The 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Awards | Fitting Choices for Our Times

Established in 1935 by Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf and presented by the Cleveland Foundation, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards are unique among national juried awards in honoring books that confront racism and celebrate diversity. Winners of this year’s 83rd annual awards were announced March 29 by 2015 honoree Marlon James. They include fiction winner Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner), an intensive look at Southern rural poverty and prejudice; nonfiction winner Kevin Young’s Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News (Graywolf), a broad-ranging study of America’s embrace of deceptions, with race the biggest deception of all; and poetry winner Shane McCrae’s In the Language of My Captor (Wesleyan Univ.), an incisive collection located at the crosscurrents of race and history. The Lifetime Achievement award went to distinguished Native American writer N. Scott Momaday.

Fittingly for an award whose recipients include Nadine Gordimer, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison, Wole Soyinka, and Derek Walcott, with all but Lifetime Achievement Award winner Walcott recognized before becoming Nobel Laureates, this year’s winners have already proved themselves to be honor-worthy. Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, named a New York Times Top Ten book and an Andrew Carnegie Medal finalist, is the author’s second National Book Award winner. Young, a multi-award-winning poet/critic and director of the NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, saw Bunk named a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. Recent Lannan Literary Award winner McCrae’s In the Language of My Captor was a National Book Award finalist, and his five collections include a Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist and a Lexi Rudnitsky/Editor’s Choice Award winner.

Kiowa author Momaday also has his share of accolades, ranging from the National Medal of Arts to an Academy of American Poets Prize to a Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel, House Made of Dawn. Though he works in every genre and is a fine watercolorist as well, Momaday considers himself primarily a poet, which shows in often folklore-inflected writing that uses lyric to define storytelling as much as storytelling to define lyric. Early works like 1968’s House Made of Dawn and 1974’s poetry chapbook Angle of Geese remain in print, and recent titles include Again the Far Morning: New and Selected Poems and In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961–1991, both from the University of New Mexico Press, as well as Meditations After the Bear Feast (with Yuri Vaella, Shanti Arts).

Significantly, Momaday’s Lifetime Achievement Award honors one of Native American literature’s foundational writers at a time when that literature is being energized by a new wave of aspirants. Writers now emerging include poet Layli Long Soldier, winner of the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award for the coruscating Whereas (Graywolf), and novelist Tommy Orange, whose much-buzzed There There is forthcoming from Knopf. Also in the ranks: memoirist Terese Marie Mailhot, whose Heart Berries (Counterpoint) is a New York Times best seller and a Spring 2018 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, and Lambda Literary fellow Tommy Pico, author of the multi-starred, urban-hip poetry collection Junk (forthcoming from Tin House).

With the awards founder herself a poet, it’s also especially apposite that Momaday and Young join McCrae among this year’s winners as authors identified primarily with verse. The Anisfield-Wolf Award initially focused on nonfiction, with the Fiction Award first given in 1945 but rarely awarded until the 1990s. The Lifetime Achievement Award was first introduced in 1996, though a Landmark Achievement Award was given to Ralph Ellison for Invisible Man in 1992. Poets like Lucille Clifton and Elizabeth Alexander were acknowledged with Lifetime Achievement honors, but poetry did not become its own category until 2015, when Jericho Brown’s The New Testament (Copper Canyon) and Marilyn Chin’s Hard Love Province (Norton) led off what has proved to be an especially fine group of winners.

All the winners will be honored at a gala event, held on September 27 at the State Theatre in Cleveland and crowning the third annual Cleveland Book Week, slated for September 24–29. The typically sold-out gala will be hosted by the Cleveland Foundation and emceed by Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research and chair of the Anisfield-Wolf jury. The long-standing jury includes poet Rita Dove, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, psychologist Steven Pinker, and historian Simon Schama. For additional information, visit www.Anisfield-Wolf.org.

 

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.

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