2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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Sixty-six writers and artists – including seven Anisfield-Wolf recipients and two jury members – wrote an open letter to President Donald Trump asking him to desist from broadly banning travel to the United States by people from seven predominately Muslim countries. The letter, sponsored by PEN America, is timed to influence the president before he issues a second version of his original, sweeping travel ban, which is now stayed by the U.S. District Court of Appeals.

“Preventing international artists from contributing to American cultural life will not make America safer, and will damage its international prestige and influence,” wrote the signatories, who include poet Rita Dove and historian Simon Schama, panelists on the five-member Anisfield-Wolf jury.

The letter continues: “Arts and culture have the power to enable people to see beyond their differences. Creativity is an antidote to isolationism, paranoia, misunderstanding, and violent intolerance. In the countries most affected by the immigration ban, it is writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers who are often at the vanguard in the fights against oppression and terror. Should it interrupt the ability of artists to travel, perform, and collaborate, such an Executive Order will aid those who would silence essential voices and exacerbate the hatreds that fuel global conflict.”

Anisfield-Wolf novelists who put their name to the letter include Chimamanda Adichie, Sandra Cisneros, Nicole Krauss, Chang-rae Lee and Zadie Smith. Nonfiction honorees include philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and Andrew Solomon, president of PEN America.

“As writers and artists, we join PEN America in calling on you to rescind your Executive Order of January 27, 2017, and refrain from introducing any alternative measure that similarly impairs freedom of movement and the global exchange of arts and ideas,” they write.

Five winners of the Anisfield-Wolf Book award in fiction are standing up to publicly, “as a matter of conscience, oppose, unequivocally, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the Presidency of the United States.”

They join Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove and more than 400 writers who list eight reasons to decry Trump’s candidacy, published as an open letter on LitHub.

The novelists include this year’s winner Mary Morris (The Jazz Palace), as well as Junot Diaz (The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior), Nicole Krauss (Great House) and Anthony Marra (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena).

“Because American history, despite periods of nativism and bigotry, has from the first been a grand experiment in bringing people of different backgrounds together, not pitting them against one another,” states the open letter as grounds for resisting Trump’s candidacy.

Those signing include the classicist Daniel Mendelsohn, the “Dear Sugar” advice columnist Cheryl Strayed and Cleveland poet Philip Metres.

The letter’s final justification states “Because the rise of a political candidate who deliberately appeals to the basest and most violent elements in society, who encourages aggression among his followers, shouts down opponents, intimidates dissenters, and denigrates women and minorities, demands, from each of us, an immediate and forceful response.”

Lyz Lenz, an Iowa blogger about parenting and pregnancy, contributed an essay, posted on Lithub alongside the open letter, suggesting that William Faulkner was prescient in creating the corrupt character Flem Snopes. Her essay is subtitled “On William Faulkner, White Trash, and 400 Years of Class War.”

“America is burning,” she writes. “You might not see the flames, but you can smell the smoke. And we’ve been set on fire by one man – Donald Trump, a Flem Snopes of our modern-era.”

It’s always a question of whether the story will come when a writer sits down to begin a work and for Nicole Krauss, it’s always a mystery. In an interview with Interview magazine, she talks about her strengths as a writer:

Part of the work of writing a novel is to uncover these symmetries or connections that make it whole, which might not reveal itself at first. I have a very strong sense of architecture in my novels. But, yes, at first it’s sometimes like it’s like building a doorknob before you have a door, and a door before you have a room.

When asked about her writing process for Great House, she admits that this is her favorite part of her job:

On different days I would work on different sections and sometimes I would get really absorbed into one voice and I would write that for some months, come to a close, and then open another back up again. What interests me very much as a writer is the ability for writing to have our lives to be occupied so vividly by others. I think that’s what we long for as writers and that’s the unique thing that literature provides: To be able to step so fully into another situation and condition.

Read the rest of the interview here, under A Conversation.

“I have to care so much about something if I’m going to sit and write about for a couple of years. There’s enough books in the world already, there’s no reason to make another one. Unless there’s a feeling that’s incredibly pressing. That’s the reason why you write.”

Nicole Krauss sits down in this brief interview with the Sundance Channel to discuss what commonalities exist between her characters and why she, and other writers, feels the pull to write.

Each week, we’ll be helping you to get to know our winners better (what a great bunch they are) and highlighting the best of their work, interviews and essays. This week we’ll be focusing on Nicole Krauss, 2011 winner for fiction. 

Even some of the most celebrated writers of our time struggle with doubt from time to time. How do they know if their work will resonate with readers? Do they aim for writing an award-winning book each time they sit in front of the keyboard or do they just wish for an authentic voice or story to guide them to completion? Nicole Krauss, author of three novels and a National Book Award finalist, wrote an unflinchingly honest essay on her story writing process and whether she ever feels a story will be successful as soon as she starts:

I begin my novels without ideas. I don’t have a plot, or themes, or a sense of the book’s form. Often I don’t even have a specific character in mind. I begin with a single sentence of no great importance; it almost certainly will be thrown away later. To that sentence I add another, and then another. A little riff emerges. If it’s going well–and it’s hard for me to say exactly what going well means, beyond the writing feeling authentic enough not to require immediate erasure–I’ll continue this sort of aimless unspooling. If I’m lucky, as the paragraphs accumulate, a compelling voice will emerge. Though often I will write twenty or thirty pages before I realize that in fact the voice lacks what might be called the “Pinocchio” element: the chance of becoming truly alive and “real.”

It’s unnerving not to know what I’m writing, or why, or where it will go. Scary, even, as time passes, and more and more work accumulates without an accompanying sense of clarity. A hundred or even two hundred pages in, and I am more lost than ever.I find myself worrying constantly that the work will fail. In my last novel, The History of Love, the potential of that failure became, itself, a theme of the novel–one of the main characters, Leo Gursky, is a failed writer.

Great House is my third novel, and so when I began it I already had some sense of what my writing process would be like. Yet my uncertainty was more acute than ever. The starting points I chose, which I knew would have to converge and cohere, were almost impossibly remote from one another. From out of all the early writing, four voices emerged, each with its own story: an American writer, Nadia, who has been writing for twenty-seven years at a desk she inherited from a Chilean poet who later disappeared; an overbearing Israeli father addressing his estranged son who has returned home after decades abroad; a retired Oxford don, who, in the final years of his wife’s life, discovers a secret she kept from him all their marriage; and a young American woman who tells the story of a Hungarian antiques dealer and his two adult children, whom she comes to live with in a darkly magical Victorian house in London. I had four different paths, and all I knew was that 1) I wanted to understand who these people were and what had made them that way, and 2) woven together, their stories could make a solid and intricate whole, that their juxtaposition would reveal patterns, and form a complete architecture–even, or especially, if I couldn’t anticipate that architecture. I was building a house–a city–without a blueprint.

Read the rest of the essay here in the essay, On Doubt.

‎Because it is more appealing to hear from the authors themselves, we’ve rounded up some of the best quotes we’ve heard this year (even if they’re a bit older) from some of our distinguished Anisfield-Wolf Award winners. Enjoy!

Ernest J. Gaines

“I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be.”

— Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying

Toni Morrison

‎”At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”

— Toni Morrison

Nam Le

‎”Art, after all, is – at its best – a lie that tells us the truth.”

— Nam Le

Elizabeth Alexander

‎”Poetry is what you find / in the dirt in the corner, / overhear on the bus, God / in the details, the only way / to get from here to there.”

— Elizabeth Alexander, Ars Poetica #100: I Believe

Nicole Krauss

“One of the things I love about writing novels is that you realize that you’re not all that interested in the bottom. You’re more interested in things that are bottomless. You become fascinated by the questions, and the answers to those questions are secondary, if they become important at all.”

— Nicole Krauss

Langston Hughes

“An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.”

— Langston Hughes

2011 Anisfield-Wolf Award winner Nicole Krauss, honored for her 2010 novel Great House, was selected as one of 12 honorees of USA Network’s Character Approved award. Here she speaks in this short clip about her approach to writing and how she doesn’t view it as simply putting words to paper, but rather, it’s more like architecture.

Good evening. I’m Ronn Richard, president and CEO of the Cleveland Foundation. It’s my great pleasure to welcome you to the 76th annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony.

I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to see a full house for our opening night here in Playhouse Square.We will always think back upon our years at the Cleveland Play House with nostalgia. But the change in venue didn’t slow demand for almost 1,000 tickets, most of which were snapped up the first week. That’s a testament to the respect this prize commands – and to you. Never let it be said that any group anywhere can out-read Clevelanders!

I want to extend a special greeting to our internet audience. We’re streaming our ceremony live, thanks to a collaboration between Playhouse Square and Ideastream.The webcast will be posted on our retooled website, www.Anisfield-Wolf.org, which I urge you to check out. Also be sure to visit our new Twitter feed, YouTube channel, and Facebook page. I think you’ll be amazed at what you see.

The revamped site is a bookworm’s delight. You’ll find information on every winning title and author dating back to the first award in 1936. You’ll be able to access data you could never get before. If you want to know which winners have Pulitzer prizes or MacArthur fellowships, it’s right there at your fingertips.On our new blog, you can submit questions and comments as well. Whatever you want to do, it’s easy. We’re very excited about this upgrade, and we think you will be, too.

Introduction of Poet

For the last three years, we’ve celebrated not only our winning authors, but also an emerging young poet from our own backyard. This recent tradition continues tonight with Essence Cain, a sixth-grade student at Miller South School for Visual and Performing Arts, just down the road in Akron.

Essence will recite a poem she and her classmates wrote for “Speak Peace,”an international youth arts program created by Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center. American children in the program wrote poems in response to paintings created by Vietnamese children.

You’ll see tonight’s poem and the painting that inspired it on the screen behind us. They’re part of an exhibit currently touring the United States. It’s my pleasure to present Essence Cain with “In the Flower Market.”

Thank you, Essence. Your parents, Terri and Doran, and your mentor, Nicole Robinson, are here tonight, and I’m pretty sure you’ve made them the proudest people in the room. Please join me in another round of applause for Essence and for the classmates she so ably represents.

Introductory Remarks

We gather here tonight, just days after the 10-year remembrance of one of the most villainous crimes in recent history, perpetrated against our nation and humanity – a mass murder that wiped out almost 3,000 innocent lives in less than two hours. I’m sure that for you as for me, the commemorative events of recent days reawakened the shock and horror we all felt as the smoke and debris from the collapsed Twin Towers blotted out the sun on what had begun as a picture-perfect day.

Back then, as details of the hijackers and their plot emerged, a simple question formed in our minds: How could anyone hate that much? Regrettably, the years since have shown that the hijackers and their co-conspirators had no monopoly on hatred.

Think about it: On September 10, 2001 – when most Americans had yet to become acquainted with Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden – could any of us have foreseen the intensity of anti-Islamic sentiment that we struggle with to this day?

The bitter fruit of this harvest of hate is all around us. On this side of the Atlantic, it surfaces whenever some publicity-driven zealot threatens to burn the Koran, or some shameless politician spews sinister warnings of a stealth campaign to establish an Islamic Republic of America. Meanwhile, across Europe, violence flares. It would be far too simplistic to blame this summer’s street riots in Britain on multiculturalism, as some have done.

But few would argue that immigration has stoked popular fears and strident political rhetoric aimed at Muslims in particular. Bigotry and intolerance poison our airwaves. Each day, we’re bombarded with decidedly uncivil discourse that seeks to divide and discriminate according to race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, political affiliation, even physical and cognitive ability.

These are the human rights issues of our time, here and now. We can trace their evolution through the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. In earlier decades, the winning titles dealt largely with racial injustice and anti-Semitism in America and Europe – topics that will never lose their relevance.  But in the last 15 years – and post-9-11 in particular – new voices have joined the chorus. They bring different experiences and perspectives that mirror the diversity of today’s global society. Thus, we get glimpses of the world through the eyes of immigrant and first-generation authors who trace their ancestry to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Pakistan, Vietnam, Somalia, and Nigeria.

I think this inclusiveness would please Edith Anisfield Wolf. Edith loved literature, and she saw it as a catalyst to spark dialogue, which she believed was essential to bridging distrust and misunderstanding. In our contentious society, where opposing sides compete to shout each other down, Edith inspires us with her quiet, steadfast belief in the power of the written word to help shape a better world.

Taylor Branch, winner of an Anisfield-Wolf prize and a lifetime achievement award, put it far more eloquently than I could when he said, and I quote: “The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards … summon minds and hearts to ponder the relationship of human beings to those perceived as ‘the other.’ No purpose opens such vast heartache, and abiding hope, in the cause of democratic justice for our world.”

Edith’s vision endures. Now, it’s up to us to confront the prejudices that define our own times. Whether the current controversy is about the siting of a mosque, the accessibility of a public venue, a promotion denied due to sexual orientation, or yet another throwback to Jim Crow, the question our inner voice should be posing is: “Where is the Edith in me?”

Introduction of Guests and Winners

Before yielding the podium, I’d like to recognize a few special guests.

I’d like to salute Charles Bolton, the deeply dedicated chair of the Cleveland Foundation’s Board of Directors, and all current and past board members who are here tonight. Please stand and accept the community’s thanks for your outstanding service.

Finally, I have the great honor of sharing the stage with one of Cleveland’s leading ladies, in every sense of the phrase: Dee Perry, senior host and producer of WCPN’s daily magazine talk show, “Around Noon.” If you’ve spent any time around Cleveland, you know Dee. Her soothing voice has graced the local broadcasting scene since 1976. She’s made her radio home at WCPN, Cleveland’s public radio station, since 1989. Radio isn’t her only medium. Dee also hosts and produces “Applause,” the weekly arts and culture series on WVIZ/PBS.

Yesterday, we learned that our Anisfield-Wolf jury chair, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University, was ill and would be unable to travel here to serve as our emcee, a role he has filled the past eight years. We needed a pro, and we needed one now. We immediately thought of Dee, who has long been a rock-solid supporter of this event. She graciously agreed to step in – and added that she was thrilled to have the opportunity. Dee, we are just as thrilled to have you up here. Welcome to the Anisfield-Wolf stage, and thank you.

Earlier this year, Dr. Gates and four nationally renowned jurors reviewed more than 200 submitted works before selecting just four that they deemed worthy of the prize. Tonight, we will listen to and celebrate the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf honorees:

Our lifetime achievement award goes to author John Edgar Wideman, whose body of work includes:

Now, here to tell you more about tonight’s winners, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in greeting tonight’s emcee, Dee Perry.

Acknowledgments

Thank you, Dee. To all six of our 2011 honorees, thank you for inspiring us with the beauty of your language, the rigor of your research, and your commitment to your craft. You’ve given us an unforgettable evening. I think our jury has outdone itself again. In addition to Skip Gates, this amazing group includes Rita Dove, Joyce Carol Oates, Steven Pinker, and Simon Schama. Our thanks to them for helping us sustain the legacy of a cherished daughter of Cleveland: Edith Anisfield Wolf.

I also want to acknowledge Mary Louise Hahn, the prime mover behind this event. Each year, she brings her passion for literature, her deep knowledge of the prize’s heritage, and her delightful sense of humor to steer us to safe harbor. Mary Louise, please stand and be recognized. Mary Louise would be the first to say she gets by with a little help from her friends. Thanks to the Cleveland Foundation board and staff, with a special nod to Cindy Schulz, Elizabeth McIntyre, and Terry Pederson of our Public Affairs team.

We’re fortunate to partner with some first-class organizations that have rallied around this event. To begin, many thanks to Playhouse Square for accommodating us this evening. We value our close tie with the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University, where David Eltis and David Richardson lectured yesterday. Afterward, the center hosted a reception for them and for Lisa Nielson, the first Anisfield-Wolf/SAGES fellow, who will lead several classes dedicated to issues of race and diversity. Welcome to Cleveland, Lisa. We’re so pleased to have you here. For many years, we’ve enjoyed strong support from the Cuyahoga County Public Library and the Cleveland Public Library, which houses the complete collection of Anisfield-Wolf winners. A Cultural Exchange is our hard-working, award-winning book sale partner.

I hope you caught our honorees today on Ideastream. Our nonfiction winners were hosted by Mike McIntyre on “The Sound of Ideas.” Our fiction winners and John Edgar Wideman were guests on “Around Noon” with none other than Dee Perry. The community interaction continues at noon tomorrow when Isabel Wilkerson – whose book made President Obama’s vacation reading list – will speak at the Cleveland City Club’s renowned Friday forum.

Presentation of Prizes

Now, it’s my pleasant duty to present our honorees with their 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. In addition to a monetary stipend, each winner receives a signature glasswork hand-crafted exclusively for the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards by the artisans of Streets of Manhattan, a creative glass studio in Cleveland. Our winners’ glass mementos reflect the colors of their book jackets.

Please stand for a final round of applause as our honorees receive their prizes.Thank you for being here tonight. We hope to see you again next year. Please travel safely.

CLEVELAND, Ohio (April 12, 2011) – The Cleveland Foundation today announced the winners of the 76th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards www.Anisfield-Wolf.org

They are:

  • Nicole Krauss, Great House, Fiction
  • Mary Helen Stefaniak, The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia, Fiction
  • David Eltis/David Richardson, Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Nonfiction
  • Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns, Nonfiction
  • John Edgar Wideman, Lifetime Achievement

“The 2011 Anisfield-Wolf winners are notable for the unique way each author addresses the complex issues of race and cultural diversity,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, who serves as jury chair. “The books and authors honored this year stand out, not only for their creative and wide-ranging approach to difficult subject matter, but also for their underlying faith in our shared humanity.”

“Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf created this book prize more than 75 years ago because of her conviction that the issue of race was the most critical dilemma facing the United States. It was her fervent desire to break down stereotypes and encourage civil discourse so that future generations would be more appreciative of human diversity,” said Cleveland Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Ronald B. Richard. “This prize remains a fitting testimony to the vision of a woman truly ahead of her time.”

About the Anisfield-Wolf Prize

The Anisfield-Wolf winners will be honored in Cleveland on September 15 at a ceremony hosted by the Cleveland Foundation and emceed by Jury Chair Gates. Rita Dove, Joyce Carol Oates, Steven Pinker and Simon Schama also served on the jury. The Cleveland Foundation has administered the book awards since 1963, upon the death of its creator, Edith Anisfield Wolf. The Anisfield-Wolf prize remains the only juried American literary competition devoted to recognizing books that have made an important contribution to society’s understanding of racism and the diversity of human cultures.

About the Cleveland Foundation

Established in 1914, the Cleveland Foundation is the world’s first community foundation and the nation’s second-largest today, with assets of $1.87 billion and 2010 grants of nearly $85 million. The foundation improves the lives of Greater Clevelanders by building community endowment, addressing needs through grantmaking, and providing leadership on vital issues. Currently the foundation proactively directs two-thirds of its flexible grant dollars to the community’s greatest needs: economic transformation, public education reform, human services and youth development, neighborhoods, and arts advancement.

For more information on the Cleveland Foundation, visit www.ClevelandFoundation.org.