Do you think you are well-read on world cultures? Do you occasionally wonder what one person can do to promote justice in this world of ours? Are you someone who thinks that it’s primarily people of color who recognize the vital importance of diversity on our planet? If so, think again and most definitely read on.
Edith Anisfield Wolf, born way back in 1889, was a poet, businesswoman and philanthropist from Cleveland who had a lifelong passion for social justice. The daughter of immigrants, Edith spoke four languages (English, French, German and Spanish) and used literature as a means to explore racial prejudice and celebrate human diversity.
In 1935 she created the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, to honor books that explore these very issues. That makes 2015 the Award’s 80th anniversary! Congratulations and thank you, Edith! Note how visionary that makes her—establishing this important Award 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision! Edith died in 1963, but her legacy lives on.
“The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures…Today it remains the only American book prize focusing on works that address racism and diversity. Past winners have presented the extraordinary art and culture of peoples around the world, explored human-rights violations, exposed the effects of racism on children, reflected on growing up biracial, and illuminated the dignity of people as they search for justice.”
Over the past 80 years the Award has highlighted nearly 200 significant books, most of which I have not read. So I need to get going! For those of us who may be intimidated by such a long list, they also have a smaller list of 24 “Lifetime Achievement” books, or you can sort winners by year or according to the categories of fiction, non-fiction or poetry.
Again from the Award’s website: “The Cleveland Foundation, the world’s first community foundation, has administered the Anisfield-Wolf prize since 1963. Before then, the Saturday Review sponsored the awards. From the early 1960s until 1996, internationally renowned anthropologist and author Ashley Montagu chaired the awards jury. That panel of globally prominent scholars and writers has since been overseen by Henry Louis Gates Jr., the acclaimed scholar, lecturer, social critic, writer, and editor.”
Have you heard of this Award? Despite its prestigious history and huge contribution, and the fact that the Anisfield-Wolf’s cash prizes equal the Pulitzer’s, many people haven’t heard of it. Perhaps that’s due to how ahead of its time the Award was, though Karen Long, the Award’s manager, has another theory:
“[The] Anisfield-Wolf remains a relatively unknown honor. Awards manager Karen Long suspects she knows why. ‘Things that address race are considered, sometimes in the larger culture, as homework or broccoli or good for you.'” —USA’s National Public Radio
Cultural Detectives, I am thrilled to be on the journey to developing intercultural competence, respect, understanding, collaboration and justice with you. And, I’m feeling like we need to work together to make sure more people know about this incredible resource! Let’s start by watching the Awards via live feed this Thursday, September 10, at 6:00 pm Cleveland time (GMT-4), and by circulating this post widely to your networks.