We have cancelled the March 30 reading by Peter Ho Davies and announcement of our 2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards winners, in keeping with the precautions at all Ohio libraries due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Please stay tuned for an online announcement March 30 of the new class of recipients.
We thank our partner, the Cuyahoga County Public Library, and all those who made plans to join us in person. We encourage you to mark your calendars for 6 p.m. Thursday October 1 at the Connor Palace Theater of Playhouse Square for the awards ceremony, which will anchor the fifth annual Cleveland Book Week, beginning September 27 and running through October 3.
Novelist Peter Ho Davies, who won the 2017 Anisfield-Wolf award for fiction, returns to Cleveland March 30 to announce our class of 2020 winners.
Davies will speak at the Parma-Snow branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library at 7 p.m. to read from “The Fortunes,” his sprawling novel exploring American history through a Chinese American lens.
In four linked sections, Davies 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. Anisfield-Wolf juror Joyce Carol Oates called it a “prophetic work, with passages here of surpassing beauty.”
Davies will end the program with the announcement of our 2020 winners, followed by a book signing. Books will be available to purchase on site.
The University of Michigan professor follows former winners Jericho Brown (2015, poetry) and Marlon James (2015, fiction), who returned to Cleveland in 2019 and 2018, respectively, to make the new winner announcement.
The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.
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.
Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) riders can now enjoy an even closer view of world-class art inspired by the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards cannon as Phase II of INTER|URBAN was unveiled as part of Cleveland Book Week 2018.
Completed ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the first phase of INTER|URBAN included murals, photographs and installations along the train tracks of the RTA’s Red Line, which connects downtown Cleveland with Hopkins International Airport to the west, and University Circle to the east.
This second phase of the project brings the art onboard the train cars, giving riders a more intimate and prolonged interaction with the art. We’re proud to have supported INTER|URBAN, a collaboration between the RTA, LAND Studio, and the Cleveland Foundation.
For Phase II, 25 artists – most of whom call Northeast Ohio home – were chosen from more than 200 applicants to create works inspired by five Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners: The Negro Speaks of Rivers, by Langston Hughes; The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson; The Fortunes, by Peter Ho Davies; Far From the Tree, by Andrew Solomon and The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, by Lillian Faderman. Their art has been installed on 25 Red Line train cars.
If you haven’t already, we encourage you to ride the Red Line and experience INTER|URBAN for yourself. Learn more about the project in this short film, which premiered to the audience at the 83rd Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Ceremony on September 27:
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.
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.
Peter Ho Davies – a gracious, wise and observant British-born fiction writer – welcomed a question about the title of his most recent work, “The Fortunes.” It won both the Chautauqua Prize and an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award this year.
Tentatively called “Tell it Slant,” a reference both to Emily Dickenson and a racial slur against Asians, the edgy title pleased both Davies and his editor. But it gave a large book chain pause. And Davies realized its tone fit just one of the four chapters – short stories in a way – that compose his novel.
Davies, clearly attuned to nuance, told an appreciative crowd at the Chautauqua Institute that he understood the booksellers’ reservations. But he is also intrigued by the phenomena of groups reclaiming labels originally meant to denigrate – “queer” in the LGBTQ vernacular, “suffragette” among feminists and sometimes the N-word among African Americans.
And the June U.S. Supreme Court decision greenlighting the use of “The Slants” as the trademark name for an Asian-American band fits into this language-subverting vein, noted the University of Michigan professor.
“The Fortunes,” Davies said, is a good titular fit: “It captures the Chinese interest in luck and it touches on questions of fate. It is plural, which reflects multiple characters, and it gestures at that most Chinese-American of tokens, the fortune cookie.”
Davies, 50, spent a week at Lake Chautauqua with his wife, novelist Lynne Raughley, and son Owen, to celebrate “The Fortunes” as the sixth winner of The Chautauqua Prize. It recognizes a book annually that contributes to literature and is a pleasure to read.
In four linked sections, “The Fortunes” considers a valet in the 1860s California Gold Rush, the actress Anna May Wong during the 1930s, the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin by a disgruntled Detroit autoworker, and the adoption of a Chinese daughter by contemporary American parents. Each protagonist is a fictional version of a historical figure, including the half-Chinese adoptive father, who has a cluster of characteristics in common with Davies himself.
“The book is an immigrant narrative caught up in an obsession of mine: identity,” said the author, whose dentist mother was Malaysian Chinese and father was a Welsh engineer.
“How do we find ways to get beneath the skin of history to tell someone’s story?” he asked. “I was lucky to come across a reference to a Chinese manservant to Charles Crocker, a baron of the Central Pacific Railroad often credited with bringing in Chinese to build the railroads. His servant, a valet I imagine, is Ah Ling, someone I think of as Asian Zero. And Ling becomes the first example of that problematic category: the model minority.”
Ah Ling came to stand for the burden of racial representation, Davies said, which led him to the famously beautiful actress Anna May Wong. The song “These Foolish Things” was written for her by one of her lovers.
“She’s famous for being Chinese but she is limited in the roles she can depict because she can’t kiss on screen. It is against the anti-miscegenation laws,” Davies explained. And once a white man was cast as the lead in film version of Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth,” it meant Anna May Wong could not play the role many considered her destiny: O-lan.
The third section of “The Fortunes” ponders the beating death of Vincent Chin, adopted from Hong Kong and mistaken for Japanese by a drunk Detroit autoworker angry over the 1982 economic downturn. Chin, 27, was buried on what was to have been his wedding day.
“We’ve all done this. I’ve done this. It can have comedic implications,” Davies said of mistaken identity among Asians. A reader once approached Davies to inquire if he was the Japanese novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who in turn was once asked if he was Jackie Chan.
In the final story, the act of adoption brings identify formation to the fore. “The book is hybrid in its form and is about people who are hybrid in their identities,” Davies said. Although he didn’t start intending it, form serves content.
Because everyone has multiple identities, people — especially of mixed race — must wrestle with authenticity: “Who am I? How do others seem me?”
Humor, a Davies trademark, helps a reader navigate weighty topics such as race. The interplay, he believes, lets in some light.
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.”