2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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Anisfield-Wolf recipient Zora Neale Hurston would have turned 129 years old January 7. To celebrate her birthday, the editors of ZORA, an online magazine eponymously named after the Harlem Renaissance writer and pioneering anthropologist, compiled the ZORA Canon, its definitive list of the best books written by African American women.

Novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge (“We Love You, Charlie Freeman”) writes that the editors decided to take up the task when they realized no one seemed to have published a comprehensive list of black women authors, a baffling fact considering the robust reading habits of black women.

Collectively, they took steps to remedy that omission. “Taken together, the works don’t just make up a novel canon,” Greenidge writes in the introduction. “They form a revealing mosaic of the black American experience during the time period.”

Anisfield-Wolf fiction winner Jesmyn Ward was one of the six panelists who selected the works, ranging from poetry to plays, nonfiction to short stories and novels. Alongside Ward was Malaika Adero, a former vice president and senior editor for Atria Books; Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson and author of “Negroland;” Ayana Mathis, a professor and bestselling author of “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie;” Tressie McMillan Cottom, a sociologist and author of “Thick”; and Imani Perry, a professor of African American studies whose most recent book is “Breathe: A Letter to My Sons.”

The 100 works are divided into five sections, spanning 160 years of literature: “A Fight For Our Humanity” (1859-1900), “A Rebirth of the Arts” (1924-1953), “Civil Rights & Black Power” (1959-1975), and “The Strength of Self Worth” (1976-1999) and “A Radical Future” (2000-2010).

Browse the list and you’ll find Anisfield-Wolf winners peppered throughout: Toni Morrison appears four times (“Sula,” “Song of Solomon,” “Beloved,” and “A Mercy”) and Rita Dove gets a nod for 1986’s “Thomas and Beulah.” Sonia Sanchez, our 2019 lifetime achievement winner, is recognized twice for her 1970s poetry collections: “We a BaddDDD People” and “I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems.”

As ZORA senior editor Morgan Jerkins debuted the list on Twitter, she noted: “For those academics who are scratching their heads over how to make their syllabi more diverse, here you go. You have 100 books to choose from and they were chosen from the best of the best.”

And to cap the birthday off, Amistad Press is giving away free electronic copies of Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Visit www.CelebratingZora.com for downloading instructions.

Poet Sonia Sanchez launched Cleveland Book Week 2019 with a rousing, reflective performance at Kent State University, as part of the 50th anniversary May 4 commemoration events.

Sanchez began the evening with “A Poem of Praise,” accompanied by a reflection on Kent State students who were killed and wounded by the National Guard during the campus demonstration in 1970, chanting each by name.

As one of the architects of the Black Arts Movement, Sanchez, 85, has written more than a dozen poetry books, several plays and essays, experimenting with musicality in the written word. She’s also spent more than 40 years in the classroom, a pioneer of black studies and women’s studies on college campuses. For these contributions, she’ll be honored on Thursday night with the 2019 Anisfield-Wolf lifetime achievement prize.

Throughout the evening, Sanchez anchored her talk with the theme of activism, urging the students to be politically active, to push the conversation forward around income inequality and climate change. “I can’t give you any easy answers but you’ve got to face this world with a very brave face, with a face that says, ‘I want to live,'” she said. “The only way to do that is to struggle and fight. Not wars, but fight against the greed in this country.”

Watch her full remarks below and make plans to join us for the remaining Cleveland Book Week events. All events are open to the public. See the full schedule and make reservations here.