On March 24, two maestros of fiction – Esi Edugyan (Washington Black) and John Edgar Wideman (American Histories) – will join poet Rita Dove to discuss how their historically-attuned writings pierce the legacies of racism. Dove, an Anisfield-Wolf juror and the University of Virginia Commonwealth Professor of English, will moderate.
She also led the inaugural Anisfield-Wolf panel at the Virginia festival, which movingly addressed the response of artists to racial violence, particularly the white supremacist mayhem in Charlottesville in August 2017. Anisfield-Wolf winners of that year – Tyehimba Jess, Peter Ho Davies, Margot Lee Shetterly, plus Dove – spoke to the urgent need to tell a complete American story, as Shetterly stressed, and to acknowledge that racism had shed blood on every particle of American soil, as Jess observed.
Davies noted that all of their Anisfield-Wolf winning books might be called by Shetterly’s title, “Hidden Figures,” as each of the writers excavated stories less told.
“An ethos of both mischief and deep truth-telling animates Washington Black and American Histories,”notes Karen R. Long, manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. “It thrills me to have the chance to read and listen to three of the English-speaking world’s most talented writers: Edugyan with her genre-bending exploration of 19th-century slavery, exploration and freedom and Wideman with his latest collection of short stories, which start by inviting readers to eavesdrop on a conversation between John Brown and Frederick Douglass. And I suspect we may hear a poem from Professor Dove too.”
Their session is called “A World Built on Bondage: Racism and Human Diversity in Award-Winning Fiction.” The trio will take a multi-generational view on the stage of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 24. (Novelist Kevin Powers is no longer able to participate.)
Wideman won the Anisfield-Wolf lifetime achievement prize in 2011, four years before the MacArthur Foundation recognized him with a “genius” grant. Edugyan received the A-W award for fiction in 2012 for Half Blood Blues, a story of intrigue set among American jazz musicians in Berlin before and after WW II. It was a Man Booker prize finalist.
This program, which welcomes audience questions, will be free and open to the public.
Coming off a successful year of literary prizes, three of the 2017 recipients of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards will reconvene for a closing panel session at the Virginia Festival of the Book.
Peter Ho Davies, author of The Fortunes and recipient of the 2017 Chautauqua Prize;
Tyehimba Jess, author of Olio and recipient of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and
Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race and winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction.
They will be joined by jury member Rita Dove, who will share their writing and insights about race and culture, with particular focus on the August 2017 events that took place in Charlottesville:
This conversation, titled “Writing the American Story: Diverse Voices in Distinguished Books,” will take place at a public program on Sunday, March 25, 2018, at 3:00 PM at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The program will feature a discussion of their work, reflections on obstacles to racial justice, and writing that helps make the American story a complete story.
“The Virginia Festival of the Book’s reputation in the literary community is par excellence, and we are honored to
join the 2018 program,” said Karen R. Long, manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, which are presented by
the Cleveland Foundation. “The Nazi violence in Charlottesville last August shocked the nation, and the Anisfield-
Wolf canon – exemplary books addressing racism and diversity — is pertinent to the work ahead for all of us. This
makes the Anisfield-Wolf panel a natural fit for the Festival, one we welcome.”
“Writing the American Story” is the official closing program of the Festival, and seeks to support and celebrate diversity while working towards understanding the invasive and structural roots of racism. This program will be free and open to the public. Following the discussion, speakers will welcome audience questions.
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.
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.
Peter Ho Davies
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.
Margot Lee Shetterly
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Attendees at the Cleveland Foundation’s annual meeting May 10 got a colorful taste of literature in motion. The Tri-C Creative Arts Dance Academy previewed their work, “Hidden,” a vibrant period piece inspired by Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures,” our 2017 Anisfield-Wolf Award winner for nonfiction.
Now this coming Friday and Saturday, the academy will present their 2017 Spring Dance Concert, performing “Hidden” in its entirety.
The Creative Arts Dance Academy is a year-round dance program for students ages 4 – 17, and it’s quickly becoming a premier center for dance education in Greater Cleveland. The Cleveland Foundation, our parent organization, supported the expansion of the dance academy’s programming with a $300,000 grant earlier this year.
This weekend’s performances begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Tri-C Theatre (11000 Pleasant Valley Rd, Cleveland, Ohio 44130). Tickets are $20 presale and $25 on the day of the performance. Details and tickets are available here.
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.”
Seven years ago, Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly discovered a great untold story in her own hometown.
Shetterly, 47, grew up in Hampton, Virginia surrounded by “extraordinary ordinary people,” men and women who toiled daily at NASA’s Langley Research Center, including her own father. But it wasn’t until a holiday visit when her husband asked a question—prompting her father’s story about the black women who calculated the trajectories of the first orbital space flight—that the gravitas really sunk in.
“These women’s lives intersected so many of the signature moments of what we call the American century,” Shetterly noted, “so why has it taken decades for us to tell their story?”
Flanked by colorful NASA backdrops and a full off-white astronaut’s suit, Shetterly shared her “aha moment” in front of a record-breaking crowd at Case Western Reserve University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. convocation. Several schools bused in students. NASA employees milled around the lobby, passing out literature about other “hidden figures” and giving stickers to young people in attendance.
The four women at the center of Hidden Figureswere NASA mathematicians who broke barriers—”intrepid women of science who also saw themselves as instruments of social change,” Shetterly said. “They exemplified your MLK theme this year of hope and solidarity.” Dorothy Vaughan was the first black supervisor in NASA history, heading up a team of “human computers.” Katherine Johnson worked with the Space Task Group, calculating the launch of astronaut John Glenn’s first orbit around the Earth, while Mary Jackson integrated the University of Virginia to become NASA’s first black aeronautical engineer. Christine Darden became one of the leading experts on sonic boom research.
“It was very important to me that ‘American Dream’ be in the subtitle of this book,” Shetterly declared. “And the most important scene for me in the movie was the first one, where a little black girl in big glasses — like me — is standing at the blackboard factoring quadratic equations.”
As Shetterly dug into the research, the number of women who had worked at NASA began to rise exponentially. “A thousand women working as professional mathematicians, getting up and going to work at NASA, every day for decades,” she said. “Why didn’t we turn them into professional role models and use them to pull generations of young people, particularly young women, into science careers?”
Johnson, as a black woman born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, had just a two percent chance of finishing high school and a life expectancy of 35. Today, she is a lucid 98-year-old. “These women had excellent educations at HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges & Universities],” the author said, “and when the doors opened, they were as prepared as well as anyone.”
Shetterly, herself comfortable with calculations, landed in the financial sector after graduating from the University of Virginia, working at investment banks J.P Morgan and Merrill Lynch, before switching gears to publishing. In 2005, she moved to Mexico City with her husband Aran, where they spent 11 years publishing an independent magazine, Inside Mexico.
Shetterly sold the Hidden Figures book proposal to William Morrow in 2014, and received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to support the research. Almost immediately, Hollywood came calling. Within months, she was working as an historical consultant on the film adaptation before her book was even finished. It landed in theaters this winter and, to date, Shetterly has watched the movie six times and counting.
“I’m thrilled with how it translates to the screen,” she said, beaming. Academy voters agree with her — the adaptation has been nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture.
So why did these black women remain in the shadows? Part of it was the classified nature of the work, Shetterly conceded. But the most egregious reason was the unrelenting segregation of the workplace itself, with separate offices, bathrooms and lunchrooms. The human computers wore skirts and heels every day, “their hedge against being mistaken for the cafeteria worker or the cleaning lady.”
Sexism also played its part. Computing was considered women’s work, Shetterly said, and defined as sub-professional. It often meant women solved the same problems and carried the same workload as their male counterparts, but were relegated to less pay, prestige and credit: “If today’s America gets a case of double vision when trying to focus its gaze on a black female mathematician or scientist, just think of the blind spot these women existed in sixty years ago.”
Of the four women Shetterly featured in the book, Johnson and Darden are still alive. Last May, NASA honored Johnson’s three-decade career with a new 40,000-square-foot Langley research facility named for her. “I have always done my best,” she said at the ceremony. “At the time it was just another day’s work.”