CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards named their 2022 winners Tuesday morning, honoring authors Percival Everett, Donika Kelly, George Makari and Tiya Miles. Author Ishmael Reed wins the honor for lifetime achievement.
The 2022 selections honor releases released in 2021 that addressed diversity and racism. The books explore topics like xenophobia, slavery, police brutality and violence, in various formats.
This year marks the 87th year of the award.
“This string of Anisfield-Wolf winners brings us important insights into race and diversity,” Henry Louis Gates Jr., who chairs the judging panel, said in a press release. “This year, we are honoring a satirical novel about lynching disguised as a detective story, a collection of poetry that restores the meaning of childhood abuse, an innovative look at the idea of xenophobia and a retelling of rediscovered history based on an embroidered bag. It’s all crowned by the life’s work of Ishmael Reed, a colossus of literature that distorts and transcends genres.
Gates, Jr. is the director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, and also a professor at the school.
This year’s winners were selected by a jury that included Gates, Jr., poet Rita Dove, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, historian Simon Schama and psychologist Steven Pinker.
Over the years, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize has been awarded to 257 writers, according to a press release. This list includes Nobel laureates Martin Luther King, Jr., Toni Morrison, Gunnar Myrdal, Nadine Gordimer and Wole Soyinka.
The awards were founded in 1935 by poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf, with the same mission they have today: to honor literature that addresses the topics of diversity and race.
“[Anisfield Wolf’s] the idea that literature can improve justice is relevant almost 90 years later, and we are honored to add the 2022 winners to the canon,” said Karen R. Long, head of book awards at the Cleveland Foundation in a press release. “We’re proud that the newest books tackle the toughest topics and suggest possible paths forward.”
For the first time in more than two years, the winners of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award will be honored in person at the KeyBank State Theater on September 15, as part of Cleveland Book Week. Cleveland Book Week will also feature other events to celebrate literature in the city. (Last year and in 2020, Cleveland Book Week moved to a virtual format due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
Read more about the 2022 winners below and find more information about the awards at anisfield-wolf.org.
Percival Everett: “The Trees” (Fiction)
Percival Everett, professor of English at the University of Southern California, explores the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 through his fictional work “The Trees”. The novel follows a series of other published works, including the PEN award-winning novel ‘Wounded’ and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award-winning novel ‘Erasure’.
“This is a wickedly clever novel of ideas in the guise of genre fiction, a combination of mystery, thriller, police procedural and absurd comedy,” said juror Joyce Carol Oates. ‘Anisfield-Wolf, in a press release.
Donika Kelly, “Renunciations” (Poetry)
Poet Donika Kelly looks at childhood trauma in her latest book, “Renunciations.” She also published the book Bestiary, winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Kelly works as a professor of creative writing at the University of Iowa.
“I went back to Kelly’s book, and she took my breath away,” Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove said in a press release. “It’s poetry of the first order.”
George Makari, “Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia” (non-fiction)
Historian, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst George Makari is the director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute for the History of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine. He put his specializations to work in his book “Of Fear and Strangers,” which delves into the history of xenophobia. The work was named Best Nonfiction Book of 2021 by Bloomberg.
“We see countless books that deal with cases of racism,” Anisfield-Wolf juror Steven Pinker said in a press release. “Very few seek to understand it as a phenomenon to be studied and analyzed. ‘Of Fear and Strangers’ does just that, without cliché or jargon.
Tiya Miles, “All She Wore: Ashley’s Bag Trip, A Black Family Memory” (non-fiction)
For historian and Harvard University professor Tiya Miles, the National Book Award-winning book ‘All That She Carried’ earns another honor with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards this year. The book unearths the story of a cotton bag embroidered by several generations of women who experienced slavery and its aftermath in America.
“I found it extremely illuminating, incredibly moving – it made me think in new ways about this long and difficult and thought-provoking story,” Anisfield-Wolf juror Simon Schama said in a press release.
Ishmael Reed, the work of a lifetime
Poet, novelist, musician, lyricist, teacher and more, Ishmael Reed has published dozens of novels, plays and collections of poetry. A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1998, Reed is best known for his 1972 novel “Mumbo Jumbo.”
A professor at the University of California, some of Reed’s students included novelist Terry McMillan, experimental poet John Keene, and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner Adrienne Kennedy, a playwright.
“Reed is one of the most extraordinary and fearless writers in the great tradition of American satire. He is also, without a doubt, the godfather of black postmodernism and one of the most innovative and prolific writers at work today,” Gates Jr. said in a press release.
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