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“Poetry Is An Island,” the new film directed by Dutch filmmaker Ida Does, presents poet and playwright Derek Walcott in his element: his home island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean. Place has proved central to the Nobel Laureate in his writings about the island, colonialism and beauty.  He won a Lifetime Achievement Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2004.

“I wanted to feel and smell St. Lucia in the same palpable way that I experience Walcott’s poetry,” Does said in a recent interview. “When I was there, it felt like I could literally touch Derek’s work, the heart of it.” After an early screening, Walcott, 84, praised Does for doing a “beautiful and gentle job” with the film.

Now Northeast Ohioans can see for themselves. We are pleased to sponsor the Midwestern premiere of “Poetry Is An Island” at 2 p.m. Sunday, August 17.  The program is hosted by our partner, Karamu House, 2355 E 89th St, Cleveland. Guests will be greeted by St. Lucian steelpan music from islander Eustace Bobb and actors Cornell Calhoun III and Kenny Parker will stage an excerpt of Walcott’s play “Dream on Monkey Mountain.” Cleveland Scene named the Karamu production, directed by Terrence Spivey, its Best Drama in 2007.

Following the movie, audience members will be able to ask questions of the director in a Skype interview from her home in the Netherlands. “From an educational perspective, the Skype interview will add substance and interaction that will enrich the experience,” said Interim Director Patricia G. Egan. “Karamu is celebrating 99 years of nurturing artists. This is just one example.”

Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the door. For more information on the screening, please call Karamu House at 216-795-7070.

“Life Itself” first appeared in 2011 as a rich memoir by Roger Ebert. Now, thanks to “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James, it is a documentary of the highest caliber.

One of its revelations is the late-life marriage between Ebert and Chicago attorney Chaz Hammelsmith.  Interracial love stories may not be in vogue in Hollywood, but this documentary lets viewers witness an exemplary match.  So does a 3,000-word essay, “Roger loves Chaz,” that Ebert published on his 20th anniversary.

In the documentary, the legendary film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times comes across as a consummate Midwesterner – unpretentious, but also funny, gifted and complex.

Five months before his death in April 2013, Roger and Chaz gave James permission to film Ebert’s “third act.” It was a marvelous, harrowing decision in which the three collaborators do not shrink from the unlovely parts.  James also makes shrewd use of the frenemy chemistry between Ebert and Gene Siskel, a rival movie critic at the Chicago Tribune. Improbably, the pair became partners on the wildly successful and culturally powerful PBS show, “At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.” Their sparring mimicked that of siblings and their yoked fortunes – burnished over the years — created a complicated brotherhood.

The bond between Chaz and Ebert came later – the two met after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Chicago in 1989.  Here is how Ebert begins “Roger loves Chaz”:

How can I begin to tell you about Chaz? She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she has my love, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading. If my cancer had come, and it would have, and Chaz had not been there with me, I can imagine a descent into lonely decrepitude . . . She was always there believing I could do it, and her love was like a wind forcing me back from the grave.

In the documentary, Chaz admits to some hesitation in marrying a white man, and remembers that she called out her new husband on his ginger observation that some of his relatives might be hesitant about his marrying a non-Catholic. “Because I’m not Catholic or because I’m black?” she asked.  Ebert agreed both elements were at play.

For his part, Ebert said he felt scads of acceptance and love from Chaz’ children and grandchildren and her large West Chicago family. Some of the most moving footage in the documentary shows family vacation videos in which Ebert, an only child, looks like a man awash in an experience he had craved all his life.

As a film critic, Ebert paid attention to race.  Director Ava DuVernay tells James that she was nervous when Ebert reviewed her movie “I Will Follow” about a niece grieving her aunt. Still, DuVernay remembered a chance girlhood encounter at the Oscars when she met a gracious Ebert. And, she said, “Everybody knows he was married to a sister.”  That intimacy gave DuVernay hope that Ebert would understand a film about two black women better than most white men.  He gave it three and a half stars.

In 2012, Ebert famously responded to a white heckler at Sundance after a screening of Justin Lin’s “Better Luck Tomorrow” about Asian American teenagers. Ebert told the heckler that he wouldn’t be putting such race-based questions to a white director.

“For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy,” Ebert says as the documentary begins, before his voice is lost to cancer. “It lets you understand hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

The magisterial Wole Soyinka turned 80 this week, and—once again—the world is listening.

In London, the Royal African Society hosted “Wole Soyinka at 80,” a retrospective on the life of the Nobel laureate and Anisfield-Wolf winner, exploring his influence in politics and letters.  As a young man, the Nigerian playwright and poet attempted to broker peace during the 1967 Biafran War, becoming a political prisoner and spending 22 months in solitary confinement.  He wrote “The Man Died” out of that experience.

For the retrospective, Soyinka joined editor and critic Margaret Busby to reflect on his upbringing and the relationship between politics and culture. He has spent more than 50 fierce years campaigning against Nigerian despotism, often with a price on his head. Soyinka’s critique of Western smugness and corruption has been just as withering.

For those engaged by the plight of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the extremist Boko Haram, Soyinka also places the splinter group’s recent killings and kidnappings in historical context (34:20 mark). 

The world almost lost Lorraine Hansberry’s most famous work, A Raisin in the Sun, before it ripened. 

In a moment of frustration, Hansberry threw the script in the trash. Luckily for us, her husband retrieved it from the wastebasket in their New York City apartment and set it aside for her to complete. She did. 

Two years later, on March 11, 1959, it debuted on Broadway, earning Hansberry the distinction of being the youngest dramatist and the first African-American to win the Best Play award from the New York Drama Critics Circle. The story focuses on the Younger clan, a hard-working Black family in Chicago dreaming of moving up in the world after their patriarch’s passing. 

After several revivals, the play continues to speak to the nation’s racial turmoil and inequality. The current iteration, starring Denzel Washington as the dreaming and scheming Walter Lee Younger, wraps its run on Broadway this month. 

Co-director Tracy Heather Strain has been working nine years to produce the first full-length documentary on the artist, with the hopes of releasing the film in time for the 50th anniversary of her death. (Hansberry was only 34 in 1965 when she died of pancreatic cancer.) Strain’s previous work includes the six-part PBS series I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African-American Arts, which included a short segment on Hansberry. Strain has completed interviews with some of Hansberry’s close friends and family, as well as several of the actors who starred in her plays—Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, and Louis Gossett Jr.

The documentary has reached 75% of its $100,000 goal, poised to hit its target in the final two weeks. The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the producers a $500,000 production grant, but the money is contingent on making the $100,000 goal.

Watch the Kickstarter video below. Tell us: would you be interested in supporting this film? 

Writer and radio host Michael Eric Dyson posed a simple question to Walter Mosley midway through their Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture forum:”Do black people have the freedom to be individuals in America?”

Mosley, 62, paused to acknowledge the gravity of the question. “I would not give up being black in America,” he responded. “We are America. We got the culture, we got the music, we got the art — and we don’t really know it.”

Mosley, best known for his “Easy Rawlins” detective series, now 10 books deep, has enjoyed a successful and sustained career.  He was born in California to a Jewish mother and a black father (the pair was denied a marriage license in 1951.)  Their only child, who has lived in New York City since 1981, identifies with both sides of his family. He credits his daily writing regimen for his high output — he averages close to two published books per year. His 1997 crime novel Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned won the Anisfield-Wolf book award for fiction.

Mosley delved into his beginnings as a writer and the early resistance he encountered to featured a black male protagonist. Mosley recalled an agent telling him: “White people don’t like to read about black people, black women don’t like black men, and black men don’t read, so who’s going to read your book?”

During the lighthearted yet introspective discussion, the duo covered a range of topics—from President Obama’s handling of race to the questions of literary celebrity and hype. Watch the full conversation below and let us know what you think.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. spent a sunny April Saturday in Cleveland speaking frankly about money and race and aspiration.

He brought a relaxed manner to a charged topic as keynote speaker before 350 participants in the biennial African American Philanthropic Summit, hosted by the Cleveland Foundation.

“Black people have a long tradition of philanthropy,” said the long-time jury chair of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. “We just don’t know that. It is called the collection plate. We’ve been ponying up pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters for ages and ages. The building fund – our building always looked the same. I think it was the preacher building a Cadillac.”

A laughter of recognition rolled through the conference center at Corporate College East in Warrensville Heights, Ohio. Turns out nearly two-thirds of African-Americans donate to various causes, giving roughly $11 billion each year to charity, according to a 2012 report from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Gates sat smiling and comfortable in a gray suit with a red tie with moderator Russ Mitchell, lead anchor of WKYC Channel 3. Mitchell, who wore a gray suit with a green tie, let the afternoon, and the conversation, flow. An audience member asked the Harvard University scholar to name the most pressing philanthropic need.

“Reforming our schools,” he answered. “It’s the key to progress, the key to citizenship and the key to social elevation . . . We have to reform our people’s attitude toward the school system but we also have to make the school system a place that nourishes young people.”

He advised listeners to be intentional, to form giving circles and select recipients based on good metrics and hard data. “So many of us think, ‘If I could only see Oprah and just tell her about the church needing a new wing and she would write a check,’” Gates said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Quoting James Baldwin—“Be careful what you set your heart upon, for it will surely be yours”—Gates reflected on his own blessings, and his decision in 1991 to ask the Harvard University Endowment office to help him raise money to rebuild African and African-American studies. He said the endowment staff responded: “We’re going to give you the first lesson in fund-raising. There are three groups of people who never give: doctors, actors, and black people.”

Gates, who has a knack for inviting everyone to the party, described the success that belied the stereotype. He also recounted how private equity billionaire Glenn Hutchins came across Gates’ August forum on Martha’s Vineyard. Eventually, the mogul decided to donate $30 million to what has become the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard.

But Gates didn’t linger on a triumphal note. Instead, he invited his audience to think with him about the state of black America: a quadrupling of the black middle class since 1968 and a stubbornly persistent 35 percent of black children at or below the poverty line since the same era, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated.

“When I was growing up—I was born in 1950—the blackest thing you could be was an educated man or an educated woman for the Negro people,” said Gates, who was raised in West Virginia, where his father was a mill worker and a janitor. “I’m serious. Who were our heroes? Thurgood Marshall, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, Dr. King. We loved athletes and entertainers, but the real heroes were the race men and the race women. Where did that go? That went the way of the west wind. Now we have to remind people that we too are people of the book. Our people defied the master of the plantation to read and write. Now so many of our kids—who have more opportunity than any of us had at six or seven—are squandering that opportunity. For what? Blaming white racism and the white man? Forget that, man. I have no sympathy for that.”

Instead, Gates called—gently, with a smile—on his listeners to build the beloved community without condescension, with patience and persistence. And, always, with the amplifying strength of each other.

Last September, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka spoke passionately about the global “contest between barbarism and enlightenment” around educating  children.  His words sound prophetic now in the wake of the April kidnapping of Nigerian school girls in the northeast of his own beloved country.

“To go to school – to handle a book – becomes a life and death event,” Soyinka said in his acceptance remarks at the 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book awards ceremony. “Right now, in northern Nigeria, there are school children who have been waylaid, their hands tied behind their back, their throats slit, for daring to go to school.”  For some five years, a militant Islamic movement in northern Nigeria has terrorized families trying to educate their children, particularly their daughters.

Soyinka, 79, decried these armed men, saying these groups must be fought and immobilized. One such cadre – the Islamic militants of Boko Haram — has targeted schools, burning down more than 20. Then on April 15, this segment kidnapped some 234 girls, and drove them in trucks into the forests near the border with Cameroon. The name “Boko Haram” translates roughly as “western education is forbidden.”

In recent days, families of the missing girls have organized street protests and started social media campaigns to try to goad the Nigerian government into action. Rumors suggest many have already been sold off to soldiers, some for as little as $12. On Saturday, protests spread to London, New York and Washington, D.C. Demonstrators held aloft signs that read “African Lives Matter” and “Bring them Home!” The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls is surging.

During his September remarks, Soyinka drew a sharp line between those seeking education and those violently suppressing it. He had already asked several Nigerian governors to distribute the inspirational videotape of Malala Yousafzai addressing the United Nations last summer—“so that the school children can see that they are not alone. What they are undergoing has become a universal scourge, which has to be fought.”

Soyinka asked the audience in the Ohio Theatre to consider the retreating insurgents in Mali who set fire last year to the country’s priceless library. “Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who would suppress the truth” remains a signature Soyinka observation.  When he made it, Soyinka said, he was thinking of dictators – now it applies to hoards.

The great writer called for a world in which children could go to school without fear, “enjoying the smell of books – even those who couldn’t read, just being among the instruments of enlightenment, of expanding the mind.”

When screenwriter Misan Sagay visited the storied Scone Palace in Scotland, an 18th century painting of a pair of aristocratic women — one a woman of color, the other white — caught her eye.

Despite the antiquity of the painting, the women were positioned and clothed in equal fashions — an arrangement that intrigued the screenwriter. It started her hunt — years combing through archives — to piece together the history of those two women. Her research informed the screenplay for “Belle,” the film based on the darker-skinned woman in the portrait, opening in theaters today.

British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw portrays the title character, Dido Elizabeth Belle, born the biracial daughter of an Navy Admiral and African woman in 1761. Sent to live with her aristocratic uncle, Dido straddles two disparate worlds, struggling to find her place in a British high society that both beckons and snubs her.

Directed by Amma Asante, “Belle” attracted strong notices during its run at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, where another historical drama (“12 Years a Slave”) stunned crowds and went on to nab the top prize at the Oscars.

Might “Belle” be the next historical film starring people of color to generate Hollywood buzz?

In early February, Facebook rolled out 56 new gender identities for user profiles. Selections such as “pangender” and “two-spirit” now drop-down in a list that gives users more ways to describe themselves.

When she heard the news, transgender advocate Janet Mock, 30, sent out a simple “Yeeesss” on Twitter. Over the past three years, Mock has been increasingly visible and unapologetic about her goals: to provide more spaces for the trans community to be open about their stories and their identities. Hers began 30 years ago in Hawaii and continued during her teen years in Oakland, Cal. She was the first member of her family to attend college, graduating with degrees from the University of Hawaii and New York University.

In 2011, Mock publicly proclaimed her identity as a transgender woman in an Marie Claire essay.

“When I came into adulthood, I learned from other trans women that you need to be quiet,”  said Mock, who had gender reassignment surgery at age 18.  “Go and move on and be successful; that was the model that they had…So I did that, and for a while it was amazing, but part of myself felt like I was silencing myself again.”

After publication of the Marie Claire essay, Mock began the #GirlsLikeUs hashtag on Twitter, intending to use it as a safe place for trans women to gather and connect. It is thriving, with close to 1,000 tweets transmitted per day, and ample participation from trans women on Facebook, Instagram, and Google+.

“These social media platforms can be a lifeline for people who are struggling with identity, who are struggling with self, who don’t have validation, affirmation and real-life friendships,” Mock explained in a recent At Google talk. “Most trans women grow up in isolation.”

Mock’s 2014 memoir, Redefining Realness from Atria Press, continues her advocacy, and amplifies her narrative beyond transitioning and gender reassignment surgery. Mock chooses to be bold on the page, diving into the pain of childhood sexual abuse, the teenage period of engaging in sex work to pay for her surgery, and the mending of her relationship with her strict, Southern Baptist father. 

In a series of short videos filmed in concert with the book release, Mock discusses her thoughts on “passing” as a cisgender woman (one aligned with their assigned sex at birth), the significance of pop culture in her life’s journey, and more. Take a look. 

For the first time, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards will sponsor a movie at the Cleveland International Film Festival: the documentary, “Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth.” It will screen three times this month.

Directed by long-time Alice Walker collaborator Pratibha Parmar, the film weaves interviews, readings and archival footage to explore the themes of Walker’s literary work and advocacy. At age 70, Walker is best known for writing The Color Purple, 1982’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. It generated enormous controversy, and an influential film, which the documentary explores. Also central is Walker’s lifelong activism – stretching from voter registration drives in the 1960s to championing women’s rights in the present-day. Collaborators and critics and Walker herself speak to the merits of her political life. Watch the trailer below:

“Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth” will screen on three successive days: March 26 at 4:15 p.m., March 27 at 9:30 a.m. in Tower City, and March 28, at 7:00 p.m. at the Shaker Square Cinema. Festival attendees can take advantage of the Cleveland Foundation’s discount code in honor of its centennial (CLE100) and save $2 on the purchase of every ticket to every film throughout the festival. Purchase tickets here.

Andrew Solomon dedicated a chapter of his Anisfield-Wolf winning Far from the Tree on families whose children have committed serious crimes. He interviewed parents of gang leaders, killers and sex offenders, examining the place of the family during and after the child’s stint in prison. In the only interview published with the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters in 1999’s Columbine massacre, Solomon showed the complexity of their lives: “I know it would have been better for the world if Dylan had never been born,” Sue Klebold says of her son. “But I believe it would not have been better for me.”

Because of this book, Peter Lanza reached out to Solomon to tell his side.  Lanza is the father of Adam Lanza, the killer of 26 elementary school children, his mother and himself in Newtown, Conn. This led to Solomon interviewing the father for seven sessions, which resulted in a New Yorker article that made national news.  The senior Lanza discusses his son, the massacre and its aftermath.  He believes that Adam’s autism masked an underlying emotional disorder, one that went undetected by the numerous psychologists and psychiatrists who examined Adam.

For Anisfield-Wolf fans in Ohio, there are still tickets available to his March 18 appearance in Cleveland for the Cuyahoga County Library’s Writers Center Stage series.

Fresh off a feature on Beyonce’s secret album, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stopped by HuffPost Live to talk about how her latest work, Americanah, fits in her literary career and how she found comfort in breaking the rules.

Watch as Adichie, a 2007 Anisfield-Wolf award winner, discusses embracing her fashion sense as a “serious writer,” the importance of race and class in feminism, and more.

A play about the realities of black students at Harvard University debuts Friday at the Black Arts Festival on the Harvard campus. Hosted by various multicultural campus organizations, the “I, Too, Am Harvard” performance focuses on the daily microaggressions black students face at the predominately white university. (The most recent university data puts the black student population at 5.2 percent of the 21,000-plus student body.)

“As far back as I could remember, I’ve always been pretty cognizant of race,” one student remarked in the 5-minute promo video. “But this past semester was uncomfortable because it was the first time in a long time that I felt the burden of being black in the classroom and being black walking around Harvard’s campus…This year, I just felt like ‘the other.'”

The corresponding #ITooAmHarvard campaign has launched on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to further the conversation.

Students at Harvard aren’t the only ones using social media to spread their message of isolation and frustration. In the fall of 2013, the Black Student Union at the University of Michigan flooded Twitter with the #BBUM hashtag (which stands for “being black at University of Michigan”). Three months later, they organized a “Speak Out” protest that drew more than 1,000 attendees on campus. Earlier this year, UCLA junior Sy Stokes’ spoken word video went viral with the assertion that his school has more NCAA championships than black male freshmen.

What do you make of these movements? Is social media a strong medium for drawing attention to these matters?

At 32, Kirk W. Johnson is a veteran of a particularly harrowing kind of politics. A soft-spoken and reluctant activist, he met an auditorium full of high school students in downtown Cleveland on a mild November evening. Together, they reflected on his story, and his new book: “To Be A Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind.”

The title derives from an observation by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. As America pulled out of Vietnam, Kissinger noted dryly that being an enemy of the U.S. could be dangerous, but being a friend could be fatal. Still, “within a few years, nearly a million people came here from Southeast Asia and have become a critical part of our nation’s fabric,” Johnson said. “Some are members of Congress now.”

The thousands of Iraqis who aided the United States – in the Green Zone, as translators, doing myriad support tasks – haven’t been nearly as fortunate.

Johnson’s host, “Facing History and Ourselves,” strives to teach students about perpetrators of violence, about bystanders and the rare individuals it calls “upstanders.” Mark Swaim-Fox, who directs Facing History’s Cleveland office, introduced the writer as an “upstander.”

Johnson painted himself an unlikely champion. In 2006, he was recuperating from injuries in his parents’ Chicago home, soured on his civilian work for USAID in Baghdad and Fallujah. But he opened an email from Yaghdan, an Iraqi colleague who had been spotted leaving the Green Zone. The next day Yaghdan awoke to a decapitated dog and a death threat. He fled with his wife Haifa to Dubai and sent Johnson one terse sentence: “People are trying to kill me and I need your help.”

The email led Johnson to write an op-ed piece, published in the Los Angeles Times December 15, 2006, under the headline “Safeguarding Our Allies,” the first major American newspaper to broach the plight of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis. Within days, Johnson’s inbox was flooded with pleas from Iraqis in similar straits. Frightened and uncertain what he might do, Johnson opened a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and started entering names.

The spreadsheet grew into “The List,” and then, more formally, “The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies,” a nonprofit organization that has become the largest pro-bono American legal effort on behalf of refugees. “For the last seven years, I’ve been trying to deal with the consequences of that 1,000-word op-ed,” Johnson said, smiling.

Scribner, $26, 338 pp.

The work also attracted independent filmmaker Beth A. Murphy, whose documentary, “The List,” draws a parallel between Oskar Schindler and Johnson.

Her subject would no doubt blanch at that comparison. As he spoke in Cleveland, Johnson repeatedly circled back to the word “frustrated,” stressing the “narcoleptic bureaucracy” that has thwarted the will of Congress, expressed in the passage of the “Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act,” which authorized 25,000 visas. That Act expired this October 1, some 17,000 visas unused.

“Bush or Obama, the bureaucrats all say the same thing: ‘9/11 changed everything. We need to keep the Homeland safe,’” Johnson said. “But has 9/11 changed this country so much that we can’t make the distinction between our enemies and our friends?”

Some of the people waiting for visas dragged wounded Americans out of harms’ way, only to lose their own legs doing so, Johnson said. It pains him that England and France evacuated their Iraqi employees within weeks, while his organization has documented that some 1,000 Iraqis were slain while their former employer, the United States, dithered.

Two who did arrive safely were Yaghdan and Haifa, who have become parents to a son. Yaghdan has earned his MBA.

Kevin Powers, winner of a 2013 Anisfield-Wolf book award for “The Yellow Birds,” called Johnson’s new memoir “a heartbreaking reminder of the wreckage we’ve left behind in Iraq. And it is unafraid to ask some of the most essential questions regarding our involvement there: Are we who we say we are? And if we are, why haven’t we kept our word? I urge everyone to read it.”

Fresh off the paperback release of his newest work, This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz swung by Cleveland State University in October for its Cultural Crossings seminar. We caught up with our 2008 fiction winner for his reflections on winning an Anisfield-Wolf award. “It puts you in remarkably excellent company,” Diaz said, and we couldn’t agree more. 

2008 Winner Junot Diaz Speaks On Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards from Anisfield Wolf on Vimeo.

At the conclusion of this year’s ceremony, a number of Nigerians in attendance approached our lifetime achievement winner Wole Soyinka, for a chance to get close to the man they admired. A few bowed in his presence. He returned their kindness, speaking with a few before being whisked away to the book signing. We spoke with Soyinka to hear his thoughts on being honored for a lifetime of work and what it means to get that type of reception at this point in his career:  

2013 Lifetime Achievement Winner Wole Soyinka from Anisfield Wolf on Vimeo.

A. Van Jordan made an October appearance at Market Garden Brewery’s Brews & Prose event, sharing snippets from his latest work, “The Cineaste,” in front of a packed crowd. We caught up with the Akron native for a brief chat on the personal significance of winning the 2005 Anisfield-Wolf award:  

Eugene Gloria‘s My Favorite Warlord earned praise from the Anisfield-Wolf jury for his “vivid and striking” work examining masculinity, identity, and heritage. His 2012 collection of poetry helped him snag his latest literary prize, the 2013 Anisfield-Wolf award for poetry. Prior to this year’s ceremony, we talked to Gloria about what winning the award meant to him and where he sees his career headed next. 

Eugene Gloria On Winning A 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Award For Poetry from Anisfield Wolf on Vimeo.

If you follow Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Twitter or Facebook, you are probably already privy to the bevy of heavy hitters he has recruited for his new PBS series, “The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross,” premiering Oct 21. The six-part documentary features names as varied as the Black Panther Party’s Kathleen Cleaver to Roots’ drummer Questlove. Gates has mentioned that he is particularly proud of procuring the insights of General Colin Powell.

The chair of the Anisfield-Wolf book awards serves executive producer, host and writer for the series, using his unparalleled knowledge of African-American history (and access to some of the nation’s foremost historians) to flesh out what most history books only skim. The series aspires to document the entire 500-year history of African-Americans, from the beginnings of the slave trade to the present-day occupant of the White House.

In a recent interview, Gates said this series was 40 years in the making. His inspiration for “The African Americans” was the 1968 program, “Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed,” hosted by Bill Cosby, a seven-part look at the unheralded contributions of blacks in film, science and other endeavors. Gates’ series is a deeper dive into narratives much enhanced by leading historians, including former Anisfield-Wolf winners Ira Berlin, David Eltis and Annette Gordon Reed.

After the premiere on October 21, a new hour-long episode will air each Tuesday until the finale on November 26. Join us on Twitter as we tweet with Gates during each episode, using the hashtag #ManyRiversPBS. Catch a peek at the first episode with this two-minute video on a slave girl simply known as Priscilla: 

Kevin PowersThe Yellow Birds has been called a “beautiful and horrifying trance of a book,” an unnerving look at the cruelty and arbitrary nature of war. He spoke with us in the calm before this year’s ceremony, happy to accept the award that in recent years has gone to Junot Diaz, Louise Erdrich, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Hear his remarks below: 

Kevin Powers On Winning A 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Award For Fiction from Anisfield Wolf on Vimeo.