As our profile begins to grow as a book award, from time to time we like to recognize some of the beautiful writing others have done on our behalf. Barbara Hoffert, past president of the National Book Critics Circle, authored an elegant write-up about this year’s winners for the Library Journal, aptly titled, “Celebrate the Past, Look to the Future.”
Since their founding in 1935 by Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf to honor books that confront racism and celebrate diversity, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards have called out major writers to us, among them Nadine Gordimer, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison, Wole Soyinka, and Derek Walcott—generally before they became Nobel Laureates….
From Israel to the Caribbean, Chechnya to the boxing rings of Jim Crow America—the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards have come far from Edith Anisfield Wolf’s Cleveland. But in spirit they are right at home.
Several years ago, Clevelander Anne Trubek attended the Anisfield-Wolf ceremony with an interest in hearing that year’s crop of winners speak. As she left, she realized that she had been exposed to one of Cleveland’s best kept cultural secrets.
The writer-in-residence at Oberlin College, author and literary critic tucked her experience in her back pocket and went on to co-edit Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology. The idea was to share Cleveland stories that only Clevelanders could tell. After a huge response, Trubek’s format morphed into another repository for Cleveland stories — Belt magazine.
“I want Belt to tell some of the many amazing Cleveland stories that have not yet been told,” she said. “The Anisfield-Wolf Awards is one example. I decided, sometime in May, that it would be the first story.”
Trubek assigned the story to Kent State journalism professor Jacqueline Marino, who reported extensively to uncover the award’s history and provide a glimpse into the life of Edith Anisfield-Wolf. Marino said she was surprised how low-profile the woman remains, exactly 50 years after she died.
“I had never heard of the award,” Marino said. “But once I read about the winners, the jury, and especially founder Edith Anisfield-Wolf—this intriguing character from Cleveland’s history that no one seems to know much about—I was enthralled. She and her father contributed so much to Cleveland.”
Read the Belt magazine feature on Anisfield-Wolf and let us know if you agree.