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.

Riders heading to downtown Cleveland on the RTA’s Red Line may have noticed quite a few more pops of color adorning the city landscape over the past two weeks. The colors have a story, and each story comes from a work or writer in the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award canon.

Inter|Urban, the collaboration among the City of Cleveland, the Cleveland Foundation, North East Ohio Area Coordinating Agency, RTA and LAND studio, has filled the 19-mile stretch from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and into downtown Cleveland with bright, vibrant murals. Coming up in time for the Republican National Convention in July will be two photo installations. All the art is inspired by Anisfield-Wolf texts and writers.

Seventeen artists from around the world converged on Cleveland in June for a public art blitz, creating an outdoor gallery and anchoring installations at the airport and Terminal Tower. Eight artists are based in Cleveland, with the others representing South Africa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Hawaii, and Florida.

“This marvelous project moves the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards out into the city, showcased through original art spaced along the everyday paths of thousands of commuters,” said Karen R. Long, who manages the prize. “We expect the murals and the photography to start important conversations and serve as gateways to the books themselves, and the galvanizing ideas they contain.” 

View the artworks below and hear from the artists in their own words how each piece came to be. Photos, unless otherwise specified, taken by Brandon Shigeta:

ARTIST: Aaron De La Cruz INSPIRATION: “Sophie Climbing the Stairs,” a poem from Dolores Kendrick’s The Women of Plums, which won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1990, and consist of poems in the voices of slave women:
ARTIST: Aaron De La Cruz
INSPIRATION: “Sophie Climbing the Stairs,” a poem from Dolores Kendrick’s The Women of Plums, which won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1990, and consist of poems in the voices of slave women. LOCATION: Lorain Avenue underpass

San Francisco muralist Aaron De La Cruz drew inspiration from a selection of Dolores Kendrick’s “Sophie Climbing the Stairs,” about an enslaved woman sneaking off to read. The passage evoked a memory of his parents speaking in Spanish to keep their conversations a mystery to the young De La Cruz and his brother. Drawing off the theme of literacy, his mural features deconstructed letters and punctuation marks. 


 

ARTIST: Alan Giberson  INSPIRATION: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley, a 1966 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards winner  LOCATION: W.25th and Columbus Street
ARTIST: Alan Giberson
INSPIRATION: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley, a 1966 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards winner
LOCATION: W.25th and Columbus Street

Cleveland artist Alan Giberson’s mural came from a brief scene in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, when a New York Times reporter meets the civil rights leader for the first time. “Noblesse Oblige” is a French phrase referring the responsibility of those with privilege to extend generosity to those less fortunate.  The artist, who specializes in hand-painted signage and gold-leaf lettering, was eager to tackle this project. “This was a big challenge, being the largest thing I’ve ever painted.” 


 

ARTIST: Amber Esner INSPIRATION: The End by Elizabeth Alexander from American Sublime. The poet won for Lifetime Achievement in 2010. LOCATION: East 9th Street Wall, east of Tower City Station
ARTIST: Amber Esner
INSPIRATION: The End by Elizabeth Alexander from American Sublime. The poet won for Lifetime Achievement in 2010.
LOCATION: East 9th Street Wall, east of Tower City Station

Amber Esner, a Cleveland illustrator, was struck by Alexander’s ode to the dissolution of a relationship, as she lists the items left behind after a breakup. “My concept is based around the process of how people deal with loss by letting go of — or holding on to — specific objects,” she writes. 


 

margaret kimball mural
ARTIST: Margaret Kimball INSPIRATION: Martha Collins, White Pages The poet won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2007 for Blue Front. LOCATION: W.25th and Columbus Street

Cleveland illustrator and writer Margaret Kimball drew upon Martha CollinsWhite Pages, a collection of untitled poems that explore white privilege and the ongoing racial divide in America. Kimball latched on to the repetition of the phrase “Yes, but” within the poem and used a minimalist color scheme to make one word prominent—YES. “The word is inclusive and strong and in this case has no strings attached, nothing to interrupt it,” Kimball writes.


 

louise chen
ARTIST: Louise “Ouizi” Chen INSPIRATION: “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros, who won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1993 for her story collection that contains “Eleven.” LOCATION: Overpass Pillars, beneath I-480 & I-71. Photo by Louise “Ouizi” Chen

If you happen to be in the passenger seat as you’re driving to and from Cleveland Hopkins airport, take a look around to see if you can spot these 35-foot tall overpass pillars, designed by Detroit artist Louise Chen. “The totem pillars are a celebration of the way cultures represent themselves in the language of ornament, with design inspired by many different cultures spanning the world,” she writes. 


 

nosego
ARTIST: Nosego INSPIRATION: A. Van Jordan’s “The Atom and Hawkman Discuss Metaphysics” from his 2007 collection, Quantum Lyrics He won an Anisfield-Wolf prize in 2005 for his collection M*A*C*N*O*L*I*A. LOCATION: Temple Façade, east of Tower City Station

The Philadelphia-based artist describes this piece, titled “Unmask,” as “a visual metaphor about self-awareness, self-reflection and perception.”


 

ARTIST: Osman Muhammad INSPIRATION: Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (2011) by David Eltis and David Richardson & A Holocaust Called Hiroshima by Ronald Takaki, who won an Anisfield-Wolf award in 1994  LOCATION: East 9th Street Wall, east of Tower City Station
ARTIST: Osman Muhammad
INSPIRATION: Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (2011) by David Eltis and David Richardson & A Holocaust Called Hiroshima by Ronald Takaki, who won an Anisfield-Wolf award in 1994
LOCATION: East 9th Street Wall, east of Tower City Station

Cleveland artist Osmad Muhammad used his mural to make a statement about national and global atrocities. The burning woman in foreground is a reference to Hiroshima and the burning ships depict the slave trade throughout the Americas.


 

ARTIST: Ryan Jaenke  INSPIRATION: Montage of a Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes  LOCATION: W.25th and Columbus Street
ARTIST: Ryan Jaenke
INSPIRATION: Montage of a Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes
LOCATION: W.25th and Columbus Street

Published in 1951, Langston HughesMontage of a Dream Deferred reads like a jazz record, full of conflicting rhythms and short bursts of animation. Cleveland artist Ryan Jaenke took Hughes’ melody and translated it to this mural on Cleveland’s west side.  Hughes won his Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1954.


 

ARTIST: Jasper Wong  INSPIRATION: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, winner of both a Pulitzer Prize and an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2008  LOCATION: Old Abutment West, east of Tower City Station
ARTIST: Jasper Wong
INSPIRATION: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, winner of both a Pulitzer Prize and an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2008
LOCATION: Old Abutment West, east of Tower City Station

Jasper Wong, Hawaiian artist and co-curator of the Interurban project, explored the themes of luck that featured prominently in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. He peppered his mural with black cats and broken down cars (symbols of bad luck) and rabbits (symbols of good luck).


 

ARTIST: Ellen Rutt INSPIRATION: “The Danger of a Single Story” -- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 2009 TED talk She won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” in 2007.
ARTIST: Ellen Rutt
INSPIRATION: “The Danger of a Single Story” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2009 TED talk She won an
Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” in 2007. LOCATION: Underpass pillars on I-90W

Detroit artist Ellen Rutt used bold geometric patterns to transform these underpass pillars. Her “Patchwork Cleveland” mural was inspired by Adichie’s call to avoid “making generalizations about culture based on a singular experience or limited knowledge.” When Rutt moved to Detroit in 2011, she quickly realized the broader narrative about the Rust Belt city was flawed. “It was in Detroit, surrounded by amazing street art, that my interest in murals grew from awe­filled admiration, to an unstoppable desire and ultimately, an incredibly important part of my art practice,” she writes.  


 

ARTIST: Darius Steward INSPIRATION: The Rain by John Edgar Wideman, who won a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 LOCATION: New East 9th Street Wall, east of Tower City Station
ARTIST: Darius Steward
INSPIRATION: The Rain by John Edgar Wideman, who won a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011
LOCATION: New East 9th Street Wall, east of Tower City Station

A Cleveland native, Darius Steward is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art. His mural features yellow as a primary color, the prominent color from John Edgar Wideman’s short story, “The Rain.”


ARTIST: Faith47  INSPIRATION: Language as a boundary by Wole Soyinka.   He won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1983  for his memoir Ake: The Years of Childhood, and again for Lifetime Achievement in 2013.  LOCATION: Old Abutment East
ARTIST: Faith47
INSPIRATION: Language as a boundary by Wole Soyinka. He won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1983 for his memoir Ake: The Years of Childhood, and again for Lifetime Achievement in 2013.
LOCATION: Old Abutment East

South African artist Faith47 brought her international murals to Cleveland as part of her Psychic Power of Animals series, which attempts to “bring the energy of nature back into the urban metropolis.”

“There’s an inherent irony in recreating nature on cement, so the series is a nostalgic reminder of what we’ve lost but also an attempt to reintegrate that into the present,” Faith47 writes on her website. “We have become so distanced from nature, so these murals are an attempt to reconnect us with the natural world.”


 

ARTIST: Brendan Monroe INSPIRATION: The Boat by Nam Le   This short story collection won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2009. LOCATION: Mirrored wall
ARTIST: Brendan Monroe
INSPIRATION: The Boat by Nam Le This short story collection won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2009.
LOCATION: Mirrored wall

San Francisco artist Brendan Monroe took cues from the dangerous sea voyage in Nam Le’s The Boat as he created this expansive mural.  Look closely and you can see a child overboard.


 

ARTIST: Katy Kosman INSPIRATION: The short story "5 Dollar Bill" from Dorothy West's collection The Richer the Poorer. West won our lifetime achievement award in 1996. LOCATION: New East 9th Street Wall, east of Tower City Station
ARTIST: Katy Kosman
INSPIRATION: The short story “5 Dollar Bill” from Dorothy West’s collection The Richer the Poorer. West won our lifetime achievement award in 1996.
LOCATION: New East 9th Street Wall, east of Tower City Station. Photo by Amber Esner

“My father and I had a complicated relationship like the one in the story,” Kosman wrote, “and he died when I was fairly young, but he taught me most of the lessons I use now in my everyday life.”


pat perry by brandon shigeta
ARTIST: Pat Perry INSPIRATION: Edith Anisfield-Wolf, founder of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

 

If Edith Anisfield Wolf were alive today,” Detroit artist Pat Perry wrote, “I think she’d be encouraging us all to take direct aim at the great moral and social crises of our time. I can earnestly say that I think she’d be proud to see folks employing ideals taught to us by the past, in order to tackle issues of the present.”

Writer Ruth Behar and poet Richard Blanco have launched Bridges to/from Cuba, an ambitious collaborative fueled by 20 years of friendship. The duo has started an online forum for poets, authors and scholars to “lay bare the laughter and sorrow of being Cuban.”

As geopolitics shift, these two Cuban Americans call out for literature, writing, “For it is not simply a political and economic embargo that needs to be ‘lifted,‘ but also the weight of an emotional embargo that has kept Cubans collectively holding their breath for over fifty years.”

The two are uniquely positioned to lead. Blanco, inaugural poet for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, has brought out two memoirs on his life as a young, gay, Latino immigrant. Born to Cuban-exiled parents and raised in Miami, Blanco’s poetry threads through themes of cultural identity and belonging. New Yorker Ruth Dehar, born in Cuba, teaches anthropology at the University of Michigan. In the early 1990s, Behar was editor of Bridges to Cuba, a groundbreaking anthology featuring voices in the Cuban Diaspora, including many second generation writers.

The pair crafts a beautifully symbolic first post, a fusion of two poems: “The Island Within,” for Ruth Behar (by Richard Blanco) and “The Island We Share,” for Richard Blanco (by Ruth Behar). Read along here.

The project brings a bit of Anisfield-Wolf flavor to the party: two former winners, Edwidge Danticat and Sandra Cisneros, serve on the five-member advisory board.