joining Gates in selecting the winners each year are poet Rita Dove, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, psychologist Steven Pinker and historian Simon Schama.

Cleveland Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Ronn Richard said the breadth of topics taken up by this year’s winners is gratifying, and reflects founder and donor Edith Anisfield Wolf’s belief in the power of the written word to elevate and enlighten.

“The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards rose from the philanthropic vision of one woman who realized that literature could advance our thinking and beliefs about race, culture, ethnicity, and our shared humanity,” Richard said. “We are proud to showcase books that are beautifully written and enhance the urgent, national – and local – conversations around race and cultural difference.”

Past winners include four writers who went on to win Nobel prizes – Nadine Gordimer, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Toni Morrison and Wole Soyinka.

Meet Our 2015 Winners

 

jericho brown book cover

 Jericho BrownThe New Testament, Poetry 

In the language of the blues and the Bible, poet Jericho Brown crafts 40 poems for The New Testament, a meditation on race, masculinity and gay sexuality. Anisfield Wolf juror Rita Dove calls this book “a reminder that outrage is a seductive disease — we would rather rage or weep than find a way to love in spite of the pain. Brown’s poems brim with love for this damaged world without letting the world off the hook.” And poet Rae Armantrout adds her praise, noting: “Like the other new testament, it’s about what love can do.” Brown teaches creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta.

marilyn chin book cover

Marilyn ChinHard Love Province, Poetry

Hard Love Province is the fourth collection of poetry from Marilyn Chin, whose book mourns the loss of a beloved in a world that seems inured to suffering. “In these sad and beautiful poems, a withering portrayal of our global ‘society’ emerges – from Buddha to Allah, Mongols to Bethesda boys, Humvee to war horse, Dachau to West Darfu, Irrawaddy River to San Diego,” observes Dove. Among the 23 poems are One Child Has Brown Eyes and Black President. Adrienne Rich described Chin’s work as “powerful, uncompromised and unerring.” Born in Hong Kong, Chin is a professor at San Diego State University.

marlon james

Marlon JamesA Brief History of Seven Killings, Fiction

In scalding yet musical language, A Brief History of Seven Killings hinges on the true 1976 attempt to assassinate reggae legend Bob Marley. Novelist Marlon James just calls him The Singer, and sets this character among a pinwheel of voices: CIA agents, child gangsters, a Rolling Stone reporter, drug dealers, corrupt politicians and a woman seriously diverted by one night with the musician. Anisfield-Wolf juror Joyce Carol Oates praised the “superb risk-taking” of James, whose story brims with profanity, violence, dialect, tenderness and cruelty. James teaches at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

dunn book cover

 Richard S. DunnA Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia, Nonfiction

More than 40 years in the making, A Tale of Two Plantations is a scrupulous, revelatory archival investigation of some 2,000 people enslaved across three generations: roughly half on a Jamaican sugar plantation called Mesopotamia, and half on Mount Airy, a Virginia tidewater plantation growing tobacco and grain. Richard S. Dunn, a University of Pennsylvania historian, uses his findings to ask about enslaved motherhood, the effects of interracial sex on the meaning of family and how individuals fared upon emancipation. Oates calls the book magisterial, noting, “It is refreshing to encounter a historian who doesn’t include a forced conclusion.”

davis book cover

 David Brion Davis, Lifetime Achievement

David Brion Davis is a preeminent American historian whose 1967 book, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, earned an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. It anchors a groundbreaking trilogy that culminated last year in The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation, which in March won the National Book Critics Circle award. Harvard University President Drew Gilpin writes that Davis’ influence is deep, having changed “traditional approaches to intellectual history by embedding ideas in social and political action and institutions.” Born in Denver in 1927, Davis is an Army veteran who retired from Yale University in 2001. He lives in Connecticut.