Four African Americans Honored With Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

The Cleveland Foundation recently announced the winners of its 87th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. The awards are the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and explores diversity. Four of the winners this year are African Americans who have academic ties.

Tiya Miles, a professor of history and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and director of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, won the award in the nonfiction category. Professor Miles was honored for her book All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake (Random Houe, 2021). Dr. Miles was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Afro-American studies from Harvard University, a master’s degree in women’s studies from Emory University in Atlanta, and a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Minnesota. Before coming to Harvard, Professor Miles taught on the faculty of the University of Michigan for 16 years, where she served as chair of the department of Afroamerican & African studies.

Percival Everett, a distinguished professor of English at the University of Southern California, won in the fiction category for his novel The Trees (Graywolf Press, 2021). The novel opens with a series of brutal murders in present-day Money, Mississippi, where 15-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in 1955. The current murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a young man who resembles Emmett Till. Anisfield-Wolf Juror Joyce Carol Oates, said that the novel is “easily the most idiosyncratic, least classifiable work of fiction the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards has ever honored.” The son of a dentist, Everett earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Miami. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Donika Kelly won the award in the poetry category for her book The Renunciations (Graywolf Press, 2021). Moving between a childhood marked by love and abuse and the breaking marriage of that adult child, Dr. Kelly charts memory and the body as landscapes to be traversed and tended. Dr. Kelly is an assistant professor of English at the University of Iowa, specializing in poetry writing and gender studies in contemporary American literature. She is a graduate of Southern Arkansas University and earned a master of fine arts degree in writing from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Ishmael Reed is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a poet, novelist, playwright, lyricist, cartoonist, musician and founder of small presses. The author of 12 novels, Reed is perhaps best known for his novel Mumbo Jumbo (1972). Reed is currently a distinguished professor at the California College of Arts. Earlier, he taught for 35 years at the University of Calfornia, Berkeley.

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