CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards named its 2022 winners on Tuesday morning, honoring authors Percival Everett, Donika Kelly, George Makari and Tiya Miles. Author Ishmael Reed earns the lifetime achievement honor.
The 2022 selections honor 2021 published releases that addressed diversity and racism. The books explore topics like xenophobia, slavery, police brutality and violence, in various formats.
This year marks the award’s 87th year.
“This round of Anisfield-Wolf winners brings us important insights on race and diversity,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., who chairs the jury, in a press release. “This year, we honor a satiric novel about lynching disguised as a detective story, a poetry collection that remakes the meanings of childhood abuse, an innovative look at the idea of xenophobia, and a story of recovered history based on an embroidered sack. All is capped by the lifetime achievement of Ishmael Reed, a genre-bending and genre-transcending colossus of literature.”
Gates, Jr. is the director of Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, and also a professor at the school.
This year’s winners were selected by a panel 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 Award honor has been given to 257 writers, according to a press release. That list includes Nobel prize winners 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 hold today: to honor literature that grapples with topics of diversity and race.
“[Anisfield Wolf’s] notion that literature can enhance justice is on point nearly 90 years later, and we are honored to add the 2022 winners to the canon,” said Karen R. Long, the manager of the book awards at the Cleveland Foundation in a press release. “We are proud the newest books tackle the toughest topics, and hint at possible ways forward.”
For the first time in more than two years, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners will be honored in person at KeyBank State Theater on Sept. 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)
University of Southern California English professor Percival Everett explores the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till through his fictional work “The Trees.” The novel follows a string 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 absurdist comedy,” said Anisfield-Wolf Juror Joyce Carol Oates in a press release.
Donika Kelly, “The Renunciations” (Poetry)
Poet Donika Kelly takes a look at childhood trauma in her latest book “The Renunciations.” She also published 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize-winning book “Bestiary.” Kelly works as a professor of creative writing at the University of Iowa.
“I returned to Kelly’s book, and she set me gasping anew,” said Anisfield-Wolf Juror Rita Dove in a press release. “This is poetry of the highest order.”
George Makari, “Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia” (Nonfiction)
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 digs into the history of xenophobia. The work was named a Best Nonfiction Book of 2021 by Bloomberg.
“We see countless books that consider instances of racism,” said Anisfield-Wolf Juror Steven Pinker in a press release. “Very few seek to understand it as a phenomenon to be studied and analyzed. ‘Of Fear and Strangers’ does that, free of cliché and jargon.”
Tiya Miles, “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake” (Nonfiction)
Historian and Harvard University professor Tiya Miles’ National Book Award-winning book “All That She Carried” earns another honor with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards this year. The book unearths the history of a cotton sack embroidered by several generations of women who experienced slavery and its aftereffects in America.
“I found it enormously illuminating, incredibly moving – it made me think in fresh ways about this long and difficult and challenging history,” said Anisfield-Wolf Juror Simon Schama in a press release.
Ishmael ReedLifetime Achievement
Poet, novelist, musician, lyricist, professor and more, Ishmael Reed has published dozens of novels, plays and poetry collections. The recipient of a 1998 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, 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 fellow Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner Adrienne Kennedy, a playwright.
“Reed is one of the most extraordinary and fearless authors in the great tradition of American satire. He is also, without question, the godfather of Black postmodernism, and one of the most continuously innovative and prolific writers at work today,” said Gates Jr. in a press release.
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