As we wrote before, Isabel Wilkerson has been educating her fans on the impact of the Great Migration by posting stories of prominent African Americans to her Facebook page. Recently, she profiled Zora Neale Hurston, one of our favorite writers and one of the literary world’s greatest treasures.
We loved what she had to say about Hurston so much that we decided to share it with you here:
On this day, January 7, in 1891 or 1901, beloved author Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Ala., to Rev. John and Lucy Hurston. She grew up in the all-black town of Eatonville, Fla., and went north as a young woman, just as the Great Migration was starting during World War I. She attended what is now Morgan State University and then Howard University, where she got her first story published in the literary magazine, Stylus, and co-founded the student newspaper, the Hilltop, while working odd jobs as a maid and a manicurist.
She went to New York at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and, in 1928, became the first black student known to graduate Barnard College. There, she majored in English and studied anthropology, but was not permitted to live in the dormitories. As was her way, she never complained. She once famously said: “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
She would become a renowned folklorist and novelist, acclaimed for her 1937 masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which some see as drawn from parts of her own life. Five years later, she published an autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, about her many journeys, but her star faded as she appeared removed from the changing politics of the day. In 1946, she supported the Republican who was opposing Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, the most famous black politician of the era. Powell won reelection by a landslide, and the election seemed a window into the distance between her southern traditionalism and a growing push for equality in the North.
She returned to Florida and, in January 1960, she died in a welfare home in Fort Pierce, Fla., after suffering a stroke. She has grown more legendary in death than even in life after acclaimed novelist Alice Walker went in search of her unmarked grave, erected a headstone in her honor, and helped return her to her rightful place in literary history.
Hurston has inspired generations of writers with her free-spirited wit and imagination and her love of black southern folkways. “I am not tragically colored,” she once said. “There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes….No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”
We highlighted the reboot of Oprah’s book club (dubbed Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 as a nod to the newly added interactive elements) with her first pick, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Now she’s announced her next selection, Ayana Mathis’ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. Oprah said, “Not since Toni Morrison have I read a writer whose words have moved me this way.”
Oprah Announces Her Second Pick for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0
This masterful debut novel was so astonishing that Oprah had to share it with the world. Watch to find out what Oprah loved so much about Ayana Mathis’ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. Learn more about how you can participate in Oprah’s Book Club 2.0.
When we see Haiti in the news, it is often downtrodden and negative. Edwidge Danticant, our 2005 winner for fiction, tries to bring a different light to Haiti through her work. In a 2011 interview on PBS, shortly after the Haiti earthquake of 2010, Danticat talks about the side of Haiti we rarely get to see. “The beauty surprises people sometimes. The physical beauty of certain parts of Haiti, the beauty of the arts – the music, the paintings, the literature – that Haiti, I want people to also know.”
With a new year comes new reading lists. We at Anisfield-Wolf rounded up some of the new and not-so-new books we’d like to read over the next few weeks. If this proves popular, we’ll keep adding books here as suggestions and have a discussion about what we’ve enjoyed over on our Facebook page.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Infidel
Stephen L. Carter – The Emperor of Ocean Park
Jill Lepore – The Mansion of Happiness
August Wilson – Fences
Esi Edugyan – The Second Life of Samuel Tyne
We’re keeping it light this week—we know everyone is busy with family and friends and the wonderfulness of the holiday season. In honor of Christmas being around the corner, we found this interview with Junot Diaz on American Public Media about his connection to his culture and how he celebrates Christmas. We particularly liked this quote about the connectedness of the holidays:
I think part of sitting down and sharing a meal with family and with the community is that food is a remarkable bonding force. When I think of that state that we loved to achieve. That state where you’re together with people you love, that you care about, who are your relatives.
For a shining evening, or for a shining day, you are able to achieve communion. It’s kind of a peace with each other. It’s kind of sharing. It’s kind of communication. It’s kind of, just, being in each other’s presence. And I think what helps us to achieve that is the dishes that we grew up with, the dishes that are familiar, the dishes that have always meant solidarity and family.
And let me tell you, after a tough, tough year, nothing lifts the spirit — nothing lifts the soul — like attempting to achieve communion. What better way than to eat a whole bunch of awesome food that says family, says community, says home, says love?
We completely agree.
Happy holidays, everyone!
If you haven’t read it already, Junot Diaz’ This is How You Lose Her is a terrific collection of short stories that reaffirmed NY Times book critic Michiko Kakutani belief that Diaz has “one of the most distinctive and magnetic voices in contemporary fiction.”
Multiple book critics have deemed Louise Erdrich’s new novel the best she’s written and that’s saying a lot as her other 13 novels have been widely praised for her extraordinary storytelling skills. Watch a quick video of Erdrich discussing her latest.
Do we need to say more about Toni Morrison? We don’t think so. We’ve enjoyed her many interviews this year while on the promotion trail for her latest book, Home, and she was candid in her views on racism, her legacy, and President Obama. Home shines a harsh light on an era we tend to idealize and Ms. Morrison would have it no other way.
We talked about Junot Diaz’ great year, but Louise Erdrich is another Anisfield-Wolf winner with an amazing 2012. She released her 14th novel and saw it win the National Book Award, among others.
I suppose if I lived in New York this would not seem so dreamlike. The actual award—a bronze sculpture of a scroll and a book (good for weight lifting) is on a shelf at the bookstore. Soon I’ll bring it to my hometown’s art gallery, the Red Door, for a visit, then up to the Turtle Mountains. It is sort of a traveling award. Otherwise, everything is the same. I am back in Minnesota and am again part of an intense family life. Last night I cooked a mediocre vegetable/peanut/rice dinner, helped my daughter with homework, and went to a meeting with my sister. I still have trouble sleeping and am thinking about the next book.
Watch the video below to hear Erdrich’s thoughts on her latest book.
Few writers get the opportunity to be popular and well-regarded, particularly with readers’ fickle attention spans. But Junot Diaz seems to be hitting on both fronts. Diaz wrote a message of thanks to all his fans this year on his Facebook page. His list of accolades for his latest book, This is How You Lose Her, is quite impressive:
Now with the long tour over the new book is finally starting to come to life–God knows when it will get done but it’s starting to pull on me again. If it takes off I might be signing off facebook in a couple of weeks in order to focus on its full-time and will be back in late summer in time for the fall paperback tour madness. Again: thanks one and all. Also: my publisher sent along this list and I’m super-grateful to all the editors who pulled for this book of stories. Mil gracias. And so without further ado:
Finalist for the National Book Award
New York Times Sunday Book Review: 100 Notable Books of 2012
EW Top 10 Best Fiction of 2012
Time Magazine Top 10 Books of 2012
Huffington Post Best Books of 2012
Book Page Best Books of 2012: named #1 Best Book of 2012
Kirkus Best Books of 2012
Amazon Best Books of the Year: Editor’s Top Picks for 2012
Slate Best Books of 2012
Barnes and Noble “Favorite Books of the Year” Top 15 Fiction pick
Los Angeles Public Library Best Fiction of 2012
Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of the Year: Top 29 Picks for International Fiction
Booklist Editor’s Choice for Best of 2012
Newsday 10 Best Books of 2012
Barnes and Noble Best Books of 2012: Fiction
Kansas City Star Top Fiction Pick for 2012
Saint Louis Post-Dispatch 50 Favorite Books of 2012
Financial Times Best Books of 2012
LA Times Holiday Book Gift
Slate.com book editor Dan Kois, DoubleX editor Hanna Rosin, and Brow Beat editor David Haglund sat down for a Slate Audio Book Club podcast to discuss Zadie Smith’s newest book, “NW,” which was recently named one of the best books of 2012 by the New York Times.
On December 6, Toni Morrison will deliver the Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality at 5 pm in Sanders Theatre on the Harvard campus. Throughout the fall semester, Harvard Divinity School has hosted a working group on the religious dimensions of Morrison’s writings. Watch the video here.
If you’re interested in attending, tickets may be requested from the Harvard Box Office. Limit of 2 tickets per person. Tickets are available by phone and internet for a fee, or in person at the Holyoke Center Box Office. Call 617.496.2222 or reserve online at www.boxoffice.harvard.edu. Limited availability. Tickets are valid until 5:00 pm on the day of the event.
“Some of this scholarship is a bit queasy and sounds like a rationalization for an exercise in curiosity. But there is room in the big tent of the academy for these kinds of explorations. History without sexuality is incomplete.”
The answer, as 2010 winner Isabel Wilkerson would like you to know, is that they are all products of the Great Migration. Over the past few months, Wilkerson has been sharing the stories of influential African Americans on her Facebook page, connecting the dots between the past and the present.
Take a moment to browse the stories and let us know: Did you know about this piece of history? Have you read The Warmth of Other Suns? Is it a book you’d recommend to others?
Also take a look at Wilkerson’s “Democracy Now” segment, where she talks about the influences of the Great Migration, including it’s impact on jazz music and Motown.
In our rush to get to Thanksgiving dinner, we missed the anniversary of August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.” 2011 winner Isabel Wilkerson reminded us through a post on her Facebook page (she’s just FULL of wonderful factoids about African American history), including a rare photo of Samuel L. Jackson (third from left), who starred in the play as Boy Willie.
It was 25 years ago today, Nov. 23, 1987, that the August Wilson play, The Piano Lesson, made its world premiere, starring Samuel L. Jackson (3rd from left) as Boy Willie, at the Yale Repertory Theatre. The play would win the Pulitzer Prize. In its scenes play out the legacy of slavery and the Great Migration…. Boy Willie arrives in Pittsburgh from Mississippi in 1936 and clashes with his sister, Berniece, who had migrated north.
The conflict is over an upright piano, which held the history and secrets of the family’s hardships in the South. Boy Willie wants to sell the piano to buy the land where their ancestors had toiled as slaves and sharecroppers. The sister wants to keep the piano because of the sacrifice at which it had come and the memory it contains.
The playwright August Wilson was a product of the Great Migration — his grandmother walked from Spears, N.C. to Pittsburgh. The play was inspired by a collage called “Piano Lesson” by another child of the Migration, the artist Romare Bearden….
Isabel Wilkerson posted the above photo and the following message on her Facebook page – seems she has a superfan out there!
Deepest gratitude at this special time to every person who has embraced this book and the inspiring message of the Great Migration. Filled with joy for whoever created what is shown in this picture: an edible edition of The Warmth of Other Suns created with love and care by an anonymous fan. This greeted me in my room at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, where I was to speak in the City Arts and Lectures series.
Neither the event organizers nor the hotel said they knew how it got there or who had gone to such trouble to create or commission it. However it got there, this was the work of a professional: a 4×6 piece of white chocolate covered with a filmed copy of the book’s cover. Thank you to whoever created this and delivered it to me. There are angels out there! Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
We are thankful for books, wonderful books. Thankful for the worlds they create, the minds they challenge, the stories that stick with long after you’ve read the last page.
We are thankful for Edith Anisfield-Wolf, who, in 1935, established the book prize in honor of her father and husband to bring recognition to works that address race and diversity. In 1935. That is incredible.
We are thankful for the authors who have won our award. We know that it takes incredible patience, commitment and diligence to create works that not only sound good to the ear but also have a message, however overt or apparent.
And last, but definitely not least, we are thankful for you, the readers who make our work so satisfying. Each year at the ceremony, we hear from so many of you on how so-and-so’s book has touched you or how hearing a certain author speak has changed the way you see an issue. That makes us light up, because it tells us that there is still very much a need for what we do, what the authors do, what Edith Anisfield-Wolf wanted us to do.
2008 winner Junot Diazrecently wrapped up his book tour for his latest book, This Is How You Lose Her, at the Facing Race conference in Baltimore last week.
He wrote to his fans:
“So many extraordinary activists, so many brilliant youth. Thanks to all the organizers who made it happen and to all the already-tired participants that patiently endured my keynote. You seriously rock! In other news tonight was the last day of the tour. Basically two straight months on the road, two months I was very lucky to have…It was better than anything I could have imagined. Thanks to everyone who supported the work, who advocated for the new book, who took time to come to the readings. Thanks to all the booksellers to all the librarians to all the teachers who often often brought their students to the events. Thanks to my Dominican/Caribbean peoples for always representing and for so often inviting me to their family home for a sancocho. You have no idea how that touched me. Thanks to all readers everywhere! You made this journey possible.”
We do believe he has earned some well-deserved time at home for a bit! Read about our other coverage of Diaz’ latest book at the link.
We are thrilled to congratulate 2009 Anisfield-Wolf winner Louise Erdrich on her win at the 2012 National Book Awards. She was awarded the prize for fiction, for her novel, Round House.
“My characters have my attention—trying to find them, understand them, think like them, feel what they would feel, behave on the page as they would,” she said. “And then there is the language—listening for what is unburdened by sentiment, trying to write something fearless. I usually write the books like secrets, as though nobody will read them.”
What a year forEsi Edugyan! After winning multiple awards for her stunning novel Half Blood Blues, she has recently been nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Prize. Nominees are selected by librarians in 120 cities, and the most promising of the authors will move to the short list, announced April 9, 2013. The winner will be announced on June 6, 2013. Along with a prize of about $160,000 (Canadian), the winner will be able to take their place alongside great writers like Edward P. Jones and Michael Thomas.
Penguin USA has uploaded a few videos of in honor of Zadie Smith’s new book NW. We thought you would enjoy.
With the 2012 election cycle behind us (phew!), the focus has again shifted to our elected officials actual job responsibilities and the path our country will take over the next few years.
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently profiled the work and legacy of William Julius Wilson, one of our nation’s preeminent sociologists. In exploring his work in the area of race and poverty, the article asked a pointed question: Given all that we know from Wilson’s research and the research of the sociologists who came after him, what, exactly is the end game? What should the government do about poverty?
…Recent research has convinced Wilson that Americans support a level playing field. In speaking about public policy, people should frame programs as vehicles for the poor to help themselves, he now believes. They should spell out problems. And they should not shy away from talking about race.
But for progress to happen, there must be a political will, Wilson says.
“If you don’t recognize that a problem exists,” he says, “you’re not going to do anything.”