2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Winners Announced


2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Winners - STEPHANIE HICKS THOMPSON
  • Stephanie Hicks Thompson
  • 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Winners
Four authors have been selected as winners of the 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the Cleveland-based national literary award which recognizes works that contribute to society's understanding of racism and diverse cultures. Marlon James, a recipient of the award in 2015, unveiled this year's winners at a talk Thursday at Case Western Reserve University.

“The new Anisfield-Wolf winners deepen our insights on race and diversity,” said Harvard's Henry Louis Gates Jr., who chairs the awards jury, in a statement. “This year, we honor a lyrical novel haunted by a Mississippi prison farm, a book of exceptional poetry on what freedom means in captivity and a breakthrough history of the hoax that speaks to this political moment. All is capped by the lifetime achievement of N. Scott Momaday, the dean of Native American letters.”

Here are the winners, with bios provided by the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards:

Shane McCrae (poetry), In the Language of My Captor

McCrae is a former Oberlin professor who has previously won the Cleveland State University poetry center prize. He uses historical persona poems and prose memoir to address the illusory freedom of both black and white Americans.

“These voices worm their way inside your head; deceptively simple language layers complexity upon complexity until we are shared in the same socialized racial webbing as the African exhibited at the zoo or the Jim Crow universe that Banjo Yes learned to survive in (‘You can be free//Or
you can live’),” says Anisfield-Wolf Juror Rita Dove.

McCrae now teaches at Columbia University and lives in Manhattan.

Jessmyn Ward, (fiction), Sing, Unburied, Sing

Ward is the only woman in the history of American letters to have received two National Book Awards: one for her first novel, Salvage the Bones, and another last year for Sing, Unburied, Sing. Both are set in fictional Bois Sauvage, a place rooted in the rural Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Critics have compared Bois Sauvage to William Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County and Ward’s prose to Toni Morrison’s.

Sing, Unburied, Sing serves as a road book, a ghost story and a tale of sibling love. Anisfield-Wolf juror Joyce Carol Oates calls it “a beautifully rendered,
heartbreaking, savage and tender novel.” Ward, who won a MacArthur “genius grant” last fall, lives with her family in Pas Christian, Miss. She is a professor at Tulane University.

Kevin Young, (nonfiction), Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News

Young is a public intellectual, the editor of eight books and the author of 13. He spent six years researching and writing this cultural history of the covert American love of the con, and its entanglement with racial history. After 12 years teaching at Emory University, Young became the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the poetry editor for The New Yorker.

Anisfield-Wolf Juror Steven Pinker calls Bunk “rich, informative, interesting, original and above all timely,” and Juror Joyce Carol Oates says the book “disturbs, amuses, outrages and illuminates by turn. It should be required reading in all U.S. schools.”

N. Scott Momaday, (lifetime achievement)

Momaday remade American literature in 1966 with his first novel, House Made of Dawn. It tells the story of a modern soldier trying to resume his life in  Indian Country. The slim book won a Pulitzer Prize, but Momaday prefers writing poetry, the form his work most often takes.

Anisfield-Wolf Jury Chair Gates says Momaday “is at root a storyteller who both preserves and expands Native American culture in his critically praised, transformative writing.” He is also a watercolorist, playwright, scholar, professor and essayist. Momaday was born a Kiowa in Oklahoma and grew up in the Indian southwest. He earned a doctorate at Stanford University, joined its faculty, and taught American literature widely, including in Moscow. In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded Momaday a National Medal of Arts. He lives in Santa Fe, N.M.

The Ceremony: The Anisfield-Wolf winners will be honored Sept. 27 at the State Theatre at Playhouse Square. It'll be emceed by Jury Chair Henry Louis Gates. The ceremony will be part of the third annual Cleveland Book Week (Sept. 24-29).

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