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.

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.

Later that day, 2002 Anisfield-Wolf fiction winner Colson Whitehead, who won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for The Underground Railroad, kicked off the William N. Skirball Writers Center Stage series at the Maltz Performing Arts Center.

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.

by Charles Ellenbogen

This Anisfield-Wolf award winner is absolutely stunning.

From its riveting opening pages until the truth of its conclusion, Karan Mahajan takes us through a stunning story of small bombs, both the ones used by terrorists and the ones encountered in everyday life. I think what’s new here is that Mahajan, as the perfectly designed cover demonstrates, connects the bombs in ways we rarely get access to, let alone appreciate.

What’s also new and both bold and necessary is that Mahajan takes us inside the lives of these terrorists. He accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of making us, if not like them, then at least understand them, both on a personal and political level. It is in these sections that he asks the most difficult and urgent questions, and I hope Anisfield-Wolf plans to host some conversations about this book even before the author arrives in Cleveland for this year’s awards ceremony. (You must know that sensation of having finished a book and looking around immediately thinking, “Who else has finished it? I must talk to someone about this book. Now!”)

And please don’t think that Mahajan lets anyone in this story elude his hard questions. There are no angels in India, either.

In my enthusiasm for the content of the book, I don’t want to neglect Mahajan’s writing. He has passages, some as short as a phrase and others as long as several pages, that are just breathtaking in their precision and use of language. Unless I am teaching a novel, I rarely read with a pencil in hand. This time I did and my annotations and exclamation points fill this book.

The only fault with this book is mine. I know so little about India. It is not necessary to have much background knowledge to immerse yourself in this book, but I would love a suggestion of something to read to give me that background knowledge so I can appreciate it on another level when I return to it.

Charles Ellenbogen teaches English at John F. Kennedy – Eagle Academy in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

The Cleveland Foundation today announced the winners of its 82nd Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. The 2017 recipients of the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity are:

Isabel Allende, Lifetime Achievement
Peter Ho Davies, The Fortunes, Fiction
Tyehimba Jess, Olio, Poetry
Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs, Fiction
Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures, Nonfiction

“The new Anisfield-Wolf winners broaden our insights on race and diversity,” said Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who chairs the jury. “This year, we honor a breakthrough history of black women mathematicians powering NASA, a riveting novel of the Asian American experience, a mesmerizing, poetic exploration of forgotten black musical performance and a spellbinding story of violence and its consequences. All is capped by the lifetime achievement of Isabel Allende, an unparalleled writer and philanthropist.”

Dr. Gates directs the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, where he is also the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor. Joining him in selecting the winners each year are poet Rita Dove, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, psychologist Steven Pinker and historian Simon Schama.

The Anisfield-Wolf winners will be honored Sept. 7 at the State Theatre in Cleveland, hosted by the Cleveland Foundation and emceed by Jury Chair Gates. The ceremony will be part of Cleveland Book Week. Join our mailing list to be the first to know when the free tickets are available.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is considered the most widely-read author writing in Spanish, having sold more than 67 million books. Born in 1942 in Lima, Peru, to Chilean parents, Allende burst onto the literary scene in 1982 with The House of the Spirits, which began as a letter to her dying grandfather. She starts each new book on the date of that letter, January 8. A feminist and philanthropist, Allende memorialized her daughter in the acclaimed nonfiction work Paula. More than 3.5 million have watched her TED Talk on leading a passionate life. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Allende the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

FICTION: Peter Ho Davies, The Fortunes

Peter Ho Davies sees his innovative novel The Fortunes as “examining the burdens, limitations and absurdities of Asian stereotypes.” Anisfield-Wolf juror Joyce Carol Oates calls it a “prophetic work, with passages here of surpassing beauty.” In four linked sections, The Fortunes explores the California Gold Rush, actress Anna May Wong, the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin by a disgruntled Detroit autoworker and the contemporary adoption of a Chinese daughter by American parents. Davies, a University of Michigan professor, is drawn to how we construct our identities.

POETRY: Tyehimba Jess, Olio

Tyehimba Jess put eight years into the creation of his second book, Olio, itself a physical work of art that imagines and reclaims lost African-American performances from the Civil War until World War I. A native of Detroit, Jess graduated from the University of Chicago and New York University. He is an alumni of Chicago’s Green Mill Slam Team. Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove declared herself wowed by “this roller-coaster mélange of poetry, anecdote, songs, interviews and transcripts” code-switching its way through the briar patch of American history. Jess is a professor at the College of Staten Island.

FICTION: Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs

Karan Mahajan took an incident from his New Delhi boyhood, when a car bomb exploded in 1996 in a marketplace near his home, as a spark for his second novel, The Association of Small Bombs. It tells of three boys caught in the blast, only one of whom survives. In a brilliant study of violence and its aftermath, Mahajan examines Punjabi society, Hindu and Muslim antagonism and the sometimes comic expression of human grievances. Anisfield-Wolf juror Simon Schama called the novel “a brilliant explosion of a book, essaying a totally original style — antic, dynamic and unrelentingly gripping.”

NONFICTION: Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures

Margot Lee Shetterly saw her first book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, become a juggernaut atop the bestseller lists. Simultaneously, the film version enjoyed critical acclaim and a robust box office. The writer, on a 2010 visit to her hometown of Hampton, Va., realized the stories of four local workers at NASA — Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Christine Darden — deserved telling. Shetterly conducted hundreds of interviews and read thousands of documents to accurately depict her protagonists. Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove called it “a riveting, important work.”